HRH The Princess Royal has opened Deafblind Scotland’s new £2 million learning and development centre – the first of its kind in Scotland.
Dual sensory impairment is a double whammy few of us ever want to think about, and, according to Scottish Government figures, 5000 people in Scotland suffer with both hearing and sight loss to varying degrees.
The total number of those affected in UK is 23,000 which is equivalent to the population of a town the size of Arbroath or Bathgate.
The new centre, however, will provide a centre for the sensory impaired community to meet and interact, with state-of-the art facilities including a high-tech IT room, an arts facility and a recording studio. The building, on the outskirts of Kirkintilloch, East Dunbartonshire, is sensory neutral with sound and light absorbing surfaces.
Bob Nolan, who himself has significant sensory impairment, is Chair of Deafblind Scotland. He began work as a volunteer with Deafblind UK in 1998 and was a member of the original Scottish Management Committee.
He said: “After ten years of hard work, fundraising and public support, we are so proud to welcome Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal and our members here today to mark this special occasion.
“As the only charity in Scotland to support adults who acquire deafblindness at some stage in their life, we wanted to create a centre where members could meet and interact.
“In 2007 we identified the perfect location in Lenzie which became our ‘Field of Dreams”, a vacant space where we could turn our idea into a reality.”
Deafblind Scotland has been serving the needs of the sensory impaired community for 25 years, becoming an independent charity in April 2001.
The organisation supports those with dual sensory impairment to live within their own communities and works in partnership with various health and social care providers to improve quality of life.
Being deafblind does not always mean complete sensory loss, though it certainly brings with it challenges for those affected, since it can lead to balance problems and difficulties with communication and mobility. Some people retain some residual sight and/or hearing.
A person can become deafblind in one of three ways:
1. Being born deaf then later losing sight due to a condition known as Usher Syndrome, a major cause of deafblindness, named after C H Usher, a British ophthalmologist.
2. Being born blind and later losing hearing.
3. Losing both sight and hearing in later life.
Usher Syndrome is a genetic condition which causes hearing loss from birth and a later progressive loss of vision due to retinitis pigmentosa.
Sensory impaired people use tactile interpreting methods to communicate. British Sign Language (BSL) is a first language for deaf people and is used by more than 12,500 people in Scotland.
It is recognised as a minority language under equalities legislation.
Deafblind people will be protected under the British Sign Language (Scotland) Act 2015, which began as a private member’s bill proposed by Mark Griffin, MSP in October, 2014, supported by all parties in the Scottish Parliament.
This means BSL is now recognised as a language of Scotland, resulting in the first British Sign Language National Plan 2017-2023.
Its goals cover early years and education; training and work; health; culture and the arts; justice and democracy and sets out the Scottish Government’s ambition for Scotland to become the best place in the world for BSL users to live, work and visit.