The target group of Lebenswelt is Deaf Plus people who have passed the age of compulsory education. The criteria for inclusion are primarily the need for visual or alternative communication and the ability to participate in an individually designed work plan.
Despite differences in development, language and communication, physical and psychological impairments, our members have the same need for visual and alternative communication methods. Self-determination and individual participation are important to us. Our communities are organized in such a way that regular meetings are held with the members, and elected member representatives participate also. The delegates also represent Lebenswelt at various public meetings with other organizations and regional conferences.
The term ‘deaf’ refers generally to a person who was born deaf, or acquired a hearing loss before development of speech. In these circumstances, the deaf person may or may not benefit from assisted listening devices, such as hearing aids, for the purpose of recognizing and using spoken language. Deaf people can cultivate social identification in associations, organizations and residential schools for deaf students. For persons who are culturally deaf, personal identity is strongly tied to the indigenous signed language of the region. Lebenswelt’s recognition and respect for the visual language preferred by a deaf person is very important, as many deaf people struggle to find a place in the hearing world, where their identity and status as a valuable citizen may be difficult to achieve.
Due to the combination of hearing and vision loss, deafblind people may have severe difficulties in performing daily life tasks. Becoming deaf and blind does not simply result in the sum of deafness plus blindness. Each person has a different degree of vision and hearing loss and the combination of vision and hearing loss requires specific interventions for each person. In general, a deafblind person has special needs in areas of communication, gaining information from the environment, mobility, travel and safety.
Lebenswelt strives to consider first the individual, and not the disabling condition that qualifies a person to participate in the program. Lebenswelt honors the principle of the Hanoverian Association, the DEUTSCHEN TAUBBLINDENVERBANDES E.V. (German Association for Deaf-Blind People) and this should be applied to all forms of support: “We only help as much as necessary and respect the self-reliance and self-responsibility of the deaf-blind individual. Their disability does not mean they should be deprived of their human dignity.”
Depending on the severity of hearing loss, the onset of deafness, the combination with other disabilities, etc., deaf people have the following options to communicate with others or to express their own thoughts –– sign language, written or spoken language.
Sign language is a naturally-emerging form of communication in deaf communities worldwide and is different in each country (with exceptions such as the U.S. and Canada sharing American Sign Language). Signed languages have existed for as long as there have been deaf people. It is therefore a system of communication that has emerged naturally out of necessity. It is a distinct language of its own with its own grammar and syntax. With approximately 70 million deaf people who use sign language as their first language, sign languages are as prevalent as spoken languages, with each country having one or more indigenous sign languages (World Federation of the Deaf)
The following principles should always be taken into account in when communicating with a deaf person who is considered to be ‘highly visual’:
At Lebenswelt, encouraging communication is extremely important. Deaf people who come to Lebenswelt are encouraged to make use of any communication mode that works, including technology-based communication such as fax, email, social media messaging, etc. This also applies to deafblind people and their special forms of communication.
A deafblind person primarily uses the sense of touch to communicate and orientate oneself in the environment, since sight and hearing may be greatly reduced. ‘Deafblind’ seldom means total vision and hearing loss, which is a common misunderstanding about the term. A person who is deafblind can communicate in several different ways, including tactilely reading sign language. Some sign languages are modified to accommodate a language that is read tactilely through a person’s hands rather than through the person’s eyes. In tactile conversations, the hands of the communication partners lie on top of each other. The deafblind conversation partner can read a previously- learned sign language or a person can print letters in the deafblind partner’s palm to communicate tactually (the latter is used when one or more of the communicators does not sign). A common communication system within Europe is called Lorman, in which letters are located on certain areas of the hand and the deafblind person has memorized where each letter (or short form) is placed. People who have reduced vision and hearing may be able to access signed communication within a small space or closer (or further) than usual. In all forms of communicating with a person who is deafblind, touch is very important for being able to access information about the environment and for general communication access.
Lebenswelt offers various work activities for our members that increase self-confidence and self-esteem. This pride gained at the work palce, leads the individuals into feeling that they are being productive and valuable to society, as other citizens in the community. Making products that become available for public sale is an important part of work at Lebenswelt. Participants receive recognition for their work accomplishments by selling high-quality goods they produced. The members are justifiably proud of their products and the associated labor that went into making them. An added benefit of working in a group setting is that participants develop empathy for fellow human beings. They learn to encourage and help each other develop a positive sense of self-esteem about their work. At Lebenswelt, a strong work ethic promotes confidence, problem-solving, collegiality, independence, pride in accomplishment, and personal maturity.
Through professional work mentors, the organized work activities for each person contribute to skills development and open up the possibility for advanced training and coursework in areas of interest. Lebenswelt provides intensive support in a variety of specialized work areas, including:
Some people prefer to live independently apart from the Lebenswelt residential facilities, but benefit from structured work environments. These people work with the professional mentors alongside those who live at Lebenswelt.
“Living is more than living in a room – living means space for creative possibilities!” Lebenswelt takes this guiding principle to heart and tries to co-create a place with Deaf Plus people that can become a permanent home.
Living in residential groups offers space for individuality (private rooms), retreat, security and protection, while also being involved in community activities. A multi-professional supervisory team supports the ‘family members’ in their basic care, offers guidance in their daily life and provides psychosocial and medical intervention as needed. In order to preserve a harmonious living situation, a positive communication atmosphere in sign language is always respected. Additional aims of the living community are to promote cooperative social relationships, personality development, and self-confidence.
Inhabitants take part in everyday activities such as shopping, cooking, cleaning their own home, doing laundry and much more within the scope of their abilities. If any of these tasks exceed personal capabilities, support is readily available from the team of supervisors. Establishing routines around caring for self and the home creates a sense of security and shapes people’s positive perception of the physical world around them.
In the evenings, Lebenswelt members can end the day privately within the comfort of their own rooms or apartments or with community activities, such as swimming, walking, or playing games. On weekends, visits with family and friends contribute to one’s sense of belonging and well-being.
House meetings are regularly convened in the interest of equal opportunity, during which the inhabitants express their wishes and needs. Leisure opportunities (excursions, parties, group holidays, deaf community meetings, etc.) are discussed in these house meetings.
A special form of care is offered at Lebenswelt Wallsee. The focus institution is for those deaf persons with additional needs who are not able to be in a group of people without massively endangering the members of the group and/or themselves.
For the focal point facility other basic conditions apply, at the same time it is woven into the structure of the Lebenswelt Wallsee.
Joy of life through community.
Community through common language.
Understanding through sign language.
Development through understanding.