How touch unlocks football for Richard, a deafblind fan

Richard loves football. When any one of his favourite teams score, his face lights up. Richard is deafblind and has a progressive learning disability. To follow the match, his Sense support worker, Alex, uses tactile sign language to narrate the game for him. Richard never misses a chance to celebrate a goal!

I’ve been working with Richard for nearly 10 years now, and he’s been supported by Sense for nearly 20. We’ve been through lots of ups and downs together, but football has been a constant in his life. Richard loves it – his collection of football t-shirts is massive; he supports pretty much all the teams!

Richard at his Sense Centre with Tracey and Alex

People might be surprised that someone who’s so profoundly deafblind can get so much out of football. But at Sense, we have a lot of ways to support people to enjoy their hobbies. Richard follows the football, plays sport and even referees our in-centre football matches!

Football offers connection

Richard’s eyesight is extremely limited and always deteriorating, and he has significant hearing loss in both ears. He likes us to use hand-under-hand signing to communicate, though he does pick up some sound in his right ear too and likes it when people speak loudly whilst signing.

Alex using hand-under-hand signing to enable Richard to follow the detail of the football match.

When Richard and I put the football on the TV, we find that sports commentators don’t describe what’s happening in much detail. I use tactile signing to describe to Richard where people are on the pitch, how fast the ball is moving and where certain players are. It’s a lot to cover! Richard can get overwhelmed with too much information so I pick out what’s important to the match, or what I know Richard will be interested in following.

There are a few guys at our Sense Centre who also enjoy having the game on. So, football can be a social occasion for Richard too. It’s so important for Richard to have these opportunities to connect with something he’s passionate about, and with other people.

We’ve even done a few football matches here, with Richard refereeing! I sit with him and describe the match – if there’s a foul then Richard knows about it! He’s very much in charge.

Richard gathered in front of the TV with his Sense peers to enjoy the football.

Putting a smile on his face

As Richard’s condition has deteriorated, his opportunities to be active and to be social have reduced. That’s definitely affected his mood over the years too, and he can sometimes feel low.

A few years ago, Richard went through a difficult time personally. He wasn’t in a good place, just encouraging him to go out into the garden or over to the gym was a massive achievement. Now, he’s got his spark back and is up for trying new things, exploring new places and getting out for walks. Going out for lunch makes him very happy – it always puts a smile on his face. That’s a massive improvement.

Keeping fit is important to Richard. He likes weight training and trying out new activities. Like Hazel, whose story Sense shared earlier this year, Richard’s been doing adaptive skiing in The Snow Centre, and does boxing and trampolining here with Sense.

He’ll still have low moods some days, but we know him so well and can talk to him and help him focus on things that bring him back into that good mental place. As well as putting the game on, Richard loves space, NASA, martial arts and talking about his football shirts. And now that the Euros has kicked off, there’s lots for Richard to look forward to!

Richard and Alex celebrate a goal!

Deafblind Awareness Week

24 June – 30 June

Every year, organisations across the world mark Deafblind Awareness Week on what would have been the birthday of deafblind author and activist, Helen Keller. It’s all about learning about what life is like for those who are deafblind, and highlighting the achievements of people who have multi-sensory impairments.

Find out more about Sense’s long history of supporting people who are deafblind, and what we’re doing to celebrate this year.