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What is Sensory Impairment?


Sensory impairment is the common term used to describe Deafness, blindness, visual impairment, hearing impairment and Deafblindness. It does not include however the sense of smell or touch which are often included when 'sensory rooms' are created to help stimulate people with learning difficulties or people with MSI (Multi-Sensory Impairments).

Deaf (capital D)

When the term Deaf is used (note the capital D), this indicates that the person/people referred to are profoundly deaf and usually use BSL (British Sign Language) to communicate. They do not consider Deafness to be a disability but more of a difference in human experience and often greatly involved with Deaf culture such as Deaf pubs, Deaf clubs, Deaf Deaflympics and even Deaf raves!

There are many causes of Deafness and the effects can be devastating for people who become post-lingually Deaf (After learning speech). Pre-lingually Deaf people may attend a school for the Deaf to learn signing and speech therapy.

deaf (lower case d)

The term deaf (lover case d) refers to people with severe to profound hearing loss although terminology tends to be an individual preference. People who consider themselves deaf usually rely on hearing aids to enhance the hearing they have but will not replace hearing to its original level.

Hearing impaired or hard of hearing

Terminology such as hearing impaired or hard of hearing is used when a person has mild to moderate hearing loss but is again down to personal preference. NHS hearing aids are not usually given to people with mild to moderate hearing loss unless they have a sight impairment as well. In these cases the individual should be given two sets of hearing aids as there is a greater propensity for loss or damage and the second set can be worn whilst the original ones are repaired or replaced.

The term deafened is used when a person who was previously hearing loses their hearing due to an illness, accident or age related hearing loss. The latter is the largest cause of hearing loss in the UK.

Causes of hearing loss

Causes of hearing loss can be many and varied such as difficulties during birth, injury or infection, childhood diseases like Measles, Mumps and Rubella as well as genetic causes and loud noises.

Prevention

Prevention can be assisted with regular hearing checks, wearing ear defenders or ear plugs when working with loud machinery or music and going to the GP if you have any concerns about your hearing. Some hearing loss can be due to a build-up of wax or blockage in the ear canal which can be managed with surgery or medical management.

Sight loss

Levels of sight loss which used to be 'blind and partially sighted' are now referred to as sight impaired and severely sight impaired. This is the terminology used when someone receives a CVI (Certificate of Visual Impairment) this does not however mean that the individual has been registered with sight loss as this is a voluntary process done through your Local Authority.

The levels of sight loss will be measured by checking the visual acuity – your central vision, the vision you use to see detail and your visual field – how much you can see around the edge of your vision whilst looking straight ahead. There are guidelines about the level of sight loss to define whether you are certified sight impaired or severely sight impaired.

Causes of sight loss 

There are many causes of sight loss such as injury or infection, genetic or age-related such as AMD (Age Related Macular Degeneration) Cataracts and Diabetic Retinopathy. It is also possible to have more than one eye condition such as Retinitis Pigmentosa and Glaucoma and detached Retinas. The causes of sight loss are many but the effects like hearing loss can cause emotional and psychological difficulties.

Dual sensory loss or deafblindness

When a person has difficulty seeing or hearing they can be referred to as having a dual sensory loss or deafblind.   Usually a person will have difficulty with communication, mobilising and accessing information.  The largest number of people in the UK with dual sensory loss is the older generation.  There are genetic causes such as Usher Syndrome and also impairment caused by injury or infection.  If someone has sight and hearing loss it becomes one impairment 'Deafblindness' as one sense cannot compensate the other.  Dual sensory loss can be mis-diagnosed as dementia.

Deafblind people are entitled to a specialist social care assessment under the Care Act which may lead to services and equipment which will support independence.  

And so to conclude...

... People with a sensory impairment are more likely to have depression, isolation and loss of confidence and independence.  ECL Sensory Service can provide rehabilitation, mobility training, equipment and links to local and national voluntary organisations and specialist information, advice and emotional support.

By Terri Sawkins, Sensory Training Facilitator at the ECL Sensory Service.


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