North Walsham deaf-blind woman’s plea to be heard

A deaf-blind woman has pleaded with Norfolk County Council not to take away a service which gives her a voice and keeps her in touch with the outside world.

Kelci Monaghan relies on weekly visits from a communicator guide who is part of the council's under-threat sensory support unit.

Mrs Monaghan, 38, says that without her communicator guide, Trisha Flint, she would be unable to leave the house, severely restricting her quality of life. Her husband Paul, 40, is registered blind.

She has accused the council of picking on the most vulnerable people by proposing to scale back the service, which supports about 1,000 people annually, as part of a �155m package of cost-saving measures it needs to take over the next three years.

'They think deaf-blind people don't have a voice,' said Mrs Monaghan, of Rye Close, North Walsham.

'The communicator guides are our eyes, ears, keep us independent and, most of all, a part of the community.'

Ms Flint, one of 10 communicator guides, visits Mrs Monaghan for three hours every week and takes her shopping, to medical and other appointments. She can also communicate by using a touch sign language on Mrs Monaghan's hand.

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'Without Trisha I wouldn't have a clue what was going on. I wouldn't have the confidence to go out alone and I would have to stay at home and get depressed,' she added.

Among Ms Flint's other deaf-blind clients is an elderly man living in a Norwich care home who relies on her for his sole source of conversation. Ms Flint said: 'The last time I left him he signed: 'Back to my prison now.'

Mrs Monaghan has also benefited from rehabilitation help and equipment provided by the service. She is also distressed at the threat to the deaf-blind club, at Norwich's Vauxhall Centre, which is run by communicator guides.

Paul Morse, county councillor for North Walsham, who has taken up Mrs Monaghan's case, said the service was vital and if it was withdrawn it would have a devastating effect on the quality of life for people such as Mrs Monaghan.

He added: 'It would also mean rising costs for other social services budgets and the health service as clients find themselves less able to cope independently. It would be a false economy.'

The council proposes saving �1.1m a year by axing the team, restricting the service to those who meet statutory criteria and buying in services from elsewhere for them.

David Harwood, cabinet member for the council's adult and community services, said that the proposal had attracted one of the highest levels of response. He stressed that it was only a 'proposal' and said no final decisions had been made and the council would consider all views and suggestions, 'with the aim of doing the best we can by the people of Norfolk.'