skip to content
Primary navigation

Deafblind fact sheet

The term "deafblind" refers to people with both hearing and vision loss. People who are deafblind vary widely in the degree and type of vision and hearing loss they experience.

People can become deafblind at any age, from birth to the end of life. Causes include illness, injury and family genetics.

Communication

People who are deafblind use a variety of communication methods, depending on age of onset, degree and type of hearing and vision loss and the communication environment.

  • People who are blind and lose hearing after they have learned to speak may be able to continue to express themselves through speech but often must learn a new mode for receiving language
  • People who are deaf and lose vision after learning American Sign Language can continue to express themselves through signing but must learn to receive sign language tactilely or in a modified form

Other methods of communication used by people who are deafblind include reading and writing in Braille, large print, and/or print-on-palm method (tracing the shapes of letters in the palm of a person who is deafblind).

Assistive technology allows people who are deafblind to use computers/telephones and to converse with people unfamiliar with more specialized methods of communication.

Interpreting services can greatly expand access to social, recreational, educational, and cultural events, as well as community services such as counseling, medical care and vocational training.

Mobility

People who are deafblind can increase their mobility through training in the use of canes for walking, special transportation services, guide dogs and sight guide services if those services are available in the community. With help, many people who are deafblind are able to use public transportation such as taxis, airplanes and trains.

Interacting with people who are deafblind

  • To get the attention of a person who is deafblind, gently touch him or her on the arm or shoulder, wait to be acknowledged and identify yourself. Do not assume that he/she knows who you are.
  • Learn to use whatever means of communication the person who is deafblind prefers. If you know another method that might be helpful, share that information.
  • Express yourself in a natural way. Softening or exaggerating your gestures may result in confusion.
  • Express yourself clearly and make sure that your message is understood. Summarizing important points at the end of a conversation is often helpful.
  • Always inform the person who is deafblind of your whereabouts. Also, let him/her know if you intend to leave the immediate area.
  • If others are present, let the person who is deafblind know their locations. Inform him or her of opportunities to enter the conversation without interrupting others.
  • If you move an object (a glass of water, a chair) in the immediate environment, let the person who is deafblind know. Such information can prevent accidents and reduce confusion.
  • When walking with a person who is deafblind, offer your elbow or shoulder as a guide. Hold your guiding arm close to your side to provide a stable area of contact and walk slightly ahead of the person who is deafblind. Pause slightly to indicate that you have arrived at stairs or a curb.
  • You can learn more about interpreting and guiding by seeking the suggestions of people who are deafblind, observing their reactions in various situations, and consulting books on these subjects.
back to top