Motion to Take Notice of the Month of June as the Birth Month of Helen Keller and to Recognize it as “Deaf-Blind Awareness Month”

Honourable senators, it is my pleasure today to express support for Senator Martin’s motion to recognize June as Deaf-Blind Awareness Month. The purpose of this motion, as Senator Martin put it, is to raise public awareness of the issues impacting people with deaf-blindness and to recognize the contribution of these people to our society.

Helen Keller was born in June, so it is appropriate to select the month to direct our attention and energies to learning about this particular disability and inciting Canadians to do the same. For many of us, the inspiring story of Helen Keller is a reason we know anything at all not only about the challenges of being deaf-blind, but also about the human capacity to overcome them. This woman, after all, broke through the walls of limited vision and near silence to establish connections with people, her community, the world and future generations like us. A writer, an activist and a humanitarian, Helen Keller is today, almost 50 years after her death, an example of hope, heroism and the reason a motion like Senator Martin’s should be supported.

Overcoming adversity is, by nature, difficult. Overcoming adversity alone — well, I doubt that is even possible.

We are fortunate as parliamentarians to have a public profile. We are well-positioned to nudge social issues like those related to deaf-blindness into the light. Earlier today, we saw former Senator Asha Seth with us. Look what she has done, as well, with her inspiration and passion in this regard. She is still passionate about the issue, as we look at her good work at the Canadian Helen Keller Centre.

We talk about our good friends. There was Vim and now there’s Jim. Vim Kochhar has already cleared the path for us. You certainly couldn’t say no to Senator Kochhar. For more than 30 years, he has been helping those with deaf-blindness through activities that bring real, meaningful improvements to their lives. In the 1980s, he was instrumental in raising the necessary funds and bringing plans to provide housing for deaf-blind people to fruition. As Senator Martin said, I’m referring to the Rotary Cheshire Homes. It is the only facility in the world that specifically enables deaf-blind people to live independently.

The Great Valentine Gala also bears Vim’s distinct stamp. Since 1984, he has been doing the front-line work, putting on this annual fundraising event to benefit people with disabilities.

Currently, there are almost 70,000 deaf-blind people over the age of 12 in Canada. The prevalence of this dual disability is surprising to me. In part, that is because I know little about deaf-blindness; I need to know more. I work so much in so many other areas dealing with disabilities that this is the one that caught my imagination. It is the influence of senators like Senators Martin, Kochhar and Seth that has spurred me on to talk about this particular area of life.

I hate to look at the word “dis-.” I look at the “ability.” I don’t like that “dis-” word, but it seems to be in our vocabulary.

I understand that disabilities limit people in their everyday activities. Here, I can apply what I know of some other disabilities to appreciate the emotional, financial and other hardships these limitations create. I can also apply my insights into the experiences of people with disabilities to appreciate that limitations like these betray what our society is failing to do in the interests of deaf-blind people.

As Senator Martin has said, only 3,000 deaf-blind people have been identified as clients of organizations that help them interact with other people, places and environments. That is 3,000 out of 70,000 deaf-blind people. Think about it. In terms of the fundamental rights we all have to live as fully as possible and to realize our potential, this is a travesty.

In terms of what Senator Martin is proposing in her motion to recognize June as deaf-blind awareness month, these numbers are a starting point for us all. We can begin to change the odds by learning about deaf-blindness and the real life experiences of people with this distinct disability.

Unwilling to simply tuck the few facts I know away, I’m inspired by what I glean from them. It is clear to see there is so much work ahead for us if we are to set this imbalance right.

Senator Martin, I thank you personally for your motion and your determination to get it passed. It is simple. I hope we can do it faster than my autism bill, which took three years, but was still worth it. Every minute, every day, it is worth it to do these things, because people do pay attention.

If I can get in a plug on autism, there is more money than ever before in the last decade and people are doing better things. The same thing should be happening here. Your motion is a simple and straightforward request.

I am sure all honourable senators can see clearly the moral and social purpose of this measure. I urge you to join us in supporting it.

Thank you very much.