National Deafblind Awareness Month, interview with Sherry Grabowski

By: Janine Tucker

As part of our National Deafblind Awareness Month campaign, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sherry Grabowski, Executive Director of CNIB Deafblind Community Services, to chat about our soon-to-be expansion into Saskatchewan.

Where did this journey begin with seeking funding for intervenor services in Saskatchewan?

It began with a vision by our CEO John Rafferty; a vision of Deafblind Community Services across the country. He had indicated that goal as part of our strategic plan and we also had an endorsement from our Board of Directors. Everybody felt that because of the gaps we were aware of across Canada, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to fill that gap for the acquired Deafblind? Then there was support through CNIB Foundation to fund us to be able to pursue this project. So, I started by giving a presentation to all the executive directors of each province at a meeting, and Saskatchewan stepped forward very quickly. The executive director there said that she knew there was a need in her province and that she would assist me in getting the attention of the government in Saskatchewan. She quickly put together a template of a business case and she sent it to me. I started to complete the wording and all the explanations and everything within the template. We quickly put together this amazing business case that she, due to all her connections with the government, put forward to her provincial government in Saskatchewan and then we waited for a response.

We did get a response from the Ministry of Social Services, and they indicated that they felt our proposal would be much stronger if we partnered with another organization like the Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. We proceeded to have a meeting with their executive director who was very excited to partner with us because he knew of his need to have more interpreters within Saskatchewan. We rebuilt the business case as a joint effort and submitted that back to the government. We had a further meeting with a ministry representative asking us a few more questions, but basically saying that they endorsed this proposal and that it was going to go forward. Then we were invited to a meeting with the Minister himself. It was wonderful to meet with Minister Merriman. He had indicated again that he felt this was definitely something needed in Saskatchewan and that he wanted to bring together his partner ministers to also hear our business case and proposal. So, at that point, he co-ordinated another meeting where we then met with the Minister of Health, the Minister of Education and we met with the Minister of Rural Health. We had four key Ministers in one room, and we did a presentation. We brought in a few individuals who work for Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. One individual was Deaf herself and the other individual was Deafblind, and they talked about why these services were needed in Saskatchewan. After we made that presentation we knew we had to sit tight until the budget release and the announcement at Queen’s Park in Saskatchewan. On March 18, 2020 we were informed by the Minister of Social Services that we were going to receive the funding for intervenor services and Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services was getting their funding for their interpreter.

How many clients with Deafblindness have been identified in Saskatchewan?

151 individuals have reported to have both vision and hearing loss.

What impact do you think this will have on people living in Saskatchewan?

I think it will open up a whole new world for a lot of people who have vision and hearing loss who are Deafblind in Saskatchewan. I think right now, some people may be living in isolation. I also think some people are living in an environment where their family is possibly doing the majority of things for them and now this will give them an opportunity that if they want to go out shopping, they can do that themselves with their intervenor. If they want to go to any recreational activity or group, they can now do that too. They can have a private medical appointment with their doctor if they so choose. I think this really opens up a whole new world.

What does it mean to you to say that DBCS is now a national organization?

It feels great to be able to say that we are now national. My goal is to ensure that every province in Canada has Deafblind Community Services if they’re needed for the acquired Deafblind. Then I think we truly will feel like a national organization.

What are the next steps for Saskatchewan?

Hiring. To hire our first intervenor, train and make them feel part of a bigger team and then to start meeting with the identified people who have vision and hearing loss and see if they qualify for our services. Then we will be able to choose a minimal number of clients to be able to work with our intervenor.

If someone were interested in working for DBCS Saskatchewan, where would they find information and who would they contact?

They can find information on our website, www.deafblindservices.ca. They can also find information on various job boards in Saskatchewan and if they are interested in the position they can contact Sally Teng by email at sally.teng@deafblindservices.ca.

We are very grateful to the Saskatchewan government that they are the first province outside of Ontario to step up and start providing funding.