BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Monday, 7 August 2006, 05:46 GMT 06:46 UK
In touch with deafblind challenge
By Thomas McGuigan
BBC Scotland news website

Rail tickets
Deafblind people face many challenges in rail stations

Picture the scene. You want to get a train, but you can't see the platform and you can't hear the station's public announcement telling you where to go.

If and when you get to the right platform you can't see the button to open the doors and if you do manage to board the train you can't see where there is a spare seat in the carriage.

These are just some of the problems facing deafblind people in Scotland.

Stephen Joyce was born profoundly deaf and is now losing his sight.

Morven Cameron
Before today I would have probably said the person was deaf and dumb, which I now know is wrong
Morven Cameron
First ScotRail worker

The 33-year-old father-of-one trains First ScotRail staff at its Training Academy in Glasgow on how to offer help and support to deafblind rail users.

Stephen spoke to the small group of workers through an interpreter using sign language and the interpreter then told them what he said.

He offers training to new staff at First ScotRail to illustrate the obstacles faced by deafblind people. The condition is also known as dual sensory impairment.

I took part in one of Stephen's practical exercises during the training session.

Totally disorientated

It involved putting in ear plugs and wearing a blindfold so that I could not hear or see anything.

Four of us sat round a table with little idea of what was going to happen next. We weren't told what to do.

A minute later someone grabbed my hand and put it on top of what felt like dominos on the table.

It felt strange to touch something and guess what it was, but not be certain.

Stephen Joyce
Stephen Joyce offers training to rail staff on deafblind people's needs

I heard a faint voice asking if I wanted tea or coffee, the sound was muffled and difficult to pick up.

I said no and then I was asked if I needed a hand to get off my seat to leave the room.

I said I did and I felt someone lifting me from the chair and moving me to where I thought the door was.

I was totally reliant on the person guiding me.

I was in darkness as the person grabbed my left hand and got me to extend my arm, so that I could feel the wall on my left side.

Gingerly, I felt the wall as we moved forward, only for it to disappear as I assumed we must have turned a corner.

Finally, I was asked to take off the blindfold and remove the ear plugs.

We were in another room and I found it difficult to see in the sudden light.

Stephen said the exercise was designed to show people how and what it felt like to be deafblind.

I felt totally disorientated and at the mercy of the person guiding me.

Audio clips

The thought of trying to board a train without being able to see or hear properly alarmed me.

Things I take for granted, like pressing a button to board a train or finding a spare seat on one of the carriages pose real challenges for deafblind rail users.

Another exercise involved listening to about 20 audio clips and trying to decipher what the person was saying.

It was almost impossible to make out the words.

Stephen said this was what it sounded like to a deafblind person in the middle of a busy rail station.

First ScotRail is liaising with the charity Deafblind Scotland to help its staff improve their understanding of the condition and the challenges deafblind people face.

Letter A in the deafblind manual
To make A - touch the recipient's thumb with your forefinger

Deafblind Scotland serves about 700 adults who have lost or are losing their sight and hearing.

It said there were about 5,000 people in Scotland with a dual sensory impairment.

The most effective way to communicate with deafblind people is using the deafblind manual.

The manual is relatively easy to pick up, Deafblind Scotland's Jill Robertson said.

Deafblind Manual Alphabet is a tactile language, used to communicate with people who have little or no residual sight and hearing.

'Engage people'

Also known as finger-spelling, this involves forming letter symbols on the palm of a person's hand.

A person's five fingers on one hand denote the vowels.

Deafblind Scotland works with adults who have become dual sensory impaired later in life - which is called acquired deafblindness.

Ms Robertson said: "We exist to enable deafblind people to do what they want, not do it for them.

"We engage with them and try to integrate them back into society."

Julie McComasky
Julie McComasky said the deafblind training was invaluable

Morven Cameron, a bookings officer at Irvine Station, said she found the training rewarding, adding that it made her assess her own views.

"This kind of thing is a brilliant idea," the 30-year-old from Greenock said.

"It makes you more at ease when dealing with a person who is deaf and blind and shows the problems they face.

"Before today I would have probably said the person was deaf and dumb, which I now know is wrong.

"This helps me think about what I'll do the next time a deafblind person comes into the rail station and I'll be able to help them more confidently."

First ScotRail spokeswoman Julie McComasky said the training was a good way to educate staff on the needs of deafblind rail users.

She said other bodies within the rail industry should consider similar training programmes.

See a demonstration of the Deafblind Manual Alphabet

Deafblind care 'postcode lottery'
07 Aug 06 |  Scotland
Deafblind slate 'senseless' tech
27 Jun 05 |  Technology


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific