In honour of National Deafblind Awareness Month, get to know Darren Gilchrist, our Network Analyst.

Darren Gilchrist, CLS Network Analyst. Darren is smiling and wearing a black shirt in front of a stone wall.
Darren Gilchrist, CLS Network Analyst. 

Darren helps to keep the Canadian Light Source (CLS) data network running smoothly and to plan for future upgrades. “The network is critical to CLS operations. Most of the equipment and work that people do at the CLS depends on computers, which also depend on the network,” he said.  

His favourite aspect of his job is that it is never the same from day to day. “There are always new concepts and technologies to keep abreast with. I rarely ever get bored.”

He has worked for the CLS for over twenty years. “I’m proud of that. I came to the CLS because I wanted to work in an area that did science and technology.”

“As far I know, I am the only deafblind person in Saskatchewan who has a high functioning job. Some people think I might be the only one in our province’s history to have had a high functioning job,” Darren said. “Others think that’s something I should be proud of, but I would turn that around. Am I the only one? Why is that? I think it’s because there is not enough support for deafblind people out there.”

For Canadians who are blind or partially sighted, the unemployment rate is three times the national average, according to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Unemployment among deaf Canadians is approximately 32% higher than the general unemployment rate, according to the Canadian Association of the Deaf.

Darren is grateful that the CLS gave him equipment to make the facility more accessible to him, including screen reader software for his computer, a microphone that works with his hearing aid for meetings and an office with reduced background noise.

However, it can still be a challenge to navigate a workplace dominated by employees with unimpaired hearing and sight. Objects left in hallways and loud background noise can interfere with his work or his ability to participate in meetings.

Sometimes he could not recognize the voices of people he came across at the CLS. “People often came up to me and I don’t know who I talked to. So, I was in the awkward position of asking them for their name. I felt a little bit embarrassed.”

Under normal circumstances, it can be isolating to be blind, deaf or both, but this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. After COVID-19 hit, several of his friends with blindness and/or deafness became underemployed or unemployed, went a long time without visitors and felt uncomfortable leaving their homes. “I have a friend who was essentially isolated in her home for weeks. It was challenging for her not to go stir-crazy.” 

When Darren is in public, sometimes well-intentioned strangers violate his personal space.

“There’s a term used by the Blind and partially sighted community: ‘Ask, don’t grab.’ We appreciate that people want to help us, but don’t just grab us because that’s really jarring and disorientating. When you’re trying to keep yourself and others safe with physical distancing, that’s a really uncomfortable situation to be in.”

Everyday tasks can also more challenging for people like Darren these days.

“I had a couple appliances of mine die recently and, as a Deafblind person, it was a challenge to get them replaced.” He explained that not all websites are accessible for the blind, he struggles to navigate stores, he does not have a vehicle for curbside pickup, he cannot recognize if a package delivered outside his building is for him and he can’t always hear people over the phone.

“Many blind and deafblind people are also highly dependent on grocery delivery apps because they can’t always find someone to go with them to the store or to pick up groceries for them. So, they’re essentially a lifeline. But, with COVID-19, it was hard to get groceries delivered within a reasonable amount of time.”

Darren feels most people are unaware of the added challenges faced by blind, deaf and deafblind people. “I think for most people it flies right under the radar. The simplest things become complicated when you have a disability. Some of the most resourceful people I know are blind, deafblind or partially sighted because they have to always figure out ways to get around in this visual world.”

As a proud advocate for the deafblind community, he wants others to know that blind, deafblind and deaf people are “just like anybody else. We just have to do things differently.”

Written by Victoria Schramm.

For more information, contact:

Victoria Schramm
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Light Source
306-657-3516
victoria.schramm@lightsource.ca

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