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What is Deafblindness?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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Deafblindness is a condition which is characterized by severely impaired vision and hearing. The most famous deafblind individual in history was probably Helen Keller, who is known as a very successful lecturer, author, and activist who championed the rights of the deafblind. Deafblindness is a very distinctive and unusual condition, with members of the deafblind living in their own distinct community which is sometimes separate from deaf or blind culture.

In some cases, deafblindness is congenital, caused by a variety of factors ranging from chromosomal abnormalities to exposure to viruses in the womb. In other instances, deafblindness is acquired, due to disease, trauma, exposure to toxins, or other circumstances. It is extremely rare for someone with deafblindness to be totally blind or deaf, although it does happen. More commonly, one or both senses are simply severely impaired, which means that it can be possible to use things like hearing aids and bold visual cues.

Deafblind individuals sometimes have difficulty networking with members of the deaf or blind communities. The deaf community relies heavily on visual cues for communication, which can be alienating for the deafblind, while the blind community uses auditory cues, which cannot be comprehended by the deafblind. As a result, deafblindness can be very isolating, unless someone manages to network with other deafblind individuals and a supportive network of friends.

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A variety of communication techniques are used by the deafblind. In the case of people born with congenital deafblindness, tactile sign languages and tools like Braille are usually used to communicate. People who lost vision or hearing later in life may use other communication techniques such as modified sign language.

Some people with deafblindness also have other disabilities, especially in the case of congential deafblindness. Each individual is different, with unique needs which need to be met by educators, physicians, and friends. Having a qualified specialist to assess a deafblind individual can be critical, as the specialist can pinpoint the precise needs of the individual and help him or her connect with needed resources.

It is possible to live a very independent, rich life with deafblindness, thanks to the work of activists who have promoted independence for people with disabilities. In many communities, people with deafblindness and other disabilities can take advantage of a range of programs which provide them with useful resources, from guide dogs to homes designed to meet the needs of deafblind people. As Helen Keller proved, being deafblind is no obstacle to making a profound mark on the world.

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