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Overview of DeafBlindness
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Understanding Deafblindness

Welcome to the Overview of DeafBlindness Tutorial!

After completing this tutorial participants will:

child exploring sensory board

As human beings, we learn about the world around us through our senses. Vision and hearing are called our DISTANCE SENSES. We REACH OUT into space with these two senses to get INFORMATION. We gather a lot of INCIDENTAL information through them. 80% of what we learn comes through vision; 90% through a combination of vision and hearing.

SMELL, TASTE, TOUCH (and Proprioception) are our CONTACT senses. They are all very important and we still get INFORMATION through them. But because we need to be in CONTACT with something or someone to get this information, these are more limited in their scope.

We are constantly switching between senses - one always being dominant, with the others in the background. Sometimes the switching is so rapid that it is almost imperceptible.

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1. Download the Dominant/Background Senses Activity Chart in either PDF or MS Word or use the form found in your Study Guide for this activity.

2. Beginning with vision, list an activity where your vision is your dominant or foreground sense - and others (hearing, smell, etc.) are in the background.

For example: You are reading a book, but expecting a phone call from a friend. Your vision is in the fore while you are reading (and comprehending what you are reading) and your hearing, although on alert, is "hovering" in the background.

3. List activities for the remaining senses.

4. NOW go one more step! Think about what it would be like if your vision and hearing were severely impaired. How would this impact the way your senses "behave!"


The Deafblind Experience

The deafblind person’s world only "extends outwards as far as his or her eyes and ears can reach" (Miles, 2005) The sense of touch is very important to a child who is deafblind. For many of these children, they are "effectively alone if no one is touching them." (Miles, 2005). However, we need to also remember that the sense of touch is not a substitute for vision and/or hearing - and that a tactile experience may leave a very different impression to what a visual or auditory experience would. As many children who are deafblind have additional (sometimes severe) other challenging conditions, we may find that touch, taste, smell, and the kinesthetic senses are also affected. Often, these are not evaluated. "A person who is deafblind has a unique experience of the world" (Miles, 2005). So, even if you think you can imagine what it is like, or if you simulate deafblindness, this is not necessarily what the person experiences.

Click to read the article Talking the Language of the Hands to the Hands by Barbara Miles.

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We gather information through our senses. How is this affected if both vision and hearing are affected?

1. Download the handout, "Information Gathering" in in MS Word or PDF format.
2. On the form, note the effects on information gathering for each activity. Fill in the columns for visually impaired/blindness and for deaf/hard of hearing.
3. In the last column, Deafblind, list the effects that deafblindness has on information gathering.
4. Finally, consider how the effects of deafblindness are different from the other categories.



Needs of the Deafblind Individual

Alsop, Blaha, and Kloos (2000) pointed out the three major areas of need for all children and youth who are deafblind. They are:

  1. The need to communicate
  2. The need to access the physical environment and interact with it
  3. The need to socialize with others

Each of the three areas are inextricably linked. All areas of a child’s development are affected if both vision and hearing are affected.




Definition of Deafblindness

"Children and youth having auditory and visual impairments, the combination of which creates such severe communication and other developmental and learning needs that they cannot be appropriately educated without special education and related services, beyond those that would be provided solely for children with hearing impairments, visual impairments, or severe disabilities, to address their educational needs due to these concurrent disabilities."

From: Oregon Deafblind Project Overview Information

What does this definition tell us?

Although not stated in this definition, there are children who have had trauma of some nature to the brain which has affected both vision and hearing.

Eligibility for Services

The term "deafblind" refers to individuals who experience BOTH vision and hearing impairment. The combined effects of both these sensory impairments, even if both are mild, may make the student eligible for services available through the Oregon Deafblind Project.

Click to download a PDF version of the Oregon Deafblind Project's Eligibility Chart.

eligibility chart 1-see link above eligibility chart 2-see link above

This chart illustrates ranges of vision impairment and hearing impairment from mild to severe. Students who fall in the four colored areas (A, B, C, D) may be considered deafblind. The student’s IFSP or IEP team would determine whether the combination of hearing impairment and vision impairment creates severe communication and/or other developmental and learning needs, which could make them eligible for services. Most students who are deafblind are neither totally deaf nor totally blind.

Note that there are many children who do not fit into any of the colored blocks, but may fit into the final category - the black bar at the very bottom of the chart. Remember, if a person has additional challenges (e.g., cannot walk, eat comfortably, or breathe well, does not like being touched, or can’t smell and taste), this will compound the impact of the person’s deafblindness.

Click to go to Next page
Click to go to "Categories and Causes of Deafblindness"


Western Oregon University | The Research Institute | The Oregon Deafblind Project

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The Oregon Deafblind Project is funded through grant award # H326T130008, OSEP CFDA 84.326T, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education (OSEP), OSEP Project Officer: Susan Weigert.

However, the contents of this site does not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education, and no assumption of endorsement by the Federal government should be made.

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