Deafblind Awareness Week 2024 in Western Australia

In Western Australia, from 24-30 June we celebrate Deafblind Awareness Week (DBAW). This week raises awareness about the challenges faced by people with combined hearing and vision impairments, while also celebrating the resilience and achievements of those living with deafblindness. DBAW is celebrated internationally each year to coincide with Helen Keller’s birthday on 27 June.

What is deafblindess?

Deafblindness is a combination of sight and hearing loss. Also known as ‘dual sensory loss’, deafblindness can impact a person’s ability to communicate, access information and participate equally in society. You can be born with congenital deadfblindness, or acquire it later in life, with vision and hearing deterioration through accident, illness or disease.
Deafblindness is more common than you think. It is estimated* that 0.2-2% of the Australian population – 50,000-500,000 people – has deafblindness.
Something you may not know is that deafblindness is a spectrum. A small number of people will have no sight or hearing, while other people who are deafblind will have varying degrees of vision and/or hearing.

Who is Helen Keller?

Helen Keller was born in 1880 and lost her sight and hearing due to illness at an early age. Despite these challenges, Keller’s determination and the guidance of her teacher, Anne Sullivan, enabled her to learn to communicate through touch. Keller went on to achieve a number of previously unthinkable firsts. She was the first deafblind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. She also became a renowned author, an advocate and a disability rights activist, travelling the world with her message of hope for people living with disability.

Young Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan.
Young Helen Keller with her teacher Anne Sullivan. Image source:

Helen Keller visited Australia in 1948 with her secretary and companion Polly Thompson. Keller’s goal was ‘to give a message for the blind struggling with their local environment which varies from land to land [so that] when at last true civilisation dawns, society will safeguard their liberties and rights.’ You can listen to the ABC interview with Polly Thompson and Helen Keller from 1948 here.

Keller was invited to Australia by the Royal Sydney Industrial blind Institute. During here time here, she visited schools, nursing homes and libraries for people with vision impairment right across the country. The Institute were surprised when Keller told them that Australia’s services for the blind were behind that of the rest of the world. In essence, Helen Keller’s visit to Australia changed the way that Australians thought about disability. Her groundbreaking ideas shifted our nation towards a support model based in partnership, empowerment and independence.

Celebrating deafblind awareness week a picture of Helen Keller visiting a school in Australia with her companion Polly Thomspon. Image source Helen Keller (1948), Weekly Times.
Helen Keller visiting school children in Australia with her companion Polly Thomspon. Image source Helen Keller (1948), Weekly Times.

Keller’s legacy lives on in Western Australia, where organisations like VisAbility and Deafblind WA support the deafblind community to thrive.

Information and Support

In Western Australia, VisAbility have supported the blind and vision impaired community for over 100 years. Starting out as the Ladies’ Braille Society in 1913 transcribing Braille literature. After the First World War, The Society moved on to home teaching, social work and establishing the Rest Home for the Aged Blind at Victoria Park in 1923. In 1973, we joined forces with Guide Dogs for the Blind (now Guide Dogs WA) to deliver comprehensive support for people with vision impairment. Evolving with the times, VisAbility provides vision specialist services for all ages, supporting people through life’s big transitions. This includes empowering members in our deafblind community to live their lives to the full. Simply supporting people to keep doing the things they love.

The WA deafblind community is also supported by the incredible team at Deafblind West Australians. Their efforts during Deafblindness Week – and beyond – include hosting workshops, seminars, and community events aimed at promoting inclusivity and understanding. Deafblind WA collaborates with local communities to foster greater awareness and empathy for individuals with dual sensory impairments. These initiatives not only highlight the challenges faced by those living with deafblindness but also emphasises their capabilities and contributions to society. You can view their events for Deafblind Awareness Week here
For more information on VisAbility services, you can visit our website, email or contact us on (08) 9311 8202.