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How Should I Talk to Deaf-Blind People?

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  • Written By: Jeany Miller
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 12 November 2016
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People who wish to communicate with the deaf-blind may do so with several different methods. Such techniques as signed languages, adapted signs, tracking and hand-over-hand may be employed. An alternative means of communication includes print on palm, which may be used for deaf-blind people to speak with the general public. In addition, one needs to be sensitive to common rules of etiquette when communicating with those who are deaf-blind.

Those who are deaf and blind commonly fall into one of four groups: completely deafblind, hard of hearing deaf-blind, deaf deaf-blind or blind deaf-blind. These groups relate to the severity of the disorder, as a person who is deaf deaf-blind cannot hear at all or hears only very little. This information is important because it may relate to the necessary means of communication.

Signed languages may provide a starting point to talk to the deafblind. These can often be found around the world, with examples in English-, Spanish-, French- and Mexican-speaking countries. Each word is represented by a different hand symbol, and this may be a viable communication method with people who are deaf or hard of hearing and have limited vision.

In addition to visual methods, sign language may also be conducted using tactile means. This is when the deaf-blind person places his or her hands over the signer’s hands to feel shapes and movements. Feeling the signer’s hands may help that person understand the message more clearly than visual sign language.

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With tactile sign language, facial or body expressions often used to convey meanings may need to be spelled out. A smile that routinely demonstrates humor, for example, may need to be physically signed for those people with deafblindness. This is called fingerspelling, in which each word is spelled using hand motions that correlate to alphabetical letters. Fingerspelling may be easier to learn than sign language because only a select number of characters exist.

Another method that may be used for communicating with deaf-blind people is adapted signs. This is often known as visual frame signing in the United Kingdom, and it pertains to sign language that is conducted within the person’s remaining range of vision. The sign language often occurs in a very small area and usually at chest-level.

Tracking may be a communication method for deaf-blind people with limited but usable vision. This is a technique in which the person holds the signer’s wrist or forearm while also watching the signing. A similar technique is hand-over-hand, or hands-on-signing. In this instance, the receiver places his or her hands lightly upon the signer’s hands, thereby reading the message through touch and movement.

When sign language is not an option, a person may talk to the deaf and the blind with print on palm. For this, a person uses his or her fingertip to print large block letters on the deaf-blind person’s palm. Every letter is placed in the same location on the palm so as to eliminate confusion. Deaf-blind people may use this method for communicating with the public.

Some general rules of etiquette may also be important when talking to deaf-blind people. For example, one may get the attention of a deaf and blind person by lightly touching his or her hand. It is also acceptable to ask a deaf-blind person what communication method is preferable. Guests may want to wear shirts that contrast with their skin tones to stand out more clearly to a deaf-blind person. A deaf-blind person should always be made aware of the conversation’s end, and a support service provider should be found to ensure the person remains safe and comfortable.

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