Communicating with people who are deafblind

23rd Aug 2013

Deafblindness is also sometimes known as dual sensory impairment, dual sensory loss or multi-sensory impairment. The Department of Health defines people as deafblind "if their combined sight and hearing impairment cause difficulties with communication, access to information and mobility".

Some people are born deafblind (called 'congenital') and others become deafblind later in life ('acquired').

Interpreting for deafblind people is not only language transmission, but also consists of guiding, and transmitting information about the interpreting setting. The task of a deafblind interpreter is to mediate a complete picture to a deafblind person about the situation. This will be formed by three functions: language transmission, guiding, and transmission of visual information. All these functions may be included in an interpreter’s work or may be divided between an interpreter and another person e.g. a contact person. For a deafblind person a complete picture of an interpreting situation means the possibility of understanding the whole situation and experiencing an interpreting situation functioning well.

Communication – congenital deafblindness

Someone who was born deafblind has special needs that cannot be met by services for people who are only deaf or only blind. Without natural exposure to either oral or visual language, someone who is congenitally deafblind will have challenges in communicating.

They may also have other physical and/ or learning disabilities, and need specialist services to meet their needs.

One-to-one work with deafblind children helps them understand the human interaction that is the basis of communication. Deafblind people may use symbols, objects of reference, sign language, braille and other communication systems.

Communication – acquired deafblindness

There are many causes of acquired deafblindness. Usher syndrome is one common cause.

With the right training and support, people with Usher can learn to create the best environmental conditions so that they can use what vision or hearing they have. As their vision gets worse, many people with Usher will learn to use some form of tactile (touching) communication.

Older deafblind people

The largest group of deafblind people have developed hearing and vision problems as part of the ageing process. There is support available to help people use their remaining sight and hearing.

Some local authorities provide guide-helps or communicator guides who help deafblind people to take an active part in everyday life. This may mean helping them to go shopping, sorting out their bills, or interpreting at the doctors.

There are different groups of older deafblind people, who need different types of help:

 People who have developed dual sensory loss as they have got older

 People who have adapted to blindness or partial sight earlier in their life, and are now losing their hearing.

Older deaf or hard of hearing people, whose normal method of communication is either sign language or speech, and who are now losing their sight.

Older people who have had a dual sensory loss for all or most of their lives.

Methods of communication

Depending on their residual sight and hearing, people who are deafblind may use some form of tactile or other communication, including:

Deafblind manual alphabet: also called fingerspelling, this involves spelling out words on someone’s hand in BSL.

Block alphabet: This is when a hearing person uses the tip of their forefinger to spell out each word in English in block capitals on the receiver's palm. This method is most often used when communicating with members of the public and others who are unlikely to be familiar with the deafblind manual alphabet.

Hands-on signing: Some people who were born deaf and then experience sight loss as an adult continue to use sign language even when they can no longer follow visual signs. This is possible through the listener touching the hands of the person who is signing and following their movements.

Visual frame signing: When a deafblind person has a limited field of vision, sign language can still be used if the signs are adapted according to their visual needs.

Should you require any more information about deafblind interpreting, BSL, Braille or would like to use Pearl Linguistics interpreting services, please contact our interpreting department on 020 7253 7700.

Pawe? Mosur, Recruitment Manager


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