Independent Life and Deafblindness, an International Challenge

Cosmopolita Scotland- Disabilities Deafbliness and Independent Life 1

The provision of adapted accommodation for deafblind service users was one the main motivations behind the visit of the Catalan Association for the Deaf People (APSOCECAT), in partnership with the Spanish Federation of Deafblind People (FESOCE), to Sense Scotland, in Glasgow. Guillem Lisarde from Cosmopolita Scotland hosted the Catalan workers in an outing in Edinburgh.


Guillem Lisarde

The vulnerability of the deafblind people is something that most of of us we are not aware of. Their disconnection with the outer world (1) makes them really dependent on what they only can touch or manipulate.

There is generally an absence of institutional support for deafblind people in Spain, according to many specialised organisations such as the Spanish Deafblind Association (ASOCIDE in its Spanish acronym) or the Spanish Federation of the Deafblind (FESOCE). The absence of regulation leads the organisations such as these taking responsibility for meeting the different needs of the deafblind people.

Elisabeth Herraiz from APSOCECAT points out that this is in stark contrast (2) to the reality that similar organisations in other countries face, for example Sense Scotland in Scotland.

The visit to Sense Scotland by the APSOCECAT sign language mediators allows these organisations to collaborate and share methods as well as to explore which differences exist between Scotland, the rest of the UK and Spain.

The meeting between Sense Scotland and APSOCECAT sign language mediators opened up the possibility for collaboration between the two organisations, to share knowledge and to explore the differences in the challenges faced between Scotland, the rest of the UK and Spain. Núria Bustamante, who works for APSCOCECAT, said to Cosmopolita Scotland that she was surprised about the high level of financial support that the public services devote to deafblind people in Scotland which reduces the pressure on associations such as Sense Scotland.

Both organisations offer similar services such as the housing programmes, but according to Bustamante from APSOCECAT, there are differences at their phases of development. In Barcelona there is a recent pilot residential flat whereas Sense Scotland has been offering accommodation for Deafblind people for many years.

Sign Language Mediator 

The role of the sign language mediator is key to offering deafblind people the chance of a good life, but this is not frequently understood in many care centres, according to APSOCECAT workers. They note that in contrast with the role of the guide interpreter, which is just focused on translation and communication, the sign language mediator must go beyond communication and must facilitate the accessibility of deafblind people in all environments where it is possible for them to interact, and they need to facilitate the accessibility of deafblind people in all the environments where they can potentially interact, they think that this professional figure means a guarantee, a tranquillity and a motivation to know better the milieu of the deafblind people, but fundamentally, sign language mediators are like a basic ‘tool’ to dignify their lives.

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Independent Life

APSOCECAT’s visit to Sense Scotland facilitated an exchange of ideas, programmes and projects currently being undertaken in Spain and Scotland, and brings new information to the different European networks and platforms for the deafblind people.

For instance, APSOCECAT shared the good results of a pilot project called Vida independiente [Independent Life in Spanish], which is being supported by Barcelona City Council. Alba Camprodón from APSOCECAT highlights the autonomy that one of the deafblind service users has gained through this initiative: “He manages to use the washing machine, heat food and undertake actions in order to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on the sign language mediators”.

Autonomy is one of the main issues that worries relatives of the deafblind people. “One of the concerns for many parents of deafblind children is what is going to happen to their children when they are over 18, since many of them, after having attended special schools, end up in residential care centres either for mentally challenged people of for people with multiple disabilities or nursing homes for old people, and none of these centres are appropriate for them, says Camprodón. “Since there effectively no specific residential centres (in Spain there is only one centre, Centro Ángela de la Cruz, with capacity for 45) they often receive personal assistance at home, but there are rarely enough people to support them adequately. This gap in service is what the Vida independiente project aims to address (3).

The APSOCECAT workers visited one of the flats run by Sense Scotland (currently 4 people live in one of the flats and 7 in the other). These flats were purpose designed with the accessibility of the service users in mind. For example, each room is painted in a different colour (for example, the kitchen is red and the bathroom blue) to make the most of the visual ability of the service users. In addition the floor in each room is different so they can feel when they are in a different room by their feet.

The Catalan sign language mediators also visited the aromatic vegetable garden and the residential centre TouchBase in Glasgow, an old factory which has been renovated and employs approximately 500 workers. It offers activities to around 100 deafblind people and service users with multiple disabilities. Irene Suttie, Quality Assurance Manager at Sense Scotland states “We are lucky to have resources such as TouchBase, in addition we have support services for residential homes and specialists who help people to develop their communication abilities through arts, theatre and music”.

The meeting between APSOCECAT and Sense Scotland can be seen as an example of the success of international cooperation. The visit highlights how projects from different countries can learn from each other. There is, however, much work to be done. One area that is particularly lacking at the moment is collaboration between governments and existing associations, if in the future they decide to work more closely with each other, greater improvements in the quality of life for deafblind people could be achieved.


Use of English for Spanish Speakers

(1) Outer world

  • Definition: being or located on the outside; external.
  • Example: “[…] Their disconnection with the outer world.” “Su desconexión con el mundo exterior”
  • Translation: Mundo exterior.
  • Comment: Do not translate as el mundo más exterior.

(2) In stark contrast.

  • Definition: sharply or harshly distinct.
  • Example: “[…] This is in stark contrast to the reality that similar organisations in other countries face.” “esto contrasta radicalmente con la realidad a la que se enfrentan otras organizaciones.”
  • Translation: en un contraste radical (en este contexto).
  • Comment: Pay attention to the context when translating into Spanish there is no a fixed expression for this.

(3) To address.

  • Definition: give attention to something.
  • Example: “[…]This gap in service is what the Vida independiente project aims to address. […] ” “Esta falta de servicio es lo que el proyecto de Vida independiente quiere abordar […].”
  • Translation: encarar, abordar. 
  • Comment: Pay attention to the use of this verb in context you might find different synonyms such as encarar, abordar, afrontar, analizar, etc.



Have worked in this article:

Author: Guillem Lisarde (in Spanish).

Edition: Jordi Albacete, Amaia Garmendia and Jonatan Lozano.

Images: Amaia Garmendia.

Proofreading: Dominic Corbett.

Translation into English: Jordi Albacete.

Video (filming and edition): Guillem Lisarde.






Autor: Guillem Lisarde

Recién graduado en periodismo, con planes de estudiar un máster. De momento mi vida y mis intereses se resumen en esta lluvia de ideas: Erasmus, viajes, aventura, mundo audiovisual, medio ambiente, teatro, optimismo, música, minorías, culturas, lenguas, personas, empatía, alegría, paella... Supongo que el futuro pondrá las cosas en su sitio, de momento, improviso… ¿Alguna sugerencia? Contáctame por Twitter en @guilise

A recent Journalism graduate, thinking of doing a masters degree. In a nutshell, my life and interests are: Erasmus, travelling, adventure, audio-visuals, the environment, theatre, positive thinking, music, minorities, culture, languages, people, empathy, happiness, paella… I guess things will fall into place in the future. In the meantime, I just play by ear… Any suggestions? Follow me on Twitter @guilise

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