is a Deaf-Blind Person?
issue of who fits into this category is not completely obvious. There are
different levels of both deafness and blindness, and people become deaf
and blind at different points in their lives. The process may also happen
progressively, such that a person who starts out at one level of either
condition may reach another level later in life. Depending on when and
how completely a person becomes deaf and blind, their needs, manner of
communication and culture will vary. A person who is deaf and blind from
birth, for instance, may need assistance in moving around, will probably
communicate with Braille or other tactile method, and will most likely
adhere to the Deaf-Blind culture. A person who has limited vision and became
hard of hearing later in life may need very little beyond a hearing aid
and good lighting.
there are more Deaf-Blind adults identified than 20 to 30 years ago, due
in part to the early identification and support of people with Usher Syndrome
(congenitally deaf with adventitious blindness) in their teens and young
adulthood, and due in part to the children who became Deaf-Blind from Rubella
who are now adults today."1
Estimates of the number of Deaf-Blind people vary, but are commonly given
at 21,000. Actually, the number is much greater since it does not account
for those who have partial vision or hearing.2
As a result of this and the greater education and professionalism of Deaf-Blind
people, there is a greater need for skilled interpreters to work with Deaf-Blind
people than ever before.
1. Jamie McNamara, "Deaf-Blind Interpreting," Views, pp. 10 and 11 (Silver
Spring, Md.: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) 14, no. 11 (December
2. Loraine J. DiPietro, Ed., Guidelines on Interpreting for Deaf-Blind Persons, Public Service Programs, (Washington, DC: Gallaudet College) 1978).
is important that all family members learn the deaf-blind persons preferred
mode of communication.
should help their child use any residual vision or hearing.
people are frequently isolated. They need ample opportunities for socializing.
people with whom the deaf-blind person has regular contact need to be aware
of the proper way to get the person's attention. Usually touching the hand
or forearm is best.
your deaf-blind family member, help him or her develop a positive self
members themselves may need counseling and support, especially if they
blame themselves for their loved-one's disability.
Linda M. Struck, M.S.W., Abuse and Neglect of Children with Disabilities,
Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Social Services Services, Child
Modes of Deaf-Blind Communication
as hearing and seeing people vary in their preferences, so do Deaf-Blind
people vary in their preferred mode of communication. Their preference
may be visual for those with some vision, auditory for those with some
hearing, or tactile. Their preference may also include choice of language,
such as ASL or English. An interpreter should obtain as much information
in advance as possible, evaluate the client's preferences compared to the
interpreter's skills, and determine whether they are confident in meeting
the client's needs. In addition, since tactile signing tends to be much
slower than visual, it is important to determine in advance whether the
client prefers a summary of what is spoken or verbatim signing.
is a list of the most common modes of communication used by Deaf-Blind
people. It is arranged according to training and equipment required.4
Not Requiring Special Training or Equipment
on Palm/Print on Back. The communicator prints in large block capital letters
on the person's hand or back. Each letter is written in the same location
as the previous letter.
Requiring Special Knowledge of Training, But Not Special Equipment
The Deaf-Blind person places his hand on the mouth, cheek, and chin of
the person communicating. They read the voiced message by feeling vibrations.
It works best with those able to speak their own response.
Sign Language also known as Restricted Field Signing. Those with narrow
vision may prefer to receive messages by signing in a very small area near
the signer's mouth. Some signs may have to be adjusted.
Signing. Frequently used by people with Usher Syndrome, the Deaf-Blind
individual holds the fore-arms of the signer and follows the signing visually,
using their hands to know where to look.
Sign Language. The communicator signs in a normal fashion and the Deaf-Blind
person feels the shape of the signs by placing their hands on top of the
signer's hands. Some adjustments need to be made for non-manual communications.
Fingerspelling. Similar to tactile signing, the Deaf-Blind person touches
the signer's hand during signing.
The communicator uses six fingers in the Braille positions to indicate
each letter. This method is not widely used in the US at this time.
Requiring Special Equipment
Glove. "The letters of the alphabet are printed in indelible ink on a lightweight
glove. The communicator touches the letters desired to spell out the message."
It works best with people who can speak their own response.
Card. "This is an embossed index card with the letters of the alphabet
raised. The communicator places the fingertip of the Deaf-Blind person's
index finger on the desired letters to feel the shape of the raised letter."
Alphabet Card. This is like the alphabet card, using Braille instead of
embossed letters. Ink-printed letters are included to facilitate use for
the sighted communicator.
Similar to a typewriter with a standard keyboard, the output is in Braille.
It is read one letter at a time.
The communicator types on a TTY keyboard. The recipient reads 20 Braille
cells and then requests the next set. The Deaf-Blind person responds by
Tape. "The communicator types in Braille and the letters are embossed on
a long, thin strip of paper..." The tape can be read immediately or at
a later time.
4. Sheryl B. Cooper, PhD, IC/TC, RSC, "A Glossary of Some Communication Methods
Used with Deaf-Blind People," Views, pp. 6 and 7, (Silver Spring, Md.: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) 14, no. 11 (December 1997).
often than not, the Deaf-Blind person has some vision. Where and how well
they can see will be the main question. If the person has Usher's Syndrome
(which often includes tunnel vision), the interpreter may have to be far
away; for cataracts the interpreter needs to be very close and sign in
a small, limited area. Some may have no peripheral vision, others may have
only peripheral vision. Some may have clear sight in their area of vision,
others may have only blurred or minimal vision. In any case, the interpreter
must be especially careful to wear solid, highly contrasting colors. Additionally,
the client may be sensitive to certain colors or find certain colors easier
with partial hearing may wish you to voice along with your signing. Possibly
you will be asked to voice into a hearing-aid type device, such as a pocket
talker. Or you may just need to sit at closer range when you speak. In
some cases the person can voice their responses, but lack of clarity will
require you to repeat or "voice over" them.
is now some belief that Deaf-Blind people have their own dialect, known
as "Tactile ASL."
many of ASL's signs are the same as TSL's, the Deaf-Blind language has
had to make adjustments for non-manual ASL signings.
Considerations in Communicating with Deaf-Blind People
is important to give Deaf-Blind people warning of changes in their environment,
approaches of other people, or the need to change locations. Chances are
you will need to help the Deaf-Blind client move around. Do not grab the
client's wrist and pull them. Instead, communicate with them that it is
time to move, place their hand inside your bent elbow, and lead them. If
you are walking in a narrow or crowded space, your elbow should be held
slightly in back of you, indicating that the person should follow behind.
When approaching a step to a curb or stair, raise or lower your arm slightly
and pause a little, allowing the client to prepare to step up or down.
addition to mobility needs, the client may require assistance in obtaining
food and taking medicine. Establish codes to identify such situations as
rest room, coffee, exercise, and meal breaks. If participation will be
a factor, establish how their participation will be signaled and carried
of the need for close proximity during communication, it is sometimes best
that the communicator be of the same gender as the client. This becomes
especially important when the Deaf-Blind person needs to use the rest room.
If you are interpreting for a Deaf-Blind person of the opposite sex and
have no appropriate team mate, recruit and train a volunteer in advance
to take the person to the rest room.
you may be sitting quite close to the client, do not wear perfume or cologne,
and be careful of other odors as well. This is not the day to eat garlic
and onions! Hand lotion may be advisable for tactile signing if your hands
are dry or chapped. The person may require stronger lighting, and certain
types of lighting may be better than others. It is also wise to wear slacks
or a pants suit, since you may be sitting knee-to-crotch while signing.
signing is usually necessary for tactile signing. Be very clear in your
signing and pause between sentences. Check for understanding and be ready
to repeat as necessary.
identify who is speaking, including yourself. Be aware that the person
may need you to tell them a great deal about the environment: where things
are located, who is talking to whom, whether the event has begun and in
what stage of the event are you currently experiencing. Find out in advance
how much and what type of information they wish you to convey.
Sources of Information
Jacobs, CI and CT, "Deaf-Blind Interpreting 101," Views, pp. 8 and
9, (Silver Spring, Md.: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) 14, no 11
Downer, CCASSD Level III, Generalist, "Tactile Interpreting - Are You Ready?"
Views, p. 12, (Silver Spring, Md.: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf)
14, no 11 (December 1997).
Gregg, CT, and Jeffrey Bohrman, Ph.D., "Deaf-Blind Interpreting -- International
Style," Views, pp. 13 and 14, (Silver Spring, Md.: Registry of Interpreters
for the Deaf) 14, no. 11 (December 1997).
Devich, "Definitions of Alternative Communication Styles with Deaf-Blind
People," Views, p. 15, ( Silver Spring, Md.: Registry of Interpreters for
the Deaf) 14, no. 11 (December 1997).
Steffen, CI, "The Acquisition of Tactile Sign Language (TSL) By Deaf-Blind
Adults," Views, p. 18 and 19, (Silver Spring, Md.: Registry of Interpreters
for the Deaf) 14, no. 11 (December 1997).
Sandefur, RSC, OIC:V/S, "The Dilemma of Deaf-Blind Interpreting," Views,
p. 20 and 21, (Silver Spring, Md.: Registry of Interpreters for the
Deaf) 14, no. 11 (December 1997).
Galeota, "Community Commitment To Nuturning Deaf-Blind Interpreters," Views,
p. 22, (Silver Spring, Md.: Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf) 14 no.
11 (December 1997).
Miles, DB-LINK Fact Sheet,