Sensory disabilities, such as blindness and deafness, can be frustrating and challenging to manage in a sight- and sound-focused world. This challenge becomes even greater if the individual with the disability has a substance abuse problem. While addiction treatment can provide the tools and skills needed for an individual to recover and manage substance use, many facilities are not set up to manage the additional needs of those who are vision or hearing impaired.
As a result, people who are blind or deaf and need substance abuse treatment may be turned away from some facilities. Alternatively, they may avoid even trying to find treatment, concerned that the features needed for accessibility to the program won’t be available.
While it can be difficult to find facilities that are accessible to those who are blind or deaf, there are rehab centers that can provide needed accessibility and that are familiar with some of the particular concerns and needs of those with sensory disabilities who need substance abuse treatment.
A recent study from Disability and Health Journal indicates that people with disabilities are more likely than the general population to have issues with substance abuse and addiction. Specifically, about 40 percent of the population that has some form of disability also struggles with drug or alcohol use.
This includes people who have sensory disabilities, such as being deaf or blind. Often, the frustrations of these conditions can leave a person feeling depressed, anxious, and isolated from the rest of the world. For many people with these emotional issues, drugs or alcohol can be a way to numb negative feelings or create a false feeling of euphoria. This self-medication, in turn, can lead to addiction.
While this is not a new idea, the understanding of substance abuse in the deaf and blind communities has lagged behind that of the general population. The result of this is that services for people with sensory disabilities and substance abuse problems are less than ideal.
On the surface, traditional addiction treatment is no less effective for people with sensory disabilities than for the general population. The treatment types do not in themselves provide a barrier to treatment for people who are deaf or blind; they include:
On the other hand, the way these programs are offered can present an obstacle to people who can’t see or hear, as clarified by information from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Visual presentations and reading materials are not always accessible to the blind, and the therapy, conversations, and other sound-based ways of conveying information isolate those who are deaf from important treatment elements.
Because of this, there were nearly no treatment options for people who are blind or deaf in the past, and current options are still more limited than they should be for this population.
Reading materials are a major part of this isolation. Many of the resources provided during treatment are pamphlets, books, and other readings, including the materials provided through 12-Step programs. Unless these materials are provided in braille or through audio programs, they effectively leave out those who cannot see well enough to read them. As explained by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it should not be assumed that a person with a visual impairment is fluent in braille. Various people with these impairments have different preferences for materials access, including braille, large print, and audio; however, not all facilities provide this range of materials.
Along the same idea, a common concern for deaf people who need substance abuse treatment is that the treatment center won’t have the upgrades necessary to provide full accessibility to deaf people. Even with those who do provide some accommodation, fulltime sign language interpreters are not usually available.
Generally, less than fulltime is not enough, because so much of the day in residential treatment is focused around presentations, work with psychiatric personnel, and interactions with the other residents in the program. Without fulltime interpretation, this can mean that the deaf individual will miss out on much of the needed interaction and information. The result is that the person can become frustrated and lose motivation.
Treatment centers that provide services for people with hearing problems can make up this lack by providing access to interpreters on an as-needed basis for deaf clients. Another option, as described by the American Psychological Association, would be to offer video presentations by experts who use sign language. However, this does not make up for the interaction with treatment center staff and peer group members that provides a central source of motivation for people in treatment.
Because people who are blind or deaf are mainly struggling with accessibility, programs that either include or support accessibility are needed to support this segment of the population.
Along those lines, there are organizations such as Deaf off Drugs and Alcohol, or DODA, that can provide case management and resources to help people with hearing issues work directly with a local or selected treatment program to get the most out of the treatments provided. This and other programs collaborate with treatment facilities to provide needed access.
Similarly, programs that can provide braille or audio materials for people who are blind can help them become more involved in treatment. This, in turn, can make these individuals feel less isolated and more able to participate in their own recovery. The benefits of these organizations include experience with and understanding of these disabilities and the specific substance abuse issues that may be part of their communities.
Another resource, the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, has resources for people who are experiencing loss of hearing, eyesight, or both who need substance abuse treatment. This includes braille and sound recording materials that can be accessed for those who need these services.
Finally, for any individual dealing with a disability and substance abuse, vocational rehabilitation can help in coming to terms with the disability and in providing motivation and meaning that increase a person’s commitment to staying sober. Through vocational rehabilitation, the person learns how to fulfill a functional role in society with the disability, helping to diminish depression and frustration, and increase hope for recovery.
With support from a facility experienced with treating blind or deaf individuals – one that also provides accessibility for these clients – people with sensory disabilities who are also struggling with addiction can have a better chance at experiencing a positive outcome from treatment, achieving recovery, and learning to maintain abstinence for a more positive future.