Exploring Deafblindness – it can and does happen to anyone

So what is this all about?

To be deafblind  – no hearing, no sight – wonder if they know what’s happening around them?

Surely deafblind people have lots of help, don’t they?

They must be living in sheltered housing where everything is provided, ah poor souls, I feel sorry for them, but there’s nothing I can do.

Suppose they must be grateful for that.

I couldn’t imagine how they would be able to communicate if they can’t see or hear anything!

I never met a deafblind person so if I see one, perhaps I’ll leave it to their companion or carer to support them, after all it’s their job not mine isn’t it?

They wouldn’t go out on their own anyway, goodness sake, how can they find their way around? Let alone conduct their day to day affairs, like keeping up with the news, dealing with their finances, knowing who is at the door, getting their shopping, going out, taking part in life activities….

There can’t be that many deafblind people…..

Or are there?

Ok well let’s explore these feelings about deafblind people.

It is important that as we become aware of our own positive and negative feelings towards deafblind people,deaf  and disabled people in general, our attitudes to them as people first bears a strong connection to our willingness and ability to communicate and accept others around us successfully.

The first step we need to take is to overcome these feelings of inadequacy or embarrassment.  After all the most important thing you will learn here is that there are lots of deafblind people.

And the second most important thing is it’s extremely rare to be totally blind and totally deaf.  Most deafblind people have some useful hearing or sight, which they will utilise to communicate and get around with.

You probably have met one, only you didn’t know you had.  And that person may be unaware or in denial that they are deafblind too.

Blindness cuts you off from things… deafness cuts you off from people (Helen Keller)

Communication is the most important thing a human being needs, apart from water,  food, and shelter.  With communication, you can transmit your needs, your wants, your feelings, your opinions and most of all you can share life.  People were never intended to live alone, we already know the mental health effects – physically, mentally and spiritually of solitary exclusion from others.

But the fear of talking to someone who can’t see you and can’t hear you may fill you with dread.  You may worry they won’t understand you.  Leaving you with the responsibility of starting a conversation, and having to keep it going… not only that but wondering if you’re understood, or even more, feeling apprehensive about entering someone else’s “private space”.  This means touching someone, but for deafblind people, touch is the most important sense they have left.

These are perfectly natural barriers. Our one day course will help you understand how to break these barriers down and hopefully you will have the knowledge and confidence to communicate effectively with any deaf or  deafblind person you may meet in your life from this point onwards.  It will probably have the knock on effect of making you think about deaf people too, after all we’re talking about communication barriers here, and the issues are similar as you are about to discover.

Many people who have a dual sensory loss or are ‘deafblind’ are not identified as so.  The largest group of people who fall into this category are elderly and they rely on their residual sight and/or hearing.  They may have a hearing loss related to old age called presbyacusis.  This, together with failing eyesight,  that we all know happens, leads to what is called acquired deafblindness. There are possibly about 2  million people in the UK with this dual sensory loss.

People, who experience hearing loss, broadly speaking, fall into two categories and both can become blind at any time.

Firstly there are those who were born Deaf or became Deaf in early childhood.  They are likely to use British Sign Language (BSL) as their first language and usually mix with others like themselves.  This is called the Deaf community.  They are very proud of their language, their history and their cultural heritage and this is indicated by the capital D in “Deaf”.  Using BSL is a visual means of communication.  It doesn’t mean they are using a rough mixture of primitive gestures and grimaces.  Far from it.  BSL is a rich language with a grammar a syntax just like English, or Welsh or French even.  BSL does not follow English word order.  It wouldn’t “look” right.  For example if I was to talk about a greenhouse.  If I tried to sign green then house, it would mean a house that is green wouldn’t it? Because you’re saying green first.  But it still wouldn’t mean a greenhouse as English means it to be.   The proper sign would be house glass.  This means you are describing a house made of glass. Deaf people who use BSL and become blind will usually communicate by hands-on BSL – feeling the signs someone else is making with their own hands. Some may have enough residual sight to see the BSL, usually within the field of remaining vision. This is Visual Frame BSL. You can see it here: (Many Thanks to Nick Sturley for permission to post here)

Secondly there are those people who lose their hearing after learning to speak.  Many people become deaf after illness, accidents,exposure to loud noise or just getting older.  By and far, the largest number of deaf people fall in this category.  There is a taboo about communicating with deaf people.  This is based on ignorance and stereotyping.  People think all deaf people sign, because that’s the part of the disability that’s highly visible – a bit like knowing someone is disabled because they have a wheelchair – and therefore they can’t speak… leading to the misconception that they can’t communicate.  This is not true.  By and large the majority of deaf people use hearing aids and speech with some lipreading.  Some deaf people are so embarrassed by the fact they are deaf because of this taboo that they will do everything to hide the deafness.  Even to the point where they will appear to be following the conversation when in actual fact they are completely lost.  You will only realise this when you ask them a direct question and the reply is totally out of context, leaving you bewildered and embarrassed.  It doesn’t need to be like this.  This group of deaf people who become blind will use as much of their residual hearing as possible, supplementing it with lipreading and possibly some deafblind manual alphabet.

If you would like to keep up to date with Molly and her new guide dog, click on this link http://www.mollywatt.com

Deafblind Manual Alphabet

We must not forget blind people either.  There are those who are born blind and grow up knowing life as a blind person.  They are very skilled at knowing how to get out and about.  They may use a cane, a guide dog, or even GPS satellite systems to get around.  Sometimes all three.  They may be skilled in Braille, and make use of audio books and newspapers.  They are likely to be comfortable talking to people as a having full hearing they would not have any communication barriers.  Think of some famous people who are blind.. such as David Blunkett for example. Compared with deaf people, it’s unlikely you would find a deaf person in high office.  I wonder why?.  Going back to  blind people, the main thing that they would not have access to are objects and things – unless they knew where they were, or if they were labelled in Braille.  For example some medicine packets have Braille on them…… This group are likely to use deafblind manual alphabet too, some can use it with shortforms relating to Braille shortforms, or even “finger braille”  a method of using fingers to communicate in braille, sometimes on the wrist.


So when you add it all up, hearing, deaf and blind people are all just as likely to become deafblind as you or me.

Each and every deafblind person is different. And all communicate in different ways.

It all depends on which of the two senses are lost first.  Chances are, you’ll lose one of them as you get older, and possibly both.   Think about it.  And next time you meet a deafblind person, do communicate with them. I am sure they will have lots and lots to talk about!

If you would like a one day deafblind awareness course that teaches you how to communicate and guide deafblind people, do get in touch http://www.deafcomm.co.uk

About Suzie

Mother, Wife, Teacher, Cook and Hearing dog owner. Passionate about Equality for deaf and deafblind people. Believes in communication for all and breaking down these barriers, real and perceived. Deafened.
This entry was posted in Deafblind awareness and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Exploring Deafblindness – it can and does happen to anyone

  1. Jeanette Fyfe says:

    I think you’ll find jack straw is deaf in one ear hence why sometime ago he asked the Muslim lady to remove her Burka.

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