Kathaleen was born deaf and after being diagnosed with Usher Syndrome Type 2, started to loose her sight aged 35. Now in her 60’s, Kathaleen has just 5% of her central vision left making every day tasks extremely difficult. She said: “If I think back to what I used to be able to see it is really upsetting. Now I have to take things really slowly, for example, if I walk into a shop after being outside in a bright sunshine it can take me 10 minutes or so to adjust.”
Born and raised in Canada, Kathaleen’s hearing impairment was picked up by her teachers who noticed that she was struggling to communicate. “I just couldn’t hear to understand what people were saying to me and I couldn’t communicate back to them. But at the time I didn’t mind, I just kept myself to myself.” Said Kathaleen.
Having struggled through school, Kathaleen trained as a hairdresser but as much as she loved the job, her hearing loss made it challenging. “Working in a noisy salon was very difficult, there were too may sounds and it was extremely overwhelming. I find that stress makes my hearing and sight even worse so I just couldn’t do it. In the end I decided to work for myself so that I could have more control over the environment.” She said.
But it wasn’t long before Kathaleen’s world changed forever. “I was eventually given a Cochlear implant and I was absolutely amazed. There were so many sounds that I had never heard before like birds singing and water dripping. I was shocked and confused every time I heard something new; I remember once a pencil fell onto the floor and made a noise that surprised me – I had seen this happen before but wasn’t aware of the noise it made.” She continued.
However, her new-found hearing meant that Kathaleen became excluded from the Canadian Deaf community; something she had integrated into over the years and where she felt safe and secure. Even though she could now hear, she felt more alone than ever.
Added to this, Kathaleen’s sight was deteriorating and as she was approaching retirement age she made the difficult decision to close her business. “I loved hairdressing and I really miss it” she said.
In 2011, Kathaleen made the bold decision to move to the UK and joined a local visual impairment (VI) group in Essex. But sadly, this didn’t help the loneliness and isolation that she was increasingly experiencing. She said “I really enjoyed the VI group and instantly felt welcomed, but I just didn’t fit in as no one really understood what it was like to have visual and hearing impairments.
“So when someone told me about the Deafblind UK group I was there in a shot! I went along to the first group and thought “this is where I belong” – it felt like a big family full of other people just like me.” She continued.
Kathaleen has been going to the group ever since and has formed a close circle of friends “my family are all in Canada so the people I have met through the group are really important to me. I now have a fantastic social situation and I no longer feel alone. I absolutely love the groups, they make me feel good. I’m always learning and growing in confidence.” She added.
Kathaleen’s confidence has grown so much that she has recently worked with Deafblind UK’s Community Engagement Officer Mark to start a new support group in the local area. “Mark really understands me and has supported me to set up my own group. I love that I am now a role model for other deafblind people.” She said.
With Deafblind UK’s support, Mark and Kathaleen arranged for her group to go to the recent BBC Relaxed Prom, in London. Kathaleen said “It was fantastic, we all really enjoyed it and we can’t wait to go again!”
Mark concluded “Kathaleen has gained much more confidence since I have known her and now uses buses and taxis and now does her own shopping. Her confidence grows each day!”