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We are inviting you to watch the presentations of the first day of the Online International Conference "Deafblindness during the Pandemic", day dedicated to communication.


Babes-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Special Education Department, Romania


Andrea Hathazi, PhD., is Associate Professor at the Special Education Department, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Her domains of interest are education and rehabilitation of people with multiple disabilities, education and rehabilitation of people with visual impairments, assessment and intervention programs in Down Syndrome and support programs and resources in inclusive education. She has published in the domain of multiple disabilities Development of communication skills in deafblindness (Presa Universitara Clujeana, 2014), she is the coordinator of the volume Communication in the context of multiple disabilities, she is the responsible for the collection Education of people with multiple disabilities at Presa Universitară Clujeană publishing house. She is the coordinator of three Summer Schools regarding Multiple Disabilities that were organized at Babeș-Bolyai University. She has participated in numerous international conferences such as the 6th European Conference on Psychology and Visual Impairment, Budapest, Hungary, 2016 or the 9th ICEVI European Conference in Bruge, Belgium, 2017. Andrea Hathazi is Vice-President and member of the Board of ICEVI Europe, representing the Balkan Countries.


The development of communication skills represents a complex process that needs to be approached in a continuous, structured, and sustained way. There are many factors that have an impact on the way in which children with deafblindness acquire communication skills, go through different stages of communication, use various systems of communication, get aware of the impact of their own communication in the environment.

Professionals need to have the competences to support every aspect of evaluation and intervention within communication, which sometimes can be a challenge, determining questions such as: how do I start, where do I start, what is happening, is this alright, is this behavior communication, what do I do next, how is this child learning, how do I know, how do I feel, how can I understand better the difficulties and how can I support better the needs and interests.

It is essential to understand how and why communication develops in a specific way, how can it become conceptualized, operational and implemented in various educational and social contexts. The reflection-based approach has known a growth in interest within teacher education, promoting the concept of reflective practitioner who analyzes, reframes and reconsiders according to planning, observing and better understanding.

The presentation will focus on the implications of the reflective -based practices in improving intervention in the development of communication skills in deafblindness, the specificity of the process and the functional outcomes of the reflective process.


The use of reflection-based approach in the development of communication skills in deafblindness


Head of Sense Specialist Services for Children and Young People Sense UK


Rebecca Liddiard is Head of Sense Specialist Services for Children and Young People. The national team work with children and young people aged 0-25 who are deafblind, and their families. Support is bespoke and individualised according to need and may be on a 1:1 basis, in a group setting or more recently through virtual means. Rebecca is a qualified teacher of deafblind children and a qualified teacher of the visually impaired. She started her career working within specialist schools, working with children with physical disabilities and sensory impairments.


Sense Specialist Services for Children and Young People supports children and young people, who are deafblind and those who have a single sensory impairment and additional complex needs, aged 0-25 years. The specialist MSI Teachers and MSI Practitioners provide bespoke and individualised support, in partnership with parents, caregivers and other professionals, according to the specific needs of each individual and family. Support may include the provision of specialist pre-school groups, young people activities and family days, which provide fun and exciting opportunities for the whole family, to try new experiences and make connections with others. Individualised support is also provided including focused one to one support at home/nursery/school focussing on interaction, communication, play, exploration skills, visual/auditory awareness, development of tactile skills and access to information.

At the beginning of the Coronavirus Pandemic when our country went into lockdown we realised we would have to very quickly change our approach to supporting families. We were unable to continue to provide our support in the usual way, which relied on face-to-face visits to home/school and face-to-face support through groups and events.

We decided to adapt our service offer and to move everything we could onto a virtual platform by using Zoom and Teams. Initially we provided virtual pre-school groups for the established groups, which we already ran weekly across the country. This provided a continued opportunity for families to meet, connect and share their experiences. It also provided stimulating activities for the young people to engage in while many were at home isolating. We also arranged parent/carer sessions to provide support and one to one sessions with young people to continue to provide some individualised support.

At the beginning of this period we were apprehensive and a little sceptical as to how this kind of support would be of benefit to children and young people who are deafblind. It challenged us to consider, would the support be meaningful without the vital hands on support, close interaction and use of tactile communication? However, we felt we needed to try and as a minimum provide support to parents and caregivers in this way.  We reflected and adapted as the time went on.

Since then our virtual offer has expanded. We have continued to offer support in this way and have increased the range of activities and types of support available through this way. We have to acknowledge that there are limitations related primarily to the accessibility of the support for some young people, due to the lack of direct contact but have also been able to challenge our own preconceived ideas and have found that many more young people have been able to access our service in this way than we thought. We are keen to share our experiences through sharing some individual case studies and techniques which have been successful whilst also  acknowledging where the limitations have affected the support we can provide.


Supporting children who are deafblind in a virtual world


Head of Research and Practice Sense Scotland


Paul has worked for Sense Scotland since 1987, where he is currently Head of Research and Practice and a member of the Senior Management Team.

Paul speaks regularly at conferences and seminars on topics related to assessment, person-centred planning, communication, staff development, happiness, quality lives and the tactile modality. In 2010 he completed his PhD at Dundee University, with a research focus on communication and language development working alongside people who are congenitally deafblind.

Paul guest lectures at a number of universities, including the Masters in Communication and Congenital Deafblindness course at Groningen University in The Netherlands.


Many countries across the world have introduced a variety of social restrictions in response to the worldwide pandemic. This has presented challenges for all humans but it has created disproportionate communication challenges for people with sensory impairments.

Over a long number of years, people with deafblindness, their families and professionals in our field have developed communication and language strategies, as well as high quality support systems, that allow effective communication partnerships to overcome the central challenges that dual sensory impairment brings – access to information, communication and getting around. How have these communication strategies and support systems been affected by this pandemic? What additional hurdles have emerged?

Today’s presentation will explore how Sense Scotland has responded since the early days of this pandemic and highlight solutions that allow us to overcome some of these hurdles. However, it will also highlight that we have not yet found answers for every situation and for all people we support.

People with deafblindness, in common with other groups of people with communication disadvantage, continue to feel isolated in this new world so Sense Scotland are keen to learn from others about effective ways to allow all humans to connect and interact in meaningful ways.


Communication at a distance – getting over the hurdles presented by Covid-19


Special Education Teacher, School Centre for Inclusive Education Cristal Oradea, Romania


After graduating from the Pedagogical Highschool ”Iosif Vulcan” in Oradea, Mihaela graduated from the Faculty of History and Philosophy, Special Education Department at Babeș Bolyai University in Cluj-Napoca. She then took a Master course in Integrated Education and during this time, she won a Tempus scholarship in Denmark, giving her the opportunity to study the Danish special education and integrated special education system. In 2006, Mihaela became a national trainer in the field of deafblindness and multisensory impairments. In 2009 she obtained her PhD in psychology. She has been working as a special education teacher for the past 23 years, with children having different types of disability.


This abstract is a rather summarised X-ray of my activities with multisensory impaired children (and not only) during the Emergency State generated by COVID-19. In this abstract, I will try to summarise the positives and negatives in my experience and share some of the challenges and difficulties that I had to face as a special education teacher.

Specialising in the online field, acquiring new skills in using various teaching platforms, discovering new teaching techniques, professional development, these are some of the positives. Having more parents becoming more actively involved in the teaching and rehabilitation process, I find this another positive.

Yet, the lack of a direct contact with the children is a central element that has a negative impact upon the entire activity. In most cases, the children’s specific situation, their complex diagnosis and their mental age did not allow an efficient direct interaction via online means of communication, this could only happen through their parents. The inability to put into practice, for objective reasons, methods, techniques and activities that we generally apply in our direct activities with children is another negative.

The implemented activities were in their majority activities meant to strengthen certain skills that already exist, and less the development of new skills. Last but not least, the excessive amount of time invested in long-distance activities, spent in front of a laptop, preparing the activities for the children, searching for activities that meet their needs, is another negative. There are many other negatives that imply the feedback received from parents, their overload and my capacity to objectively monitor and assess the children’s progress.

This abstract also tries to capture a few of my means to organise activities with multisensory impaired children in the context of a compulsory online education, without considering them best practice examples.


Online Psycho-pedagogical Interventions with Multisensory Impaired Children - the Trials of a Special Education Teacher during the Emergency State Generated by COVID-19


Interpreters and consultants at the Norwegian Assistive Technology Center, Norway


Elin Huslende (34) and Lise Weggersen (39) have worked as sign language interpreters since 2009 and 2005. They are employedas interpreters and consultants at the Norwegian Assistive Technology Center, and are responsible for the national consulting office for interpreting services regarding people with deafblindness. The main tasks are gathering knowledgeand creating guidelines in how to handle challenges that may occur during interpreter services.The aimis equal service for the deafblind throughout the country. They also offer their help when local service offices and clients are in need of assistance.


People with deafblindness in Norway have a legal right to make use of the Interpreting services to handle their everyday life. When the pandemic reached us it had an huge impact on all the public services in Norway, including the access to Interpreting services.

For people with deafblindness this was severe, and affected their sense of isolation. This presentation will highlight what actions the Interpreting service in Norway did when it no longer was possible to offer the service in the same extent as before.


How to Handle Closeness during a Worldwide Pandemic?


Founder Step Change Studios, UK


Rashmi is the founder of Step Change Studios, which provides opportunities for D/deaf and disabled people to dance. Over 20 years, she has developed expertise in the arts, sport, social affairs, and disability advocacy. She is a Board Member of Sport England, also serving as the Board Champion for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. She holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge where her research focused on Intellectual Disability. Accolades include the UK Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award in recognition of promoting accessibility in dance, One Dance UK Innovation Award, and National Learning Disabilities and Autism Award for Outstanding Contribution to Innovation.


Rashmi Becker is the founder of UK-based dance company Step Change Studios which provides opportunities for D/deaf and disabled people to be active through dance. 1 in 5 people in the UK has a disability yet disabled adults are twice as likely as non-disabled adults to be physically inactive.  For children, one third of disabled children take part in less than 30 minutes of physical activity per day during school term-time but again, more disabled children would like to take part in more physical activity compared to non-disabled children.

Passionate about dance, and the benefits of dance to quality of life, Rashmi wanted to help address social inequalities and barriers to participation, and support D/deaf and disabled children and adults to be active through dance. A core part of the work is bringing dance to where people are - providing dance in a wide range of settings including education, healthcare social care, and in the community.

An essential aspect of the work is having a vision for what is possible. Rashmi has pioneered a number of community dance initiatives, for example she established the UK’s first blind ballroom dance programme. The programme saw participants progress from being completely new to dance and apprehensive about leaving their home, to passing a dance exam, performing in a public dance festival, and becoming ambitious about their lives and what they could achieve. Rashmi also produced the first professional ballroom dance show at the world-leading dance venue Sadler’s Wells in London with 20 D/deaf and disabled and non-disabled dancers. This work was later showcased in the United States.

Dance is particularly accessible as it transcends language, promotes self-expression and brings people together. The benefits that our dance participants report include: improved confidence, coordination, concentration, creativity and communication; reduced anxiety and social isolation; and increased independence, physical and mental wellbeing. Dance can also serve as a gateway to participation in other creative and physical activities which contribute to personal development.

The current global pandemic has exacerbated social inequalities. D/deaf and disabled people are often having to shield at home, and government restrictions have been slow to recognise different needs. At the same time, it has never been more important to look after our physical and mental health.  When Covid-19 began to impact the UK and all real-life dance had to stop, participants from our blind dance programme reached out asking for virtual dance sessions. This required a complete re-think of how we communicate and engage people. Working collaboratively, this programme became a regular opportunity to come together in challenging times, and to support people to remain active. One participant said the dance programme ‘kept me sane during lockdown’.






Dance, Disability and Wellbeing: the Impact of Dance on Quality of Life