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MOTION TO TAKE NOTICE OF THE MONTH OF JUNE AS THE BIRTH MONTH OF HELEN KELLER AND TO RECOGNIZE IT AS "DEAF-BLIND AWARENESS MONTH"

 

Pursuant to notice of May 6, 2015, moved:

That the Senate take notice of the month of June as the birth month of Helen Keller, who is renowned around the world for her perseverance and achievements and who, as a person who was deaf-blind, is an inspiration to us all and, in particular, to members of the deaf-blind community; and

That the Senate recognize the month of June as "Deaf-Blind Awareness Month", to promote public awareness of deaf-blind issues and to recognize the contributions of Canadians who are deaf-blind.

She said: Honourable senators, I rise today to ask for your support to recognize the month of June as Deaf-Blind Awareness Month in Canada. I had the honour to introduce this motion back in 2013, but the session ended prior to its adoption. Therefore, today, Senator Jim Munson and I are pleased to bring forward this motion once again.

In May, we recognize National Vision Health Month as a result of the leadership of our former colleague Senator Asha Seth. This motion to recognize June as Deaf-Blind Awareness Month will build even greater awareness about those who live with deaf-blindness and will celebrate the life of their greatest inspiration, Helen Keller.

June 27 is Helen Keller Day, which was enacted by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, on the day of her birthday. As many of you know, Helen Keller's journey is an inspiration to many, as she triumphed over adversity and went from a world of silence and darkness to vision and advocacy.

Honourable senators, I rise once again in the hope that we recognize deaf-blind awareness and the challenges deaf-blind citizens experience in Canada from coast to coast to coast. I will quote former Ontario MPP David Young, whose private member's bill created Deaf-Blind Awareness Month in Ontario, to describe why a month like this is so essential:

. . . I believe this legislation is a step in the right direction to further improve the lives of deaf-blind Ontarians. With June declared Deaf-Blind Awareness Month, it will appear on every politician's calendar and many will make that extra effort to promote this cause in their communities. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.

Honourable senators, we now have the opportunity to recognize the month of June as we take important steps in raising awareness among Canadians. In doing so, we recognize the strength, courage and perseverance that deaf-blind people show every day in living their lives and facing their daily challenges. A month dedicated to honouring them will mean so much to them, their families and those who work closely with them.

The number of people who live with deaf-blind challenges in Canada is significant. Statistics Canada reports that there are approximately 69,700 Canadians over the age of 12 living with the dual disability of deafness and blindness or a combination of both vision and hearing losses that limit their everyday activities. Only 3,000 of these have been acknowledged by the organizations providing intervenor services.

I would once again like to describe three important terms to better understand the deaf-blind community. The first is a person with deaf-blindness, which is unique and separate from deafness or blindness on their own. A person living with this disability is an individual with a considerable degree of loss in sight and hearing, the combination of which results in significant difficulties in assessing information and in pursuing educational, vocational, recreational and social goals. An individual with the combined losses of hearing and vision requires specialized services, including adapted communication methods.

The second term is "intervenor." Intervenors are specially trained to act as the eyes and ears of an individual who is deaf-blind. The intervenor's job can include providing access to information — auditory, visual or tactile — by means of a variety of communication methods, acting as a sighted guide. Some methods of communication include tactile signing systems, Braille, large print and communication boards. In fact, I met an intervenor at the May event on the Hill and was amazed at how the hand becomes a typewriter, so to speak. The role they play is essential to a deaf-blind person being able to access the world — to be able to see and experience life through these intervenors.

The third item is "intervenor service," the provision of a professional service, paid or voluntary, that facilitates interactions of persons who are deaf-blind with other people, places and environment. Our former colleague Senator Vim Kochhar cofounded the Canadian Helen Keller Centre and Rotary Cheshire Homes, which are two examples of excellent facilities. In fact, Rotary Cheshire Homes is said to be the only facility in the world where those who are deaf-blind can live independently.

I wish to recognize Senator Jim Munson who is also a champion of this cause and the co-sponsor of this motion once again.

Honourable senators, there are many deaf-blind persons around the world who have overcome adversity and achieved leaps and bounds like Helen Keller. The determination of people living with deaf-blindness and all those who dedicate their time to working with them leave me inspired. It is my hope that we can unanimously pass this motion to endorse June as Deaf-Blind Awareness Month. I urge all honourable senators to support this motion.

Thank you.

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