Stephen's Green in Dublin in the sunshine.Deafblindness is not simply deafness plus blindness, rather it is a separate and unique disability that affects a person’s overall ability to get around, access information and communicate.

Because one sense cannot adequately compensate for the loss of another, people who are deafblind face unique challenges.

EU Context

On the 1st of April 2004, the EU recognised deafblindness as a distinct disability in Written Declaration 2004/1.

Declaration of the European Parliament on the rights of deafblind people
The European Parliament,–   having regard to Rule 51 of its Rules of Procedure,–   having regard to Article 13 of the EC Treaty and the principle of human dignity,

A.  whereas deafblindness is a distinct disability that is a combination of both sight and hearing impairments, which results in difficulties having access to information, communication and mobility,

B. whereas there are about 150 000 people in the European Union who are deafblind,

C.   whereas some of these people are completely deaf and blind, but most have some remaining use of one or both senses,

D.  whereas, having a distinct disability,  people who are deafblind need specific support provided by people with specialist knowledge,

1.  Calls on the institutions of the European Union and the Member States to recognise and implement the rights of people who are deafblind;

2.  Declares that people who are deafblind should have the same rights as are enjoyed by all EU citizens; these should be enforced by appropriate legislation in each Member State and should include:

the right to participate in the democratic life of the European Union;
the right to work and access training, with appropriate lighting, contrast and adaptations;
the right to person-centred health and social care;
the right to lifelong learning;
the right to receive one-to-one support where appropriate from communicator-guides, deafblind interpreters and/or intervenors;

So far, eight member states including the UK, France, Sweden, Denmark, Romania, Italy, Spain and Austria have adopted the Declaration.

The Anne Sullivan Centre, in association with other organisations, medical professionals and advocates who support people who are  deafblind, are currently campaigning for Written Declaration 2004/1 to be adopted by the Irish Government. If you would like to lend your voice to the campaign please contact cmcdonald@annesullivancentre.ie

International Context: The UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities

Since 2006, 151 countries worldwide have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. The Convention is the first legally binding instrument with comprehensive protection of the rights of persons with disabilities.  Significantly, it recognises deafblindness as a distinct disability stating that:

“Parties shall enable persons with disabilities to learn life and social development skills to facilitate their full and equal participation in education and as members of the community including:

(c) Ensuring that the education of persons, and in particular children, who are blind, deaf or deafblind, is delivered in the most appropriate languages and modes and means of communication for the individual, and in environments which maximize academic and social development”.

Ireland is now the last remaining EU Member State that has yet to ratify the Convention.