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What You Need to Know About Deaf-Blindness

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This bronze bust of Helen Keller resides in the Martha Frank Garden at The Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, NC

This bronze bust of Helen Keller resides in the Martha Frank Garden at The Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, NC

Facts About Deaf-Blindness

Deaf-blindness is a condition that is rare. Depending on the definition, there are nearly 40,000 to 750,000 people impacted by the disorder in America. Many professionals recognize deaf-blindness as a dual-sensory disorder. The disability affects sight and hearing, which causes problems for these individuals in socializing, mobility, and communicating. In essence, most routines of daily living become challenging.

There are several causes of deaf-blindness. The disability could be related to premature delivery, congenital factors, or complication during the early stages of birth. Deaf-blindness could also occur later in life. Injuries and inherited genes can cause an onset of deaf-blindness. Disorders such as Meningitis are also associated with deaf-blindness.

In spite of these difficulties, people who are deaf-blind can achieve in life. As a rehabilitation counselor and while training as a teacher of the visually impaired, I had the opportunity to work with these extraordinary individuals.

Here are some methods they use to interact with others:

How Do People Who are Deaf-Blind Communicate?

  1. Sign Language – The use of this skill varies with Individuals. Often, the use of sign language depends on the use of any vision by the person who is deaf-blind. Some individuals who are deaf-blind may use a tactile sign language skill instead of a visual method.
  2. Speech – Many individuals who are deaf-blind may be able to communicate verbally in a limited manner.
  3. Speech Reading – This is the same as “lip reading.” It depends on the ability to see facial expressions and the movement of the lips.
  4. Tadoma – For this technique, the person who is deaf-blind places a hand on the throat, cheek or lips of the other individual and use the vibrations to help understand what is being said.
  5. Braille is also used by individuals who are deaf-blind to write and read.
  6. Tactile Finger Spelling – To communicate with this technique, the person who is deaf-blind places his/her hand over the hand of the signing person to interpret the finger spelling.

Famous People Who Are Deaf-Blind

  1. The first individual who was deaf-blind and received successful instruction in America was Laura Bridgman (1829-1889).
  2. Obtaining a bachelor degree, Helen Keller (1880-1968) is famously identified with the condition. She was an activist, pushing for reforms to help people with disabilities. Helen Keller was also a published author and conducted lectures. (A picture of her statue is shown.)
  3. Rebecca Alexander is a psychotherapist who resides in New York. She has written a book about living with deaf-blindness and frequently appears on television shows. She was recognized as a “community hero,” and carried the torch for the 1996 Olympic Games. She has two master degrees and was born on February 4, 1979.
People who are deaf-blind may use a braillewriter like this one for written communication.

People who are deaf-blind may use a braillewriter like this one for written communication.

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How Does Deaf-Blindness Impact life?

Deaf-blindness may occur at any point due to a variety of factors. Generally, deaf-blindness is believed to happen in about 3 in every 100,000 births. Based on the child’s degree of dual-sensory impairment, the view of the world is narrow compared to those who are not deaf-blind. Without adequate support, these children may view the world as an unpredictable place. This is because information other children obtain naturally must be deliberately provided to children who are deaf-blind. Early intervention is necessary, coupled with personal attention, to stimulate interest and understanding of the world around them as they mature.

Yet, a child may become deaf-blind as he/she reaches puberty. Others do not experience deaf-blindness until adulthood. But adults who are deaf-blind fall within a range of gifted to profoundly multi-handicapped. Although mobility and communications are substantial difficulties these individuals must overcome, people who are deaf-blind work in a wide variety of jobs once they have received adequate training and support.


Blaha, R. (2001). Calendars for Students with Multiple Impairments Including Deafblindness. Austin, TX: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Huebner, K. M. (1995). Hand in hand: essentials of communication and orientation and mobility for your students who are deaf-blind. New York: AFB Press.

Janssen, M., Redbroe, I. (2006). Communication and congenital deafblindness and the core principles of intervention. St. Michielsgestel, The Netherlands: VCDBF/Viataal.

Miles & Riggio. (1999). Remarkable conversations - A Guide to Developing Meaningful Communication with Children and Young Adults who are Deafblind. Boston, MA: Perkins School for the Blind.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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