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Marking Deafblind Awareness Week: How people with deafblindness have been affected by COVID-19 across the globe

23 June 2020

This week is Deafblind Awareness Week (22-28 June) with Helen Keller Day on 27 June. Sadly, it is the most vulnerable members of society who are often the ones most severely affected by crises. For people with deafblindness the COVID-19 pandemic means questions like how do I get information about how to protect myself? How do I survive when the market for my business has dried up?

At Sense International we have made it a priority to telephone families to pass on accessible messages about how to stay safe during this crisis. We are adapting our programmes based on their needs and in some countries have raised fund to deliver emergency food and hygiene packages to people with deafblindness.


Nababa and David Blessing

Nababa Jackie lives in Wakiso District with her son David Blessing who is 2 years old. Nababa is aware of the outbreak of COVID-19 and she understands that the virus is spread through contact with others. She is also aware that the government has put mechanisms, including social distancing and restrictions on movement, in place to stop the spread of the virus.

Before the lockdown the family’s diet included a lot of potato, but since lockdown started the family has not been able to get potatoes and as a result David is experiencing challenges with his feeding. Before lockdown, Nababa stayed at home and David’s father was the sole breadwinner. He made a living by selling shoes in the market. David’s father has had to stop his business and now there is no income coming into the household, the family is struggling to afford food. The government’s national task force around food outreach has not reached Nababa and her family. The family are looking to Sense International for support so they can stay healthy during these challenging times.


Namiyumba and her 2-year-old baby live in Wakiso district. Namiyumba thinks the government has done a lot to create awareness that the virus is communicated through handshakes and contact with others. Namiyumba knows that the spread of COVID-19 can be prevented by handwashing. She knows the government is recommending that everyone stay at home and that work places have closed.

Before lockdown she was employed in an informal business – she was living hand to mouth everyday, but she could afford to buy milk and eggs for her child. Now they cannot afford this and so her child is lacking nutrition. In their local area, no government support has been received. Namiyumba wanted to go and find new work so she can afford better food, but to do so she needs a mask and sanitiser which Namiyumba cannot afford and hence she is forced to continue to stay at home.

Lydia and Jennifer

The jerry can water fountain for handwashingLydia is a girl with deafblindness living with her mother Jennifer in Iganga District.

The family know about the pandemic from listening to information on the local radio. As a result they know about the importance of wearing masks and washing hands.  The family have a jerry can set up in the house for handwashing. Jennifer doesn’t have a job and her husband is bedridden. Jennifer’s children were helping to support the family financially before the outbreak of COVID-19, but now her children have stopped working and so the family is no longer receiving any support. The family is solely dependent on food they can access locally. They have not received any government support during the outbreak. The family is calling on organisations to help support families like theirs with children with disabilities during this time. 



You might remember Morium from our My Turn to Learn appeal. She has deafblindness and lives with her mother and aunt in the Narsingdi district in Bangladesh. Sense International has been supporting her education for a number of years and she has done very well, with support from our educators.

When we contacted Morium she told us she didn’t know about the virus. After giving her information about the virus and how to protect herself, she has now stopped going outside and takes care to maintain good hygiene, washing her hands and face regularly, as well as before eating and keeping her clothes clean. Morium and her family are not receiving any emergency support or relief from their community or local government.

Morium said: “I didn’t know about the virus and also that keeping proper hygiene means always washing hands. Shahnaz [her educator] told me about the Coronavirus and also said to be clean and to wash my hands, clothes, and stay 3 feet away from any persons. Now, I maintain all the things carefully.” She also said,” No one gives us any relief from anywhere.”


Jinnatunnessa, is a 29-year-old woman with deafblindness living in the Bogra district in Bangladesh.  Through support from Sense International she completed 9th grade of school and is a housewife. Our educator, Ms. Sabina phoned her to inform her about COVID-19 and to pass on information about hygiene for herself and her family.

She did not know about the coronavirus before we called her, but now she is very careful about maintaining hygiene, washing her hands and face, keeping her clothes clean and washing her hands before eating and feeding her child, and she knows about using face masks.

She is facing a crisis because she doesn’t have any money to buy food for her cow. She can’t take the cow to the field to eat grass because of the COVID-19 situation. Her days are passing ‘with great difficulty’, as she and her husband have no income now, so she has had to take out a 1,000 BDT (about £10) loan to buy food.

Jinnatunnessa said that she didn’t get any relief from the community or local government.


Mwanasha (26 years old) has partial deafblindness and lives in Dar es Salaam. Through Sense International’s livelihood project, Mwanasha acquired skills in business management, and some start-up capital, along with regular support to ensure that her business took off.

Mwanasha chose to make disinfectant and liquid soaps as her livelihood activity. She used to buy raw materials from Kariakoo market and make liquid soap in small quantities to cater for local demand in her neighbourhood. For two years now, soap and detergent making has been her main source of income.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mwanasha has stopped going to Kariakoo market. Instead she has made arrangements with her uncle who has good vision and hearing to buy what she needs. The market for detergents and liquid soap has increased due to COVID 19 so Mwanasha has joined with her mother to open another sales outlet at her mother’s home in Kisarawe. With the support from her family, Mwanasha’s profit now has doubled from roughly £5 to £10 per batch.


Transparent face masksSome of Sense International Romania’s partner schools opened their doors at the beginning of June for children and young people with deafness and multi sensory impairment who are preparing for graduation.

As face masks are recommended, the SI Romania team researched a supplier and ensured the schools received packs of masks with a transparent panel in front of the mouth area which make it possible for those students who use lip reading to communicate

At the start of the pandemic, the SI Romania team together with former Sense International beneficiary Madalina, also created a video with accessible information on COVID-19 to answers questions such as; what is coronavirus, how do we protect ourselves, who can we inform ourselves, what to do if we show symptoms, why do we use a mask?


The Peruvian government does provide some support to people during the COVID-19 outbreak but our team’s survey of the people with deafblindness we support showed that they had not received anything.

Thanks to a generous donor the team were able to distribute food parcels to 60 people with deafblindness or multi-sensory impairments.

Those families say thank you in this short video:


The team in India have also been working hard to reach and support families through food parcels, especially those located in the most remote areas.

A family standing by a river bank. They are all wearing masks. At their feet there are various food items and bags.

How you can help

In order to fund our global work, we rely heavily on voluntary income from fundraising and events as well as our UK Sense International charity shops. But all events have been cancelled or postponed and all our shops have been shut for the last three months. This means a large reduction in income. The UK Government has announced help for charities however, Sense International is not eligible for any of this support.

Join forces with us to make sure we are there for people with deafblindness around the world – your support will be a lifeline.

Please give an urgent gift today to help people with deafblindness during the coronavirus crisis. 

First published: Tuesday 18 June 2013
Last updated: Friday 6 December 2019