A century of NB - RNIB’s flagship publication, NB Online, is this year being recognised for reaching 100 years in circulation. Each month throughout the year, we look in the archives to find out what issues blind and partially sighted people have faced since the magazine started in 1917.
In July 1947, The New Beacon featured an article exploring attitudes towards deafblind people. Author Frieda La Pla, deaf and blind herself, raises awareness of some of these harmful attitudes and suggests how these could be addressed.
There are certain attitudes towards deafblind people adopted by some of their sighted-hearing relatives or friends, which are so harmful that deafblind correspondents of my own have suggested that perhaps an article in The New Beacon might have helpful effect. For the moment only three of these wrong attitudes, together with their opposing right ones, can be considered, these three having been most pressed on my notice recently – namely, (1) the grudging spirit; (2) the de-personalising (if I may so express it); and (3) the untrustworthy.
It was not till after I had been some years in Deafblind Land that I discovered, with a shock of surprise, how widespread is the grudging spirit, sighted-hearing relatives or friends seeming unwilling and ungracious about doing even the smallest services to their deafblind fellow-beings and even, but more rarely, to the hearing-blind.
“There are deafblind folk left shut up indoors for weeks – or even months – together without ever getting any open-air exercise because their relatives will not bother to take them out, and they have no garden to walk in.”
There is certain type of sight-hearing person for whom a relative or friend becoming deafblind thereby ceases somehow to be a responsible human being. He becomes in some way an inferior kind of being or a child or even mentally defective, fit only to be either dominated or ignored, as occasion requires, by the superior sighted-hearing folk around him, to whom he must submit in all things.
The effects of all this on the blind person can be seriously damaging, making him feel as if he had ceased to be a personality and had even become almost de-humanised, forfeiting all rights to be treated as a normal, responsible human being; and much bitterness of spirit may result.
There are certain types of sighted-hearing folk who seem to think it quite legitimate to mislead a deafblind person, taking advantage of the combined deafness and blindness, whether to shield themselves or to shield and ‘protect’ the deafblind person – for instance, from some disturbing or unpleasant knowledge.
“An extreme incidence of this was an attempt made at the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war, by the husband and children, to keep the deafblind mother in all ignorance that there was any war on at all. Needless to say, the attempt was futile…”
So far as it is possible to compress into a few points some constructive suggestions arising out of the considerations advanced in the previous section, the following might make a good ‘triple alliance’ with which the sighted-hearing friends of deafblind people might unite themselves.
Endeavour to realise something of all that sight and hearing mean to you, and that their loss would mean in your lives, and any hesitation or unwillingness about rendering services to the deafblind should give place to an intense longing and eagerness to share to the utmost your own sight and hearing with them through the giving of any service they may need.
Opportunities for such services will then be welcomed, and it will be realised that to be ears and eyes to those robbed of the use of both is one of the greatest honours in the world, a vocation to be proud of and treasured.
Respect the personality, independence, and human rights of a deafblind person just as you would – or should – those of any sighted-hearing person, and just as you would have your own respected. Instead of ordering or (as in some cases) pushing them about, consult them on equal terms and invite their co-operation; and always bear in mind that deafblind people are not merely physical organisms needing only material food, shelter and warmth, but they, too, like others, have hearts and minds and souls whose affectional, intellectual, and spiritual needs must be taken into account as well as the physical needs.
“It is not only the physical self that can feel starved, cold (even frozen) and homeless. Hearts and souls can suffer starvation, cold, and homelessness (or exile) – sometimes with disastrous results which may become permanent, seriously affecting both psychological health and religious faith.”
It would naturally seem to most people quite unnecessary to add any observations on the immense importance of trustworthiness. Yet there are sighted folk, of normally good morality who seem to think nothing of misleading a deafblind person, whether in their own interests or in the pretext that it is in the interest of deafblind people themselves.
“To shut the deafblind out from sharing family or other troubles… it is imprisoning the best within them from active expression instead of affording it life’s normal opportunities to blossom into flower, through expression in sympathy, service, and self-sacrifice, to the enrichment of the life of their neighbourhood or their nation.“
In conclusion, I would express the hope that there may in time come to all sighted-hearing folk a vivid realisation that to be called on to be a friend to a deafblind person, to share one’s own sight and hearing with them in every possible way, and to help bring some measure of liberation to their imprisoned spirits and talents, is one of the greatest vocations in the world – one that should inspire lasting enthusiasm and self-dedication.
In any case, it is one of the greatest things in the world to bring to dwellers in Dark-Deafland some of the visible beauty, cultural riches, and spiritual inspiration available to sighted-hearing people, and to liberate imprisoned spirits into the joy of creative service. It is one of the truly ‘thrilling’ experiences of life, calling for the highest type of adventure-spirit. May many sighted folk enlist in this great service.