On Friday 27 September, Prof. H.J.M. Janssen was appointed Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion. The Mayor of Heerenveen Tjeerd van der Zwan presented the award in Het Kasteel In Groningen.
Marleen Janssen (Breda, 1955), Professor of Congenital and Early-onset Acquired Deafblindness at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences of the UG, is the first and only professor in the world to hold a chair in this field. Since 1976, she has worked continuously and with considerable success on research into deafblindness and communication with people who have been deafblind since birth or from an early age. She is globally recognized as a figurehead and expert, who is dedicated to combating the unremitting social isolation of people who can neither hear nor see.
The impact of Marleen Janssen’s academic work on the quality of life of people with deafblindness is unequalled. It began when she was working with deafblind children as a teacher, first in Breda, later at Koninklijke Kentalis in Sint-Michielsgestel, the expertise centre for children with learning difficulties, including deafblindness. She combined her teaching job with a PhD in deafblindness at Radboud University Nijmegen. She has been conducting research at the UG since 2004, where she heads a research group as Professor of Special Needs Education, holding a chair in Congenital and Early-onset Acquired Deafblindness.
People who are deafblind cannot see or hear, or have severely impaired sight and hearing. As a result, their world often extends no further than the length of their arms. They have serious problems with communication, processing information, orientation and mobility. Many children with congenital deafblindness have serious developmental delay and are often wrongly assumed to have mental disabilities. Without targeted support, deafblindness can lead to total social isolation and lifelong dependency on others . Contact and communication form the window to development, social ties and a place in our society for deafblind children and young adults. Janssen has dedicated her working life to improving the quality of life of this target group and ensuring that they do not fall into social isolation.
Thanks to her efforts and cooperation with professional organizations and researchers in the field in the Netherlands and abroad, Janssen has had a massive impact on the way this vulnerable group is treated and taught at school. She has played a crucial role in ensuring that the unique needs of the deafblind are globally recognized and in the development of groundbreaking treatment and teaching methods for this group. She supervised the development of various evidence-based methods that have improved communication for the deafblind, enabling them to fulfil their role as citizens within society. These methods also help parents, care professionals and teachers to communicate with the target group more easily. In addition, Janssen has made an impressive contribution to diagnostic research in the field. For example, she played a major role in learning to recognize, analyse and stimulate the learning potential of children with deafblindness.
To enable international access to her work (and that of others in the field), Janssen launched the first ever academic journal focusing on her target group. She also has a notable list of publications to her name, which she not only writes for fellow academics, but also for parents and professionals. She is the figurehead and founder of the international Master’s degree programme in Communication & Congenital Deafblindness. This diverse, international Master’s programme is the only one of its kind in the world and helps to improve the quality of the treatment of deafblind people all around the globe. A unique pre-programme means that students in Africa are also able to take this degree programme. Her dedication to continuity in her work with the deafblind means that she is keen to pass on her knowledge and experience to other researchers and has ensured that a worthy successor is waiting in the wings to take over from her when the time comes.
As Janssen wants to make a valid contribution to the lives of this target group, she regularly seeks publicity, on the radio for example. She also involves deafblind people and their parents in the lectures she gives as a visiting lecturer and invites them to join her Master’s programme. A lot of her time is spent on maintaining national and international ties and ensuring that people with deafblindness, their representatives and care professionals can meet each other and academics during the numerous conferences, symposia, seminars and study days she initiates.
Janssen is an enthusiastic speaker at study days and conferences throughout the world. Time and time again, she moves and inspires people by sharing her personal experiences. She is friendly and always available for questions and requests, enabling her to engage and motivate young people to do their best for the deafblind. Her unwavering belief in the potential and resilience of people makes her a role model and source of inspiration for those who are themselves deafblind and their care professionals and families, as well as for the international academic community in her field.
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