Sign Language is a blessing for me, Loran R. Xuereb
On the occasion of the International Week of the Deaf, Loran Ripard Xuereb, the only DeafBlind person in Malta and Gozo, speaks about ending the taboo around DeafBlind people and finding a safe space
My name is Loran Ripard Xuereb and I am 29 years old. I was born Deaf and was later also diagnosed as DeafBlind. I work as a land surveyor and also as a hairdresser. I am also a member of the Maltese Sign Language council, a board member of the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD), a member of the Deaf People Association Malta committee, and a member of the European DeafBlind Organisational Committee.
My mother tongue is Maltese Sign Language (LSM), which I have been using since I was 10 months old. My family has been very supportive, and they decided to introduce me to sign language and also use it themselves to make communication between us more accessible and in order for me to enjoy more accessibility within society. I have also been lipreading since I was five years old, because sign language and lipreading/speech complement each other, thus I can say that I am bilingual. Moreover, early exposure to sign language had a positive impact on my cognitive development.
I started primary mainstream school with hearing students, and my mother taught me and my hearing friends some basic sign language, so that we could communicate easily with each other. I also had an LSE, who unfortunately did not use sign language, which was quite hard for me. When I started secondary school, I had a sign language interpreter for the first time, who provided me with more accessibility. However, due to the lack of interpreters, the interpreter that I had was only present for difficult subjects.
Upon completing my studies at MCAST, I started working as a land surveyor at the Water Services Corporation, where I have been for the past 10 years. I prepared a document with the Maltese Sign Language alphabet, which I shared with my colleagues so that they could learn it. However, it is not always easy for me to communicate with my colleagues at work. When I started to work part-time as a hairdresser, I was worried that it would be difficult to communicate with clients. However, my employer supported me for the first few weeks, during which I found a way to communicate with clients, such as using basic signs, body language, and pictures, until I started to feel more at ease working on my own.
I am the only DeafBlind person in Malta and Gozo, as I am unable to locate any other DeafBlind people on the islands. I suspect that there are others like me, however, they may not feel comfortable showing it due to the taboo that exists about DeafBlind people. In Europe, there are many DeafBlind people and when I found out about them just five years ago, I immediately became a member of the European DeafBlind Union, which helped me to feel more empowered.
When I spent a year on a training leadership program in Denmark at a Deaf school called Frontrunners last year, I learned about different ways how to help end the taboo about DeafBlind people and how to provide them with a safe space. During the programme I also learned how to teach my family and friends how to communicate with me as a DeafBlind person, such as how to use visual frame signing, tactile signing, and fingerspelling which I can feel on my hands, as sometimes it can be hard for me to lipread or to see sign language, especially at night.
Sign Language is a blessing for me and, apart from accessibility, it also provides me with many opportunities!