Toronto

Ever wonder what it's like to be deafblind? The Toronto Public Library gave people the chance to find out

People weren’t just checking out books at the library this weekend – they were checking out deafblind people.

Volunteers fielded questions from the public in honour of Deafblind Awareness Month

Deafblind volunteer Barbara Milner answered patrons' questions about sensory loss at a Toronto Public Library event on Sunday. (Martin Trainor/CBC )

People weren't just checking out books at the library this weekend – they were also checking out  what it's like to be deafblind.

On Sunday, in honour of Deafblind Awareness Month, the Toronto Public Library and the Canadian Institute for the Blind (CNIB) ran what they called a human library.  Patrons could sit down with deafblind volunteers and openly ask questions about what it's like living with dual sensory loss.

"I want people to know that deafblind people are wonderful," volunteer Barbara Milner said via tactile sign language with her intervenor. "They have families. They can live alone. I have five children and 10 grandchildren. I'm happy like that."

She said there's a misconception that all deafblind people have total loss of hearing and sight, but there are varying degrees. She was born deaf and vision impaired and lost the rest of her vision over time.

Organizer Sarah Darlucio (left) gave Jacob Kania a taste of what life with vision loss is like through simulation goggles. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

At the event, people could try on goggles that simulate what it's like to be vision-impaired, and learn about gizmos and gadgets that help deafblind people do everyday tasks. 

Sarah Darlucio, project lead at the CNIB, said removing stigmas and advocating the need for more intervenor services were both goals of the event. Intervenors are the trained professionals who act as the "eyes" and "ears" of people who are deafblind through the sense of touch.

"In Ontario, we have fantastic services, but there's still a lot of work to be done," she said. "In other provinces across Canada, there are no intervenor services." 

She explained many people are only provided intervenors to get through things they need to do like doctor's appointments and groceries, but deserve to have access to do fun things too.

Deafblind volunteer Santo Calidonna teaches CBC reporter Laura DaSilva how to sign letters. (Martin Trainor/CBC )

Proud Italian and self-proclaimed soccer fanatic Santo Calidonna was born with sight and hearing, but went deaf at 18 months old and started losing his vision after being diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease at the age of seven.

His vision is limited and he admits bumping into people and having trouble navigating the city are realities, but it's nothing he can't handle.

"Many people have perfect hearing and perfect vision, and they still have obstacles every day," he said. "I want people to know that inside, we have minds. We have 10 fingers, 10 toes. We have feelings. And our spirits and emotions are the same." 

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