Barber Terry, who didn’t give his last name, gives Cyril Cassell a haircut with the help of intervenor Thomas Gaffney.
JOE FIORITO/TORONTO STAR
Cyril Cassell had errands to take care of; he needed a haircut, and a bag of groceries. That sounds simple enough: hop on the bus, jump in the barber’s
chair, and grab a piece of salmon on the way home.
Not so fast.
Cyril is deaf-blind. He lives at the Rotary Cheshire Home, near Finch and Yonge. He could, I suppose, arrange to have things done for him, and to him; after all, grocers deliver, and the trades make house calls.
But we are social creatures. We do not fully exist unless we are in the company of others, and there is no one of us who ought to spend his days locked
in a dark and soundless closet. Cyril therefore booked Thomas Gaffney, an intervener.
Thomas Gaffney’s job is to help the deaf-blind navigate the city; he would, on a recent evening, be Cyril’s eyes, his ears, his voice. I tagged along; the
reason is simple enough, and something you should know:
The deaf-blind are provided with the services of interveners like Thomas, thanks to the provincial government. But Ontario is about to cut that service
dramatically. Cyril gets 24 and a half hours a week now; he fears he could be cut to eight.
In the old days, the deaf-blind used three fingers, indicating the letter “M”, over which they juxtaposed the symbol for scissors, when they referred to
the premier, Mike Harris. You remember him.
Mike, who cut.
These days, the deaf-blind use sign language to indicate that the initials of the Ministry of Community and Social Services — MCSS — really ought to stand
for “Ministry Cuts with Sharp Scissors.”
Eight hours; isn’t that enough? Let me answer the question with a question: When was the last time you were stuck in a hospital waiting room?
Cyril is 72 years old. He has needed an intervener for the past seven years. He uses his hours for medical appointments, and for all those things big and small — the gym, shopping, bingo — that you and I do without a second thought.
The men met in the lobby of the Cheshire Home, and walked to the bus stop — a stop, by the way, on a route the mayor recently wanted cut; you can see why the deaf-blind are jumpy these days.
They rode the bus, holding hands all the way — that’s how they talk to each other — then they boarded the subway south, heading to the barbershop.
Cyril, with the help of Thomas, asked for a buzz cut; it looks good on him, and is easy to maintain. The barber was careful, thoughtful, tender.
Afterwards, Cyril and Thomas went for a bite to eat in a falafel joint. How did Cyril know what to order? Thomas translated the menu, item by item; call
it finger food. Cyril had the kofte platter.
It is hard to eat and sign at the same time but, between bites, Cyril said that he began to lose his vision when he was a young man. His condition is genetic.
He moved to Toronto because of his blindness when he was 38 years old.
As a young man, he worked as a bouncer in a pool hall in Smiths Falls; here, in Toronto, he has at times worked for the CNIB.
After the kofte, the two men went north again on public transit. At the supermarket, Cyril needed cucumbers, grape tomatoes, flax bread, eggs, cereal and
salmon. Thomas chose for him, and also persuaded him that strawberries were a good buy. Cyril cannot read the specials by himself. The trip took four hours.
To cut this time is to cut his life.
Joe Fiorito appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Email: