Keeping Connection During Isolation

Grant from ECF ensures Connect Society can continue offering services to DeafBlind Edmontonians during pandemic

COVID-19 is having a disproportionate impact on vulnerable populations in Canada. But the Connect Society’s DeafBlind Support Service Program is there for one such population.

It assists DeafBlind individuals in their errands, appointments, and activities by having a Support Service Provider (SSP) accompany them. The SSPs trained in Orientation and Mobility, Tactile American Sign Language and basic Pro-Tactile communication, which lets DeafBlind individuals gain a measure of independence in going about their day-to-day tasks.

Twelve individuals regularly use the service in Edmonton, and when the  pandemic closed all non-essential services — and created new rules about how we share public space — DeafBlind individuals found themselves particularly isolated.

*Note: photos in this story were taken pre-pandemic.

“This pandemic led DeafBlind individuals further into extreme isolation due to physical distancing measures which minimized their contact with the community significantly,” explains Roni McCarthy, program manager with the Connect Society.

Thankfully,  Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) was able to provide $21,600 to Connect Society through the Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF). This funding has allowed the SSP program to continue during the pandemic, helping DeafBlind individuals safely access the essential services and errands they require, in a time when it’s particularly challenging to do so.

“The ECSF funding enabled the program to continue operating in providing the essential and basic human services to ensure that DeafBlind individuals will be able to navigate through the pandemic,” McCarthy explains. “In particular for those who have minimal natural support from their family and friends.”

Together, the Canadian Red Cross, Community Foundations of Canada and United Way Centraide Canada are collaborating with the Government of Canada to flow ECSF support to those who need it most right now.

The SSP program is a relatively new service offered by the Connect Society, a non-profit founded in 1963 to empower Deaf, hard of hearing, and DeafBlind individuals in fully engaging with their communities. The SSP program itself is not currently permanent, but client responses have been very positive, especially in the pandemic. Several clients noted how SSP support relieves the frustrations and anxieties of a socially distanced world.

“It’s tough to maintain social distancing without SSP’s support,” explained one client, who wished to remain anonymous. “I can do my errands safely with respect to social distancing. Working with my SSP makes me feel safe to go out.”

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.