Caring in a crisis: supporting people with sight & hearing loss

We are sharing a series of stories called ‘caring in a crisis’ to praise our colleagues and highlight the magnificent work taking place behind the scenes that support people who are vulnerable.

The Sensory Impairment Team is a small countywide team of Specialist Workers who work with both adults and children who are Deaf, hard of hearing, visually impaired or with a dual sensory loss.

The team is based in Abingdon, visiting people in the community, providing advice, assessment, social work, equipment, information and rehabilitation support.

Since the initial stages of the lockdown, the team have been adapting to work in different ways, to best support people with a Sensory Impairment. The team support around 1,000 people every year, so this current crisis has encouraged staff to be creative and use technology in new ways.

What tasks or duties do you perform to support people with a visual or hearing impairment?

We have been busy making sure that people who are known to our team are contacted to check whether they have support from their family and /or informal carers. If they need something, we will refer to the District teams who can help them to access food and medication.

The Hearing Impairment team were very concerned that a proportion of clients – whose language is British Sign language (BSL) – may not be aware of the daily updates given by Central Government. It was noted that BSL interpreters were not used initially during the press conference daily updates on TV. The team use a variety of Social Media, email and BSL relay interpreters to ensure that information is available and accessible. We also currently provide support via Skype for people who are Deaf, to help direct them to other available services and to support them with issues where appropriate.

We contact people who are waiting for a Specialist Assessment from the team, to talk to them or their family. Contacting people with a Sensory Impairment has raised challenges during this crisis and we’ve used Skype, WhatsApp, or a simple phone call to have a chat to understand their needs, where this is possible.

Here is Franca Casula – she is signing directly to someone who has contacted the Sensory Impairment team using Skype.

If someone can’t hear by phone, we have been contacting individuals by email or have spoken with relatives or BSL interpreter as necessary. If it is appropriate, we can also send specialist equipment in the post to help people to manage.

We are also continuing our partnership working -for example, with The Oxfordshire Association for the Blind – as well as the Telephone and Translation Service for BSL users - to ensure that the support is as comprehensive as possible. We have maintained support for some of our families that we work with by using individual family online Sign Language lessons and using tutors as part of our Sign Up provision.  

What is it like to work during this challenging situation?

Here is Jess Brown, a Specialist Rehabilitation Worker who like most people, is currently working from her kitchen. This is some of the equipment the Visual Impairment team have been able to post to people who need it. 

It's definitely different! I think it has challenged everyone in the team to maintain a level of service that is creative, so we can anticipate any issues that may arise and be prepared to deal with them.

The team have really pulled together in this very difficult time and we are so proud of how they have supported the Sensory Impairment community, as well as each other.

Team members are being asked do tasks which are not within their normal day to day role and they have responded positively and have retained a level of humour, which is essential in these times.

Kate Laybourne and Andrew Magnay – Practice Supervisors for the Sensory Impairment Team say: We would like to take this opportunity to give a huge thank you to our team for their continuing hard work and dedication as it makes a big difference.

For more information:

If you have questions and need more information about any of these services, please contact us:

Visual Impairment Team

T: 01865 894935 SMS: 07713 329501 E: visual.impairment@oxfordshire.gov.uk

Hearing Impairment Team

T: 01865 894925 SMS: 07713 329501 E: hearing.impairment@oxfordshire.gov.uk