Lecturer Saskia Damen
Saskia Damen - Assistant Professor Ortho Congenital and Early Acquired Deafblindness
The Master's track in Deafblindness focuses on the specific problems that people with deafblindness encounter. We look at the consequences of deafblindness on the development and functioning of people in order for them to participate in society.
My name is Saskia Damen. I am the curriculum coordinator of the Master’s track in Deafblindness, organized by the department of Pedagogical and Educational Sciences. I am also an assistant professor at the Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences. So I give lectures, I supervise students and I also conduct research...
We use the term to mean the combination of vision impairment and hearing impairment. This means that a person does not need to be totally deaf and totally blind to be called deafblind. They could also have partial hearing or be partially sighted. This group is very diverse; there are people who are born with deafblindness but also people who become deafblind later in life and even when they are elderly. In the Master’s track, we mainly focus on people born with deafblindness. What is the Master’s track in Deafblindness about? The Master’s track in Deafblindness focuses on the specific problems that people with deafblindness encounter. We look at the consequences of deafblindness on the development and functioning of people in order for them to participate in society. For example, what support do they need and what kind of specific educational programmes would they benefit from? Can you give an example of a research project in deafblindness that you are working on? I am currently involved in a study on people with Usher syndrome. People with Usher syndrome are born with auditory disabilities: they are deaf or have partial hearing. They gradually become blind later in life because of the disease. This syndrome was only first discovered as people started to develop visual problems. Nowadays, we have the possibility of genetic testing. So, in the Netherlands, babies who are only a few weeks old undergo hearing tests. If they have hearing disabilities, their parents are offered the opportunity to have a genetic test to see what the cause of the hearing impairment is. What we then see is that parents realize that their child will become deafblind when they are still very young, even while still babies. This creates a huge need for support for those parents and for people with Usher syndrome themselves. As part of this study, we developed a guide for professionals on how to support children with Usher syndrome, as well as their parents. How did you end up in this specific field? I think I started to become interested in children with disabilities when I was quite young and I worked as a volunteer at a summer camp. At this camp, there were children with disabilities. I was so fascinated by them and thought this could be a topic for me to explore. That was a reason for me to follow a degree programme in Special Education. During my degree, I did an internship in the field of intellectual disabilities. This is the field that I am most interested in because I like investigating complex problems. I also came into contact with people with multiple disabilities, such as vision and hearing impairments. I was fascinated by that! After I graduated, I began working at an organization [name?] to gain some work experience. They managed accommodation for people with congenital deafblindness. I saw this combination and was fascinated by it, so chose to focus on this group. As soon as I began working there as a professional, I immediately started to research the topic because I was so interested in it. At a certain point, the Master’s track in Deafblindness was established in Groningen and I was lucky that my workplace allowed me to enroll for it. I became acquainted with Professor Marleen Janssen and, later on, I was able to do a PhD with her as my supervisor. After that, I started working as an assistant professor. What can students expect from this track? The Master’s track in Deafblindness is unique. We possess an international group of lecturers who are very engaged and experienced. We also have an international student population, so as a student, you will meet people from all over the world. We really support interaction and collaboration between the students so they can learn from one another and learn about different cultural perspectives. Because it is such a small group, the students get to know each other and the lecturers very well.
Students are also provided with a lot of supervision. The majority of the track takes place through distance learning. The first month begins with lots of lectures in Groningen. These weeks are very intense. Alongside the lectures, there are many assignments and students collaborate in groups. After this month, they each go back to their home country and begin their internships and thesis projects. Distance supervision is provided through the University and we make individual appointments with each student. The students can also pick their own thesis topics, which is quite unique. This is a very interesting opportunity, of course, for those who already work in the professional field, as they are able to do something that is relevant both to them and the organization they are working for. Where do alumni usually end up? In a wide variety of places. Some alumni have actually become directors of schools and organizations. Others have gone onto jobs relating to educational psychology, where they are responsible for coordinating interventions and assessments for students or clients. Many alumni also end up in jobs supervising others, such as staff who directly work with people with deafblindness. Or they become consultants and advise parents and professionals. Positions in communication coaching, for example as speech or language therapists, are also very popular.What is your advice for students considering following this track? Let yourself know! Because it is such a unique and small-scale track, it is important to examine whether it would suit you well. If you are enthusiastic about the prospect, please don’t hesitate to contact me and we can discuss the details of the track and whether it suits you.
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