#Disabilityawareness: Deafblind

Categories: Research.

What is Deafblindness?

Deafblindness is the condition of little or no useful sight and little or no useful hearing. Educationally, individuals are considered to be deafblind when the combination of their hearing and sight loss causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they require significant and unique adaptations in their educational programs.

How do you go deaf?

Deafness and hearing loss have many causes and can occur at any age. People can go deaf suddenly as a complication of a virus, or lose their hearing over time because of disease, nerve damage, or injury caused by noise. About 3 in 1,000 babies is born deaf, often because of genetic factors.

How do Deaf-Blind People Communicate?

Deaf-blind people have many different ways of communication. The methods they use vary, depending on the causes of their combined vision and hearing loss, their backgrounds, and their education. Below are some of the most common ways that deaf-blind people communicate:

  • Sign Language- Some deaf or hard of hearing people with low vision use sign language. In some cases, people may need to sign or fingerspell more slowly than usual so the person with limited vision can see signs more clearly. Sometimes the person with low vision can see the signs better if the signer wears a shirt that contrasts with his or her skin colour (e.g., a person with light skin needs to wear a dark-coloured shirt).
  • Adapted Signs- Some deaf-blind people with restricted peripheral vision may prefer the signer to sign in a very small space, usually at chest level. Some signs located at waist level may need to be adapted (e.g. signing “belt” at chest level rather than at waist level).
  • Tactile Sign Language- The deaf-blind person puts his or her hands over the signer’s hands to feel the shape, movement and location of the signs. Some signs and facial expressions may need to be modified (for example, signing “not understand” instead of signing “understand” and shaking one’s head; spelling “dog” rather than signing “dog”). People can use one-handed or two-handed tactile sign language.
  • Tracking- Some deaf-blind people with restricted but still usable vision (e.g., tunnel vision) may follow signs by holding the signer’s forearm or wrist and using their eyes to follow the signs visually. This helps them follow signs more easily.
  • Tactile Fingerspelling- Usually blind or visually impaired people who lose their hearing later, or deaf or hard of hearing people who have depended on their speech reading and do not know how to sign, prefer tactile fingerspelling because sometimes sign language can be difficult to learn. The deaf-blind person may prefer to put his or her hand over the fingerspelling hand, or on the signer’s palm, or cup his or her hand around the signer’s hand.
  • Speechreading (Tadoma)-This is a way for deaf-blind people with little or no usable vision to speech read another person by touch. They put their thumb on the other person’s chin, and their fingers on the other person’s cheek to feel the vibrations of the person’s voice and the movement of their lips. This method is rarely used nowadays. Other deaf or hard of hearing people with usable vision use speechreading as well as their residual vision and hearing. They may use hearing aids, cochlear implants and/or assistive listening devices to help them hear and understand other people better.

Multisensory methods have been used to help deafblind people enhance their communication skills. These can be taught to very young children with developmental delays (to help with pre-intentional communication), young people with learning difficulties, or older people, including those with dementia. One such process is Tacpac. Deafblind amateur radio operators generally communicate on 2-way radios using Morse code.

For more information about disability, please contact Petra Burger (HPCA Disability Project Coordinator) – petra@hpca.co.za