Remote therapy a solution during Covid-19 for people with deafblindness
Public health, Deafblindness
7 Feb 2023
Even in normal situations, people with deafblindness constitute a vulnerable group that experience a lot of isolation – and the pandemic hit this group hard. Letter courses in Braille and remote therapy were some of the solutions that made things easier, as shown in a new report from the Nordic Welfare Centre: Reducing social isolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic – Examples of promising practice from the Nordic countries.
The Covid-19 pandemic has in many ways challenged the health and well-being of people, and more widely, the welfare systems in the Nordic countries.
Due to regulations and lockdowns, many people have experienced social isolation, and vulnerable groups – such as older adults and those with disabilities – have been hit especially hard.
As loneliness has implications for people’s long-term mental and physical health, the consequences of the pandemic are significant for health and social care.
The care needs to change
When the pandemic hit, everyone felt at a loss.
The municipal deafblind team in Stockholm gives advice and support and works with habilitation for persons with combined hearing and seeing impairment. Like everyone else the team lacked contingency plans to deal with the situation.
– There was no research and no knowledge about offering accessible information. We did the best we could, but as there was nothing to refer to, this is an overarching purpose of our ongoing research. We need to learn what the consequences of this are, and to change the care provided for this target group, says researcher Mattias Ehn, psychologist at Stockholm’s deafblind team.
Mattias Ehn works directly with persons with deafblindness in his clinical work. He is also part of a research team at Örebro University conducting a study on how persons with deafblindness were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Finding solutions in a new situation
Quick solutions, innovative thinking plus a genuine desire to do something to enable socially richer lives for vulnerable groups formed the basis for various initiatives around the Nordic region when the extent of the Covid-19 pandemic was a fact.
The challenge was to find solutions in a situation that nobody had previous experience of or ready-made answers to.
– Teaching someone to walk with a white cane, you don’t do that on Teams, you just have to practise it hands-on. Our educators were creative, they wore visors and face masks, worked outdoors and went above and beyond to provide contact, says Ehn.
“Many choose to withdraw”
Fairly soon after the pandemic began, the Association of the Swedish Deafblind in Stockholm set up different kinds of events on Zoom in an attempt to reach the target group.
– The region’s digital toolbox was gradually expanded to offer individual contacts and group activities remotely. But if you see and hear poorly, how are you to participate remotely? says Ehn.
– For a person with deafblindness, it can be difficult to keep up if communication is fast, so many choose to withdraw. This happens particularly among those who have deafblindness that is not evident to those around them. In that situation, other people just don’t understand that they have seeing and hearing problems, says Ehn.
Course and meetings became digital
The vision specialist at the team in Stockholm teaches Braille. During the pandemic the weekly physical meeting became a correspondence school.
– It was pretty inefficient, but it was still a way to keep going and maintain contact, Ehn explains.
As a psychologist, Ehn also noticed a big difference in his clinical activities. Before the pandemic, he had a couple of patients he dealt with remotely, but during the pandemic, around 80 per cent of appointments were digital. Even now that the situation has normalised, he still sees 30-40 per cent of his patients remotely.
– We’ve made the change, says Ehn.
Digital solutions served as a bridge
In Finland, Sweden and Norway, digital tools such as online video meetings served as a bridge builder between parties and involuntarily isolated adults.
In Denmark, Landsforeningen Autisme/The National Autism Association started a telephone helpline and in the Icelandic town of Akureyri, snow was cleared to make it easier for residents to get around outdoors.
Read more about the other examples in the report Reducing social isolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic – Examples of promising practice from the Nordic countries.
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