Action by deaf to save facility
Deaf community argues that their needs are different from those with other disabilities, writes John Cradden
The Irish deaf community has begun a grassroots campaign against the possible closure of the only residential care facility for deaf and deaf/blind people in the Republic.
The long-term future of St Joseph’s Home for Deaf and Deaf/Blind in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, is in doubt because of a new HSE/Department of Health policy that aims to close all institutions – or “congregational settings” – that provide residential care for people with disabilities over the next seven years.
The policy aims to move people with disabilities out of these institutions and integrate them into the wider community to either live alone or in shared accommodation with up to ten other residents.
St Joseph’s currently houses 29 residents and has a waiting list. Staff are trained in Irish Sign Language (ISL), and most of the residents sign.
The prospect of the home’s closure has alarmed large numbers of people in the Irish deaf community and prompted a Facebook campaign that has already attracted over 1,600 members.
One of those involved in the campaign, John Bosco-Conama, said: “I think the congregated settings policy militates disproportionately against the deaf community because it does not take account of ISL and deaf culture.”
Liam O’Dwyer, chief executive of the Catholic Institute for Deaf People (CIDP), which owns St Joseph’s, says that while his organisation agrees with the general thrust of the new policy, St Joseph’s Home deserves to be made an exception.
He says that when gathering information to back up the policy, researchers for the HSE did “not research” the situation with regards to residents who are deaf or deaf/blind, and have simply thrown them into the same category as residents with intellectual disabilities.
“What we’re saying is deaf people want to be together, from a communication and a cultural point of view.
“That’s what makes this different,” said O’Dwyer.
The policy makes an exception for congregational settings classified as “intentional communities” – communities of people who actively want to be together – but it is understood the HSE is challenging efforts by the CIDP for St Joseph’s to be recognised as one.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the Minister of State with responsibility for disability, Kathleen Lynch, has met the CIDP and is aware of its concerns, but is “confident that that the HSE will progress this policy in conjunction with all those involved, including agencies providing services to people with a disability”.
The CIDP has already agreed with the HSE that it will have to move out of the Stillorgan building within the next four years because it has been deemed unsuitable in the long-term. It is planning a proposal for a new residential home structure based in or beside the new Deaf Village Ireland campus in Cabra, Dublin.
But in the meantime, the CIDP says the short-term viability of the current facility, which has accommodation for up to 36 residents, is under threat because of a freeze in HSE funding for new applicants despite an eight-strong waiting list.
There are currently 29 residents, but it needs at least 33 to break even.