Client Profile: Greg Barnett

Greg Barnett in glasses and a flat cap.Greg Barnett lives a full and fulfilling life. As a certified Developmental Service Worker who is studying to also be a personal trainer for people with disabilities, he’s pursuing a career path focused on helping those who are marginalized or isolated to live their best life. Greg is also Deafblind.

Born with lung and heart complications, doctors initially predicted Greg had a five per cent chance to live. However, his resiliency got him through his challenging start. He was raised by a supportive family who were committed to providing him the best specialized education possible.

Experiencing the world without the benefit of both vision and hearing can be a frustrating and confusing experience. Even with all of the external support he received from his medical team and teachers, his mother still did a lot of the heavy lifting. She wanted to make sure he would have the skills he would need later in life.

“My mom was a teacher, and she made it her business during my first four or five years of life to teach me every day,” he says. “I thought [I had] a learning disability, or I was lazy, and it really affected my confidence.”

As an adult, fueled by the passion and drive his mother had instilled, Greg challenged himself to continue his education. He received his Developmental Service Worker (DSW) diploma from Fanshawe College in London, Ontario and began working as a respite care worker with the Victoria Order of Nurses (VON), followed by over a decade as an Educational Assistant for Thames Valley District School Board.

Several years ago, “I was at a really low point in my life,” he recalls, due to “a combination of chronic pain and low mobility along with the challenges of living Deafblind.” He reached out to CNIB Deafblind Community Services (DBCS) for support.

Having an Intervenor to assist him in interacting and communicating with his environment means Greg can accomplish daily tasks many of us take for granted such as grocery shopping and banking. It broadens his ability to go further, to do more.

“Sometimes I’ll just go on a hike with [my CNIB Deafblind Community Services Intervenor] if I don’t have any errands to run,” he says. “It’s nice to be in the company of somebody who on a very intimate level knows what it’s like to be Deafblind. I never feel judged or embarrassed. I feel safe. I feel empowered.”

Intervenor services also allow Greg to maintain his independence and autonomy.

“I have friends and family, but I just want to minimize the impact that I have on them as far as what support I need. With intervenor support I can keep my friends my friends, and my family my family,” he says. With the benefit of the support he received, Greg wanted to help others experiencing marginalization and isolation – issues that he himself is all too familiar with.

“One of the biggest challenges [of being Deafblind] is isolation and sense of self-worth. Deafblind Community Services has really helped me make peace with the fact that I am enough. That I am working hard, and I am a worthy person.”

Since overcoming his own challenges with mobility, Greg enrolled in Westervelt College with the goal of becoming a certified personal trainer to help people with barriers reach their own fitness goals.

But attending college comes with its own set of barriers for someone who is Deafblind. Fortunately, Greg was able to receive specialized training from the DBCS Literacy Program – the only literacy and basic skills program for Deafblind adults in Ontario. It provides one-on-one or small group instruction with content delivered to students based on their preferred communication method – such as American Sign Language (visual or tactile), the two-hand manual alphabet, or VoiceOver. With the help of DBCS Literacy instructors, Greg can access all course material in a way that is accessible to him.

“[They] take a holistic approach,” Barnett says. “[They] make sure that the clients are in a good headspace. That they have all the resources at their fingertips. It reminds me of what my mom did for me when I was a child.”

Greg plans to continue his studies and continues to make time for various volunteer roles including helping out at the CNIB Hub in London, Ontario. He recalls a young woman who came to the Hub looking for guidance. Her six-month old nephew was Deafblind, and she was unsure of where to turn to for help. Greg spent his time talking with her, offering hope and guidance.

“I was in the same boat growing up,” he says, “and look at me now.”