"I think Deaf and deafblind people are the most marginalised people in our society"

Colm Mc Gerigal was a finalist at the Social Workers Awards, where he came fourth in the Adult Social Worker of the year category. Here he explains his role in working with Deaf and deafblind people.

"I am a Social Worker for people who are Deaf and deafblind and use sign language to communicate, and I have been working for the past seven years, in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. I work with Deaf and deafblind people off all ages.

Deaf with a capital ‘D’ is used when referring to a person who is culturally Deaf and whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language (BSL).  I assess need and explore various methods or services to meet need.

The service users have dual sensory loss (deafblind) and may have additional disabilities, such as mental health.  I am also a qualified Rehabilitation Officer for Vision Impairment. I involve all my service users in the assessment, the planning, implementing and evaluation of their care plans. 

Communication is key

I run a Deaf drop-in service, every Wednesday in the Town Hall.  This is usually the point of referral and assessment of need for Deaf or deafblind people who attend the drop-in. The main need is communication support – needing assistance with correspondence, for example, letters and bills, because English is not their preferred language. 

I assist the service user by translating into sign language, to enable them to understand and decide on a decision if appropriate. Other duties include assessing for various hearing equipment, such as vibrating smoke/fire alarms as well as assessing risk and safeguarding my service users from harm. 

As a social worker for deafblind people, every day has its different experiences  I think Deaf and deafblind people are the most marginalised people in our society and I believe they are an ‘expert’ in their own needs, due to their experiences and challenges they have had in their daily life.

My service users will often request my assistance to contact various other services, to request for a sign language interpreter, for example. 

Deafblind awareness

Deafblind people can be vulnerable due to the huge communication breakdown they experience.  I often inform others about deafblind awareness.  Recently, I contacted a GP, requesting they provide an interpreter, and I was informed by the GP, they didn’t know that the service user used sign language to communicate – the GP was using pen and paper. 

I've had many experiences challenging other service providers, informing them of the specific needs of profound Deaf sign language users and deafblind people, informing them of good practice, such as providing appropriate communication support, and using a registered qualified sign language or deafblind interpreter, always promoting the principles and values of equality legislation.  

Local authorities have a legal duty to arrange social care support and services for its residents with dual sensory loss (deafblind).

The Secretary of State for Health in England has issued statutory guidance on the assessment and support of deafblind people: Social Care for deafblind Children and Adults (2009). This guidance is given under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970. An authority is legally required to follow this guidance.

Great management

Kensington Social Services is possibly just one of a few of local authorities that employs a social worker specifically for deafblind and is  aqualified social worker and rehabilitation worker in vision impairment and with appropriate BSL level 6 qualification in sign language.

I am lucky to have a brilliant manager that understands the specific needs of my service users and supports me in my role. It’s imperative that every social worker gets excellent support from their manager and receives regular supervision. This is an opportunity to reflect on evidence-based practice, promoting the service users independence whilst enforcing the principles of anti-discriminatory practice and discuss learning opportunities with your manager.

Peer support from your work colleagues is also important, as they are a wealth of knowledge and a valuable resource.  Legislation determines the social workers responsibility and the Local Authorities eligibility criteria helps prioritise and make sure resources go to those in greatest need. Being able to negotiate, compromise and work well with others is essential to the coordination of efforts required in social and rehabilitation work."

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