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Deaf Blind Communication

If a person is visually impaired or completely blind, the means of communication for them heavily relies upon hearing; and if a person is hearing impaired or completely deaf, communication is achieved primarily through sight. But what about when a person is both deaf and blind? How would they go about communicating? As you can imagine, a dual sensory disability raises a plethora of challenges for the individual and the communication methods to be used is very dependent on the amount of residual sight and hearing they are left with (Sense, 2013).

There are various methods that can however be used to help facilitate communication and interaction with a deaf/blind person. A modified version of Auslan (Australian sign language) is widely used by people who are deaf/blind. If the individual has some remaining usable sight, they can utilise Auslan within a confined body area relevant to their useful vision, this is called visual field signing. If the person is completely blind, they will further modify Auslan and read using tactile signs whereby they place their hand over the hand of the signer to physically feel the signs, this is formally known as hand over hand signing. Another means of communication is deaf/blind finger spelling whereby the individual spells the alphabet into the palm of a person’s hand (Australia Deaf Blind Council ADBC).

Australian Sign Language called "Hand over Hand

Australian Sign Language called “Hand over Hand”

Those who do have sufficient useful hearing often use hearing aids to compensate for their loss and therefore can, to an extent, rely on this particular sense to communicate (Australian Deaf Blind Council ADBC). Computers and technology has also played a major role in facilitating communication as assistive software and equipment has been introduced and is continually updated to cater to deaf and/or blind people. Things that most people take for granted such as typing, SMS or emailing has revolutionized the way in which deaf/blind people communicate and heave essentially enabled them to achieve anything else any other person has.

When communicating, there are a couple useful tips to remember to help ease the process.

  • Communication often does require a great deal of concentration and effort for a deaf/blind person, so remember to rest well and be prepared as it can be significantly tiring.
  • Secondly, external environment factors, such as lighting, the number of people to be in the room and background noise, should be taken into account to create the most suitable working space for those with sight and hearing impairments (Sense, 2013)

Joe has been deaf/blind from birth. His mother had rubella whilst she was pregnant with Joe. This resulted in Joe being born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS), with both his hearing and vision being affected. Joe is a very energetic, vibrant, humorous man who loves running and has completed a number of marathons. He attends a weekly running program in Sydney called Achilles running club which aims to assist all people, from all walks of life to participate in walking and running events.

Joe walking with his cane

Joe walking with his cane

To communicate, Joe uses a variation of Auslan (Australian Sign Language) called hand over hand whereby he touches the ‘communication partners’ hand to sign. He also uses deaf/blind finger spelling to spell out names. Joe does use hearing aids which can assist him slightly with hearing sounds but generally he requires Auslan communication to confirm what is being said. In addition to this Joe uses small cards with messages printed on them, known as a communication wallet. Braille is placed near the printed word message so he can choose the correct message. This communication wallet is particularly useful at the local shop, on public transport or when directing a taxi driver.

Joe has been accessing Guide Dogs NSW/ACT services so he can travel to the local shop independently and cross safely at the audio/tactile road crossings on some of Sydney’s inner west streets. His mobility instructor from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT has learnt Auslan and deaf/blind finger spelling to improve the quality of the program. Joe has been undergoing training on a weekly basis and is in the process of achieving his goals to be an independent traveler. A deaf/blind interpreter is provided if more in depth communication between the two parties is required.

The deaf/blind association is also an integral part of Joe’s life. The association runs the hand over hand club which provides interesting social activities and information to its members. It provides a strong social outlet for Joe and his close friends.

For further information on deaf/blind communication, sporting events and hand over hand club please refer to websites below.

small cards with messages printed on them, known as a communication wallet

Small cards with messages printed on them- known as a “Communication Wallet”