Our Mission and Core Values
Our Therapeutic Communities
Lebenswelt LocationsOur History
Our Target Group
Working and Residential Environment
Literally translated, ‘Lebenswelt’ means ‘Living World’ or ‘Living Environment’. In reality, the complexity and uniqueness of Lebenswelt make it an un-translatable 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 referred to as ‘participants’ or ‘members’ to emphasize a system of equal value for each person.
Therapeutic living and working communities for deaf and
deafblind people with additional disabilities
The Austrian Order of the Brothers Hospitallers,
Open doors – overcome barriers
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 personnel, 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.
Whereas it is common for people who are Deaf Plus to be isolated and excluded from activities and opportunities in general society, the mission of Lebenswelt is to provide a language, barrier-free and therapeutic environment, where individuals can grow socially, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically to their maximum potential. We strive to reduce isolation, promote healthy social relationships, and encourage self-sufficiency and independence. This mission underscores our commitment to meeting the communication needs of Deaf Plus individuals through the use of Austrian Sign Language [or alternate communication strategies] and subsequently expanding the worlds of these individuals.
The core values that guide Lebenswelt programs and policies are:
Human dignity above disabling conditions
Self-determination and independence
Development with age-appropriate activities
Social Inclusion, Integration, and Involvement
Lead a normal life
Mutual respect of person and property
Laughter and leisure
Work and sense of productivity
As entities of The Austrian Order of the Brothers Hospitallers, we are guided by the Christian love that inspired St. John of God. Three times a week, we start our day with group devotions, and in Sunday worship meetings, we get to know Jesus better. The model of Jesus and his message helps us live together as a therapeutic community.
We are an organization of the Hospital of the Brothers Hospitallers of Linz and are guided by the joyous message of Jesus Christ. In accordance with the life of St. John of God, Christian compassion and hospitality are our focal point. Lebenswelt is a component of the Institut für Sinnes- und Sprachneurologie, Bischofstraße 11, 4021 Linz (Board: Prim. Priv. Doz. Dr. Johannes Fellinger). We would like to thank all private individuals, institutions and companies supporting our work!
Foundations of the Therapeutic Community
While Austrian Sign Language is the prevalent language of Lebenswelt members and employees, we use alternative forms of visual and tactile communication when individuals require additional communication support.
Well-BeingThe goal of Lebenswelt is to address the holistic well-being of people who are deaf with additional disabilities. We evaluate and modify programs and activities based on each individual’s abilities. With a common language through all aspects of daily living, we strive to improve quality of life indicators such as security, goal achievement, and social belonging.
Mentorship and Modeling
A therapeutic community like Lebenswelt is an organized social structure that implements employment mentors and role models to help members develop work-related expertise, social skills, problem-solving strategies, and decision-making abilities. Supported employment and positive behavior intervention contribute to an individual’s employment potential and the ability to manage challenges and problems that inevitably come in the course of everyday life.
Lebenswelt is in continuous collaboration with its local communities of Schenkenfelden, Pinsdorf, and Wallsee. Community members can influence positive attitudes and give Lebenswelt members a sense of belonging when they are permitted to contribute to community activities or functions. Community-Lebenswelt collaboration can result in job opportunities and community service. This also promotes understanding among the general population who also reside in the community.
Emphasizing Therapeutic community
Traditionally associated with healing, the term ‘therapeutic’ is applied to Lebenswelt as a The therapeutic community uses the dynamic interaction between individuals to create a healing environment which promotes the positive growth of each individual. Through all our activities, all members (customers and employees) are in constant exchange, talking to, supporting, looking after, encouraging and teaching each other. Deafness and deaf-blindness cannot be cured by this, but it does shield the individual from the devastating consequences – this is therapeutic healing.
Basic human rights apply to all individuals, including people who have disabilities that may separate them from mainstream society. At Lebenswelt, employees take everyday occurrences (e.g., conflicts, achievements, misunderstandings, frustrations, celebrations) and use them to reinforce each person’s value to the community and to preserve the basic human dignity that everyone deserves. Empowering individuals to respectfully disagree, encouraging dialogue and teaching people to respect differences between each other are all ways the Lebenswelt strives to uphold the human rights of each member.
Lebenwelt Schenkenfelden consists of three houses in the village of Schenkenfelden. The work space in the Gerstl-Haus offers productive work activities for 30 members under the guidance of professional craftsmen. This building also houses the museum and old post office. One residential facility, in which 15 people enjoy their private lives, is located opposite the Gerstl-Haus at the Schenkenfelden market square. The second residential facility is located very close to the Gerstl-Haus as well in the Hintergasse. 9 residents live in this house.
A retail shop and extra work space is housed near the Institute for Sensory and Language Neurology on Bischofstraße in Linz. Up to five members who are Deaf Plus can find suitable employment opportunities here. Both locations of Lebenswelt Schenkenfelden offer a range of work opportunities, including ceramics, textile production, candle-making, weaving, braiding, and assisting in the in-house therapy room.
In operation since June 2011, Lebenswelt-Pinsdorf offers space for 20 workers in therapeutic workshops. The residence houses 13 people in private rooms or apartments and is located in a building of the ‘Wohnbaufamilie’ cooperative” approximately 300 meters from the work space.
In October 2014, the third Lebenswelt and first in Lower Austria opened in the middle of the municipality of Wallsee-Sindelburg. Up to 25 members are given the opportunity to develop their skills in various work processes in a mentored work environment. Up to 20 members can be housed in the nearby residential building.
If you are interested in taking part in the living or working components at Lebenswelt, please contact the Lebenswelt, Mag. Wolfgang Brunner using the contact form.
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 can 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 Josef Ackerl, secured financial support to establish the Lebenswelt, and the ground-breaking 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 for 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 and 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.
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 having 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.”
Sign language as a form of communication for deaf people
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 has 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’:
- Maintain eye contact
- If possible, do not stand with the light at your back (such as in front of a window).
- Make clear (but natural) mouth movements.
- Use facial expressions, but do not exaggerate.
- Use short, clear sentences, repeating as necessary.
- Wait patiently and actively, listen during conversations.
- Give the person plenty of time to organize thoughts.
- Do not rush unless there is an emergency.
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.
Communication forms for deafblind people
A deafblind person primarily uses the sense of touch to communicate and orientate oneself to 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.
The Lebenswelt program is compliant with the laws of the federal states in which we operate.
Accordingly, our tasks include:
Providing people who are Deaf Plus with work, recreational, and living activities that are consistent with their abilities
Providing people who are Deaf Plus the opportunity to grow and develop their abilities to appropriate job placements, either within the Lebenswelt environment, or in public positions.
Providing people who are Deaf Plus with a residential space that is based on personal choice to the greatest extent of independence possible, for example in apartments or alternative dwellings with appropriate support.
Lebenswelt offers various work activities for our members that increase self-confidence and self-esteem. All are pride in the work leads and the feeling being productive and valuable to society, as with 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:
- Textile workshop
- Ceramic workshop
- Wood, braiding & candle workshop
- Cooking and kitchen management
- Bicycle repair
- External work & integrative employment through community partnerships
Some people prefer to live independently apart from the Lebenswelt residential facilities, but benefit from structured work environments. These people are allowed to work with the professional mentors alongside those who live at Lebenswelt. At Schenkenfelden, up to 12 day clients can be accommodated. At Pinsdorf, there are eight places available and at Wallsee there are five places for day clients.
“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.
Three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) from 8:30 am to 9:00 am, the working day in Lebenswelt starts with group devotions about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is entirely voluntary for members and employees to participate. In the devotions, the Sunday gospel is more in-depth, following Catholic readings, and during the week, the Sunday lesson is repeated and built upon with the help of drawings, pictures, and interactive role-playing.
Through reiteration and involving members in story-telling, the message of continually forgiving and supporting one another is kept active. Through active participation, representation in role-plays, and drawings, we get to know Jesus better. Austrian Sign Language is used for teaching, praying, and singing. The example of Jesus and his message help us live together as a ‘family’
It is important to us to make a special space available for devotions and Christian teaching. In the case of Lebenswelt Schenkenfelden, the young deaf artist Matthäus Fellinger used the former stables of the Gerstl House for his first ceramics workshop in the 50s. Today, the former stable is used as a prayer room. The winged altar crafted by the deaf artist Prof. Helmut Berger can be seen in the otherwise simple room. The framed pictures show church festivals such as Christmas, Easter and Whitsun. The room’s color scheme is full of symbolism: Christmas in a calm blue tone, violet for the crucifixion, white for the resurrection and red for Whitsun.
Morning devotions and large group activities at Lebenswelt-Wallsee are held in a former music school building, which is now shared with the local community for meetings, classes, and special events.
The understanding of quality at the living environment is characterized by the commitment to design and implementation, as well as to maintaining and constantly improving a quality management system. The design and implementation of Lebenswelt are under continuous scrutiny for quality control. Lebenswelt Schenkenfelden decided to introduce a quality management (QM) system according to ISO 9001:2008 to secure and further develop the quality of its services. After two certifications of compliance under ISO 9001:2008, Lebenswelt opted to voluntarily continue quality management with regular internal audits.
The commitment to QM extends through all structures and levels of Lebenswelt. This means that all employees contribute to maintenance of high quality in the facilities, since quality is always the result of a working collaboration. In addition to general moral-ethical responsibilities, there are also precisely defined duties for each individual employee.
Quality management in accordance with ISO involves documenting policies and procedures of Lebenswelt and conducting annual reviews by the QM officer for relevance. The written documentation and description with guidelines are intended to ensure the clarity, predictability and transparency of the Lebenswelt processes.
The connection between social and cultural interests in the Lebenswelt-Schenkenfelden is unique in Austria: the Gerstl-Haus contains a small grocery store called a “Greisslerei” from the 19th century, which is now used partly as a museum and partly as a retail shop for the handcrafted products made by Lebenswelt members as part of their jobs. This cultural institution has become a living museum.
At the same time, people who are interested in culture can visit the old post office as well as a rural Biedermeierstube ‘’ and the old “Pferdestall” (today's prayer room [devotions]) to gain an impression of how a well-off private citizen lived.
The fortepiano made by the piano maker “Anton Walter and Sohn” in 1813/14, found during the renovation of the Gerstl-Haus, certainly represents a special feature of the building.
The museum is open on about 6 Sundays from May to September between 2 pm and 4 pm, although group tours can be made by prior arrangement throughout the year. You can also purchase products made at Lebenswelt in the museum.
For further information about the museum, please visit: http://www.museumsstrasse.at/
With the development of the hammer piano as the unique solo instrument and Vienna being at the very heart of piano making at the end of the 18th century, the Austrian capital housed several hundred piano makers, some of them with an international reputation. Among them was Anton Gabriel Walter (1752-1826) who had come to the imperial city of Vienna from Germany in 1780 and produced instruments of incomparable sound quality in his workshop in the “Leimgrube” district. The “triumvirate” of the Viennese Classic scene greatly appreciated Walter's grand pianos and often chose them in preference to others. Anton Walter supplied Prince Esterházy’s castles, and Joseph Haydn himself had a “Walter” that he heartily recommended to others. Ludwig van Beethoven also ordered a new piano in 1802, which, was never able to be delivered due to the composer’s technical and financial demands. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is perhaps the most illustrious “Walter-Player”, who not only played for his guests at home on this magnificent instrument, but also took it on concert tours.
From 1792 onwards, Anton Walter, together with his step-son Joseph Schöffstoß, produced hammer pianos marked “Anton Walter and Sohn” in his workshop, and we have an example of one of these in Schenkenfelden. Viennese piano-makers used this company’s standards as the benchmark for the following generations of their pianos because they were considerably more powerful in sound and more reliable and resilient due to their improved mechanics. Anton Walter's pianos had a significant influence on the famous “Viennese sound”. Only a few of the many instruments that left Walter’s workshop have survived. Indeed, experts believe that only three models have survived from 1813-14, the date of the Walter grand piano in the Gerstl-Haus. Of the surviving pianos, the instrument in Schenkenfelden is currently the only one that still enchants audiences in concerts, with its fascinating and inimitable sound typical of the pianos from the Walterian workshop.