ADBN Belfast, 2014 was full of ‘Life, Love and Laughter’
Congratulations to the ADBN Coordinating Committee and the Local Sense Northern Ireland Planning Committee for the successful 10th DbI Acquired Deafblindness Network Conference held in Belfast, November 4-7, 2014. This marked the first time since the 5th ADBN Conference was held in Harrogate, North Yorkshire in 2004 that this event has occurred in the UK.
The conference got off to a special start with a very touching performance of the Helen Keller story performed by some of the members of DbI Youth Network under the direction of Simon Allison.
The committee worked their magic with their six plenary sessions together satisfying the conference theme: ‘Life, Love and Laughter’. The Day One Opening Plenary kicked off with Professor Richard Schoch, from Belfast, suggesting “What the Art of Happiness and Well-being means for all of us”. Later in the day, Henrik Brink from Sweden provided some insight into self-examining oneself as a professional and helping built a toolkit for new ways of working.
Paul Hart from Scotland primed everyone on Day Two with an inspirational plenary ‘Exploring the meaning of Happiness developed through building Relationships through Trust and Communication’. This thoughtful presentation was followed by two young ladies from the Netherlands, Afroditi Manolaki and Hedda de Roo who ‘put themselves out there’ explaining their personal life experiences with Usher Syndrome.
Day Three started out with a plenary from Canada, presented by Jane Sayer and Bonnie Heath. They traced how a group of individuals who are deafblind formed their own organization in the Province of Manitoba and successfully obtaining government funding for services. The conference ended with a plenary from Collette Gray and Martin Quinn (Sense Northern Ireland) describing the prevalence, profile and needs of people who are deafblind in Northern Ireland.
To complement the plenaries, a complex array of 30 workshops were held throughout the three days on topics that varied from: Stress in People with Usher Syndrome, Creating Social Networks, Motivating Others, Bushwalking in Australia, Orientation and Mobility, Living and Working With a Rare Condition, Facing Death – Choosing Life, From Life Support to Supporting Others, to name a few.
And who can forget the climax evening event at the Belfast Castle1, including the double decker bus trip, the excellent meal and the traditional Irish entertainment?
The conference was well attended, with over 170 persons registering from: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK (Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales).
The conference venue, the Holiday Inn Belfast, was an excellent location. The food, including the breakfast and lunch buffets and coffee breaks ensured that many returned home suffering from excess calories.
Congratulations again ADBN Network organizing committee for another excellent event.
DbI Information Officer
To work in a professional way1
This Plenary is designed to be a practical session mixed with some of my ideas and theories that I will hope will provide some useful tools.
I open my presentation with a series of paragraphs2 taken from the writings of Danish philosopher Sören Kierkegaard’s which illustrate his thoughts on the art of helping.
“If one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost take care to find him where he is and begin there. This is the secret in the entire art of helping.
Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he – but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands.
If I do not do that, then my greater understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him.
But all true helping begins with a humbling.
The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is a not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands.”
I am often reminded of these words when I am working and things not working according to the plan. What is wrong? Could it be what is mentioned above?
Basically, you and I have a need for confirmation and we get confirmation through others. I have a need to feel needed and useful. Am I good enough? Do I have what it takes? Do I find meaning in my work? Can I be there for another person?
“People want to be loved; failing that admired; failing that feared; failing that hated and despised.
They want to evoke some sort of sentiment. The soul shudders before oblivion and seeks connection at any price.”
Hjalmar Söderberg, Doctor Glas3
Why did you choose your profession?
Perhaps through different circumstances, you just ended up where you are. What is the drive behind your work? What is your engine, what are you fueled by? Many would answer: I’d like to help. I’d like to help people and I think I have something to contribute.
What makes you skilled in your profession?
Think for a moment, what quality or character you possess that makes you especially good in what you are doing? Has it always been there or has it developed throughout time?
Knowledge is something that grows through time.
Learning about deafblindness takes time. There are many different kinds of knowledge, both theoretical and practical, that we need to learn. We all acquire the knowledge in our own different ways. Some of us are visual learners; others may be auditory, kinesthetic or tactile learners. Despite our different learning modes, the categories of learning are the same: unaware ignorance – aware ignorance; aware knowledge – unaware knowledge.
I relate this to my personal journey of learning about Deafblindness: 1) First, I don’t know that I don’t know much about Deafblindness; 2) As I started working I became very aware of my ignorance; 3) As time went on I realized I understood about viruses and audiograms and different types of Usher Syndrome; then, 4) I became no longer aware of my knowledge.
What makes a person with a profession, professional?
I believe that most of us think of professionals as people having a profession. But why are these two words the same? I believe this is because we are meant to do work in professional way. The question is what makes our way of working professional? Looking the other way around, people in our work who don’t do good work are considered as not being professional. The meaning of the word professional is: to work professionally in contrast to those who are laymen/amateurs or doing something as a hobby. It is also defined as a way of working that can be described as conduct between a client and a professional and not as a friend. It is a way of listening and being empathetic while keeping a distance to enable the client to find his or her own solutions.
Let´s get the tools out!
The basis of this Plenary is boiled down into one question: How can I become better equipped in to do good professional work? I will present a few essential tools that should help in our daily work. For some of you, this may be well known information; for others it might be new. Personally, the day I say that I know it all is the time for me to move on.
Many clients coming to us are usually dependent upon others. First, how can we perceive a dependent 18-year old in various situations where normally we wouldn’t be? Have we ever tried being deafblind? How hard was that? For a better way understanding of that person we should go back to the Kierkegaard quotes mentioned earlier. We need to be empathetic as a professional.
When one thinks about the deafblind person’s dependency, we should look at this from personal perspectives. Am I an independent person? How often do I ask for help? If I receive support from another, how does that feel? Or do I avoid asking because of my pride? What would happen if we would allow a client to teach us, to feel dependent on him/her?
While timing is important, there are questions to consider. If I start a process with an individual, will I be able to finish a session with an agreement with the person? What if I leave the session when the person needs more time together? Session times need not be fixed but experience suggests that one hour is sufficient. At the same time we need not to make ourselves indispensable. As professionals we must strive to be respectful of our time, the time spent with our client and our time schedule with other clients.
Awareness of the personal needs of each individual deafblind person is important. Recognizing when to act is just as important. In our business we are committed to helping when we observe individual’s immediate needs. My advice is not to rush the process as their needs will not go away. As professionals we should give ourselves time to think about our best practises; then make an individual plan for the deafblind person through a collegial team effort. This will ensure that their need will be met in good time.
Dare to be silent
One of the hardest things I find during a session with an individual is to be quiet or silent. We should let silence work for us; wait for things to sink in for the person. In my opinion it is an awkward situation when guiding someone; we want to chat and be social since this is what we are used to. I need to allow myself to be quiet while guiding/walking with the client; letting him/her focus on their walking which is comforting for the individual.
Approval from our clients for our work is important; we all need confirmation. It’s a good feeling knowing one has done a good job. But, personally, this does not motivate my work; nor should it be the driving factor for any professional in the field. People who are deafblind or their family members might dislike me as they will other colleagues. For example, I had a mother recently who indicated she wanted to exchange me for one of my colleagues as she didn’t trust me anymore. While I didn’t like this I consider it a part of the work.
Recently a colleague told me he had a two hour session with a couple. The session was initially planned for one hour; but because they were on the verge of separation, the colleague felt he could not leave them. I questioned why he participated alone and his answer was that the wife wanted the meeting but the husband refused to meet if someone else was joining. This type of session should not have been held with one colleague; especially when in fact the couple needed marriage counselling instead. While my colleague was motivated to help the couple, he was affected by the potential lack of approval from the couple had he said no. In my opinion this was a mistake by my colleague.
Using the right words!
This is professionalism for me.
For example, how often do you use the word ‘we’? ”We have decided …”; “When we last met …”; ”Right, so we’re finished...”
‘We’ is a very complicated word. For me, I rarely use the word ‘we’ with my clients. There is ‘you’ and ‘I’. Using the word ‘we’ is confusing for anyone. Honestly, who else is included? ‘We’ suggests that ‘you’ and ‘I’ are in agreement on the same level. Actually, using ‘I’ make ‘us’, as professionals more distinct and is more respectful to our clients as well as they become an individual on their own.
Using the proper word in the correct context mentioned above is the same as in any organization. It is not correct for a supervisor to say that: “‘we’ decided in our last meeting…” We don’t ever decide here, but ‘we’ can have a discussion; it’s the supervisor (you) who makes the decisions.
More could be said about this topic of being professional. My aim with this Plenary is to start a process of talking about Professionalism. I am sure you have different perspectives and that is good. Acknowledging that I don’t know everything and that I am keen on learning more is elementary. What do I have in my toolbox and what is still missing?
Deafblind Unit, Region of Skania, Sweden
1 Plenary Presentation, 10th ADBN Conference, Belfast Northern Ireland, November 04-07, 2014
2 The Essential Kierkegaard by Søren Kierkegaard (Author), from Chapter A2, Volume 22 translated by
Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong