- Michael Pulman – 5th June 2020
Physically worn down, depressed, close to giving up all hope and in desperate need for support. That was the life for Andrew Willoughby when Deaf Aotearoa came into his life.
It had all come to head in Nelson Hospital. Facing a lengthy stay in hospital care, Andrew received news that he had just been kicked out of his home by his landlord after a long battle with health issues and alcohol dependency which spanned nearly thirty years.
Having not learned NZSL at a young age, Andrew had sometimes struggled communicating with the people around him. Dating back to his early years in education, difficulty hearing and understanding instructions of teachers saw Andrew struggle from an early age. Learning some NZSL as he got older helped Andrew but as he didn’t regularly mix with the Deaf community, he didn’t become fluent.
Attempts at schooling included local and boarding schools, but the specialist support Andrew needed could only be found at the St Dominic’s School for the Deaf in Fielding. After an assessment, St Dominic’s said Andrew didn’t qualify for the school due to not being completely deaf.
That’s when Andrew’s downward spiral really began.
In his twenties, a serious motorcycle accident saw Andrew having one of his legs amputated. Fitted with a prosthetic leg, the trauma of the accident played a part on Andrew’s mental health, leading to a downward spiral of alcohol dependency, increased social isolation and declining health.
In that time, Andrew lost contact with some of his closest family members and friends. It wasn’t until Andrew was admitted to hospital that a social worker learned of his troubles and began assisting Andrew to find emergency accommodation before contacting Deaf Aotearoa to see if they could help further.
It proved to be just the latest challenge for Deaf Aotearoa’s team working in the Hauora service.
As one of the organisation’s core services, Hauora supports New Zealand’s Deaf and hard of hearing people with needs assessments, service coordination, access to information and advice and refers people to a wide range of services outside of Deaf Aotearoa.
The service also helps Deaf people access to specialist advice and support with applications for specialist equipment such as vibrating alarms and doorbells and helps with finding housing.
Underpinning the service is a strong root back to a Maori philosophy for health and well-being which is also integrated into modern primary and secondary schools in New Zealand. Hauora views the combination of physical health, emotional and mental health, being socially and spiritually healthy as the core ingredients for strength and stability.
This approach has been at the forefront of supporting people like Andrew, who recently turned 61 and has found new accommodation in an apartment complex in Nelson.
Getting back into the community was a big goal for Andrew and after working with CCS Disability Action, Andrew now has access to the Total Mobility Scheme which lowers the cost of taxis to make access to his community easier.
It’s in the community that Andrew has rediscovered an old love for reading, working with Nelson’s local library to setup and is eyeing home delivery book services and making plans for more involvement locally.
Andrew has also re-established regular contact with his sister thanks to support from Deaf Aotearoa. During the recent COVID-19 lockdown, facilitators from the service were able to keep in contact with Andrew’s sister on his behalf, informing his accommodation staff that she was coping well during the difficult time.
The next big goals for Andrew are accessing community education in a bid to finally upskill and also to connect with his local church to practice his faith with others.
It’s all a big turnaround from the dark place Andrew had been in when lying in that Nelson hospital bed facing the prospect of being homeless, and the man himself had a few thankful words for the Hauora team at Deaf Aotearoa.
“My facilitator and the service she provides me is number one”, Andrew said.
Andrew’s sister also contacted Deaf Aotearoa to express thanks for the support provided to her brother.
“I am especially happy about the renewed family contact and pleased Andrew will be meeting regularly with a Pastor. I am very grateful to Deaf Aotearoa and their service”, she said.
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