2020 has been a challenging year for people who are DeafBlind. Social distancing requirements due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic has created a huge disruption in the lives of DeafBlind people. The DeafBlind Service Center (DBSC) has asked three people to share their experience with social distancing. Touch is the cornerstone of PT, Pro Tactile, sign language. We are just beginning to understand the barriers that social distancing creates for communication in the DeafBlind community. DBSC hopes that the following videos of Nancy Sommer, Paul Ducharme, and Caryn Tenin sharing their experiences, followed by an introductory video by Angela Theriault, will give you an introduction to the huge challenge this community is currently facing. Below are the transcripts for each of the YouTube videos that are found in the description box of each video.

Video 1: DB Stories – Angela Theriault

Hello. I’m Angela Theriault. In this era of Covid19, this virus has had a devastating impact on the DeafBlind community. Imagine – with social distancing in place, it’s been a challenge for DB individuals. There’s no communication for DB people because we require touch in order to communicate. With social distancing, DB individuals have gone through a period of depression, sadness and increased isolation. The frustration is enormous. I would like to introduce three DB individuals: Paul Ducharme, Nancy Sommer and Carin Tenin. The three of them will share their experiences during this pandemic and how they’ve navigated their world.

Video 2: DB Stories – Nancy Sommer

Hello -my name is Nancy and I’m going to share a little bit about my experience with social distancing. People who are able to hear can social distance and still communicate; people who are Deaf and use sign language visually can social distance and still communicate; but for a DeafBlind person, touch is how we communicate with one another and it’s a critical aspect of our communication whether that’s with interpreters, friends or SSPs. I wanted to share one experience I had in riding an Access van. I was standing outside, waiting for the van to arrive. The driver approached me and I tried to take his arm so he could guide me but he pulled away. He had on long sleeved shirt and gloves but he left me there on the sidewalk. Again he approached me so I tried to use my voice to say “Your arms are covered – It’s safe” and ultimately he was willing to guide me into the van. Then I had to touch the railing. If I were sighted or had partial vision I wouldn’t need the rail but as a DeafBlind person, I needed to use the rail to maintain my balance. I had to touch a number of surfaces in the van so had to make sure I could clean my hands afterwards. Social distancing and the inability to touch one another is extremely difficult. One of the things I really miss is, as part of DeafBlind culture, we are huggers. It’s part of how we greet one another in DeafBlind culture and the elbow bump just doesn’t do the same thing. Hopefully soon, corona virus will no longer be an issue and we can once again we can be together, socialize together and not have to distance in the near future.

Video 3: DB Stories – Paul Ducharme

Hello – my name is Paul and I want to share a bit about my experience during the time of corona virus. Before corona virus, I worked at the Lighthouse (LH) with a number of DeafBlind individuals who would communicate tactilely with each other on a daily basis. When the pandemic struck, we were all sent home and the LH was closed. Being at home was very concerning. I read the information about social distancing and the inability to have physical touch–this was very frustrating. I felt that my whole world had come to a screeching halt. But this time has had both pros and cons. It’s been very stressful trying to understand what was happening and what was true or false. I wasn’t sick but other people had been impacted. Getting information was difficult. Thankfully, DBSC has provided services, for example the communication facilitators (CF) and SSPs. I decided to make use of the CF services during this time and it’s been very impressive. I’ve also learned more about myself and what types of things I can do when I’m not on the job. I’ve been able to interact with people using Zoom and have gotten group support through the CF providing access. DBSC is a wonderful agency serving the DB community statewide. We are a large community here with strong social connections. The 6 feet distance/social distancing has been difficult but there have been some positives.

Video 4: DB Stories – Caryn Tenin
Hello, my name is CT and I’m going to take a deep breath. Corona virus has so impacted our lives, its so threatening and serious. It started in February, and there was so much confusion about what to do and it was a month later March 24 that our state governor ordered us to ‘Stay Home and Stay Safe. The company I work for had to do temporary lay offs of almost all the employees and they encouraged us to file for Unemployment Insurance (UI). This was new to me as I had never filed for UI before, but I went ahead and applied. I realized after a while that a number of my co workers were receiving their benefits but I was not. I didn’t understand why or whether there was something wrong with my account. I waited several weeks and still received no benefits so I decided to call. It was impossible to get through – I made many calls without success so I tried email. There was no response. I tried emailing at different times to three different emails with no response. I tried calling again and it was impossible to get through. There were so many people calling UI that they were overwhelmed. I was stuck. I didn’t know how to communicate with them. My work offices were closed, services were closed and I felt there was no way to get through. I was doing the best I could until finally at the end of May I started to freak out. I started calling over and over, refusing to give up until I finally connected with a representative. That representative said they needed to transfer me to someone who could access my account. I told the second representative my situation and they said they had to transfer me to a third representative who could access my account and asked to put me on hold. On hold, I waited and waited forever – it was three hours on hold and then I was disconnected. All I could do was breathe deep and give it one more chance. Two days later I called again, calling over and over until I was finally connected. Again, the first representative had to transfer me to a second; they put me on hold again and again I waited three hours…and was disconnected. At that point, I was fed up and furious. I decided to contact my employer’s HR department. I emailed with them, explaining my experience and they responded, “Oh, no! That’s not good.” They were happy to assist me in whatever way they could. They typed up a letter and were able to make contact; and the next day, I was able to get my check. Finally! I had waited more than two months to get that result. Now I can’t wait to get back to normal life and say goodbye to the corona virus. I can’t wait.