Deafblind community still pushing for change 50 years after Helen Keller's death

31 May 2018

Half a century after the death of Helen Keller, perhaps the most notable advocate for the rights of deafblind people, much more still needs to be done to make an inclusive and accessible society for people living with vision and hearing loss.

Keller died on June 1, 1968 after spending much of her life campaigning for the rights of people who are deafblind. In the late 1940s she visited Australia and was critical of the way deafblind people were treated in the country.

Vision Australia Lead Policy Advisor Bruce Maguire, who is blind and has a hearing impairment, said there has been a change in attitude towards people who are deafblind, but argues much more needs to be done.

“When Helen Keller visited Australia she was quite critical of how people were being supported. She described those providing the support as paternalistic. It was a situation where people who were blind had little input into what support they received and how they received it,” Mr Maguire said.

“There has been some improvement since then, for example at Vision Australia we have a very person centred approach to supporting our clients, but in general we still need to see a shift to where people who live with vision or hearing loss or any other disability have better access and input across society,” he said.

Mr Maguire said the issue of accessibility in everyday technology is a perfect example where a change in attitude is needed.

“One thing that is becoming more and more common on household devices are touchscreens, but the large majority of those touchscreens are completely inaccessible for people who are blind.

“That’s a decision that’s been made by the manufacturers on their end with no consideration for people who may not be able to use them.

"People like myself have effectively been locked out of doing everyday tasks and until we see a change in attitude to where the abilities of everybody are considered, we’re not going to have a society that is truly fair and equal.”

Vision Australia offers support services to people who are deafblind. Find out more information here, or get in touch on 1300 84 74 66 or email info@visionaustralia.org.