Deaf Services Queenland

A new initiative is commencing in Queensland aged care facilities in an effort to support deaf or hearing-impaired residents who are isolated and lonely.

A new ‘Helping Hands’ volunteer program established by Deaf Services is enhancing the ability for deaf residents to socialise in assisted living with the help of Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) student volunteers, one-on-one coaching, and the latest technology.

The new program encourages AUSLAN students to volunteer monthly to practice their new found skill of signing with deaf aged care residents via video conferencing technology to increase their knowledge and provide much needed companionship.

Deaf Services Ltd aged care manager Leena Vuorinen said the 25 iPad’s and associated technology had provided residents with heightened feelings of belongingness, increased opportunities for contact, inclusivity, and greater life satisfaction.

“The establishment of the program would not have been possible without a Gambling Community Benefit Fund grant of $18,500,” she said.

“The grant application and volunteer packs were completed by Jillian Westbrook, a community intern from Griffith University.

“With her help we made this dream a reality. Now we can provide further assistance, love, and care to the deaf community.”

Griffith University counselling student Jillian Westbrook donated her time to the organisation as part of her Community Internship. The nationally award-winning and credited work integrated learning subject enabled Jillian to assist the organisation for more than 50 hours.

Jillian said she provided the organisation with support to apply for funding, complete research, and help establish a new framework for the volunteer program.

“I am proud to say as part of my internship I completed a Gambling Community Benefit Fund application that was successful,” she said.

“I also had the opportunity to redesign the induction materials, complete volunteer packs, and complete market research.

“The experience was overwhelming. It was a great experience helping Deaf Services. I have even been offered employment when I am ready.

“I could not speak more highly of the internship program.”

Ms Vuorinen said based on current research and her first-hand experience in the field, the new Helping Hands volunteer program would bring great benefits to those in aged care.

“In most cases aged care residents are on their own and can become isolated as they cannot communicate with other residents and staff,” Ms Vuorinen said.

“It is a great program because it instils purpose. Not only are the AUSLAN students’ volunteers, but so are our aged care residents.

Older People Speaks Out secretary Yvonne Campbell said when hearing loss or deafness was coupled with subtle changes in living arrangements it can be distressing.

“As a result of isolation, a deaf individual will often withdraw, their language deteriorates, and medical services are provided without the opportunity for them to contribute to their own care,” Ms Campbell said.

“Preventing loneliness is very important.

“This program initiated by Deaf Services brings back feelings and emotions, which is vital.”

Service Learning at Griffith University provides students with real-world experiences, which can lead to employment. 80 per cent of their community partners state they would employ their interns.

Jillian said the opportunity to work beyond a textbook and help the community was a beneficial experience. She believes volunteering was important and would like to continue giving back to her community.

Recent studies suggest students who participated in a service learning, such as a community internship, are more civically engaged in their communities upon graduation and have an understanding for intercultural effectiveness and socially responsible leadership.

Leena said the contributions of their first community intern was invaluable and encourages other community volunteers to get involved.

For more information head to Deaf Services.

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