Literally translated, ‘Lebenswelt’ means ‘Living World’ or ‘Living Environment’. In reality, the complexity and uniqueness of Lebenswelt make it an untranslatable term. Lebenswelt is a rich concept of living and working together with open communication access for people who are deaf, have additional disabilities, and share a common language (Austrian Sign Language). Referred to as ‘Deaf Plus’ and including people who are deafblind, the residents of Lebenswelt are regarded as ‘participants’ or ‘members’ to emphasize a system of equal value for each person.
The Lebenswelt communities in Schenkenfelden, Pinsdorf, and Wallsee offer people who are deaf or deafblind with additional disabilities, a therapeutic living and working environment where communication access is consistent and secure.
Supported by qualified and committed staff members, Lebenswelt members reside in an environment where their quality of life is enhanced through communication access, positive behavioral supports, respectful interaction, leisure activities, and ability-focused work opportunities. Each person who lives at Lebenswelt is unique, but the common attribute [we all share] is the use of Austrian Sign Language as the primary form of communication.
The idea for Lebenswelt originated in the outpatient clinic in Linz for people who are deaf, which was founded in 1991. The day-to-day work soon revealed that deaf and deafblind people with additional disabilities could be best supported in a setting with appropriate care facilities and qualified employees. The search for a suitable property to fulfil the need for adequate accommodation began.
Prim. Dr. Johannes Fellinger, the initiator of the Lebenswelt Schenkenfelden, and his family decided to donate the Gerstl-Haus in Schenkenfelden for this project. Prim. Dr. Fellinger is well acquainted with the world of deaf people and is a fluent user of Austrian Sign Language. The son of Prof. Matthäus Fellinger, an artist who became deaf at the age of 16, Prim. Dr. Fellinger turned to helping deaf people during his medical studies. His father-in-law, Prof. Helmut Berger, was also a deaf artist.
The first real breakthrough came in 1995 when the local community of Schenkenfelden made the old town hall available for use as a residential building, following renovation. The Welfare Department of the State of Upper Austria, under Mr. Josef Ackerl, secured financial support to establish the Lebenswelt, and the groundbreaking ceremony took place in 1997. A three-year specialist-training course for the care of Deaf Plus persons was established for deaf counsellors at the ‘VIS.COM School for Visual and Alternative Communication’ in Linz. A co-financing arrangement between the Cultural Department and the local Development Department made it possible to retain the historical heritage of the Gerstl-Haus and to make parts of it accessible to the public as a museum, providing a bridge to the outside world to the Lebenswelt community.
After five years of preparation, Lebenswelt Schenkenfelden was opened in July 1999 with its first 12 Deaf Plus members. September 1999 saw the ceremonial opening of the Gerstl-Haus and the residential house opened in April 2000. In August 2000, Prof. Dr. Jan van Arkel became the manager of Lebenswelt Schenkenfelden.
An additional workshop opened in Linz in July 2005 to market products made in Schenkenfelden, which allows 4 - 5 Deaf Plus people who live in Linz to participate in a mentored work environment.
In February 2008, a new residential area for 9 residents in the Hintergasse in Schenkenfelden was added.
Lebenswelt Pinsdorf (in Salzkammergut near Gmunden) provides jobs for 20 members and apartments for 13 residents. It has been in operation since June 2011.
The third Lebenswelt is in Wallsee-Sindelburg (Lower Austria) and was opened in October 2014. Lebenswelt Wallsee offers space for 25 members in the work facility and a home for 20 residents. Due to the special needs of residents who are self-dangerous and those who are not, a special facility for 6 residents was created within Lebenswelt Wallsee with the help of the province of Lower Austria in 2020. Individual developmental support is thus possible in all-day care.
The Lebenswelt program is compliant and operates accordance with the laws of the Austrian federal states.
Accordingly, our tasks include:
Joy of life through community.
Community through common language.
Understanding through sign language.
Development through understanding.