Deafblindness and Dual Sensory Loss

Deafblindness is a combination of sight and hearing loss.  Without the other sense to rely on, loss of sight and hearing can make many aspects of life more difficult.  Getting out and about, managing daily tasks, communicating with others and getting the information you need for day to day life can all be affected.  Everyone experience of sight and hearing loss will be unique and each person will have their own preferences for communicating, getting out and about and managing day to day tasks.

Getting appropriate support, including equipment and technology, as early as possible can enable people to adapt to living with a sight and hearing loss and to live an independent life. 

Types and causes of deafblindness

Congenital deafblindness, or being deafblind from birth or a very young age, is rare.    Often, deafblindness in childhood is associated with other multiple learning and physical disabilities.  Deafblindness from a young age can make learning about the world around you challenging, and will require specialised support.

Deafblindness can develop as a young adult, or in older age, as a result of injury, illness or as part of another condition.  Most people who might be considered deafblind have lost their sight and their hearing as they have become older.

Usher Syndrome is a common cause of deafblindness in young people.  A child is born severely or profoundly deaf and then develops Retinitis Pigmentosa (commonly called tunnel vision).  Often, their balance is affected.  For more information about Usher Syndrome visit www.sense.org.uk/content/usher-syndrome.

Deafblindness in older people

Many people will develop a hearing loss and a sight loss as they get older.  This is sometimes referred to a Dual Sensory Loss.  Many people may not recognise they have both a sight loss and a hearing loss, putting the difficulties they have down to "just getting older".  Sensory loss in older people can compound the day to day difficulties that older people may experience, leading to social isolation and loss of independence. 

With the right support, include equipment and daily living aids, older people with a sight and hearing loss can live independently.  

Find out about the support that NESS provides

Find out more about Daily Living Aids and Technology.

Communicating with someone who is Deafblind

There are many ways that someone who is deafblind may communicate.  Their preferred method of communication will depend on many factors, including how much they can see and/or hear and whether they use British Sign Language.  It is important to find out what someone's preferred method for communication is.  Many people who are deafblind will let you know when you meet what they need you to do so they can communicate with you.

Many people who are deafblind can communicate if you speak clearly and there is no background noise or other distractions.   Others may rely on hearing aids and loop systems.  Others may want you to write things down in large writing, while others may use technology e.g. email, computer screens, or texting.  There are also tactile methods of communication that some people who are deafblind will rely on. 

Some people will use different methods of communication in different situations.  Always try and find out what the person needs.

A good environment for communicating

The environment you are in can contribute to successful communication.  Having good lighting, no background noise and no distractions will help make the communication easier to follow for the person who is deafblind.  Remember that communication will take more time and will be more tiring for the person. 

Tactile forms of communication

Some people who are Deafblind use British Sign Language as they have been profoundly deaf from a very young age.  If their vision reduces, they may then rely on tactile methods of communication.   This might involve using visual frame signing or hands-on signing.

Visual frame signing is British Sign Language used within the space that the person can see.  This is usually a smaller space than someone using BSL would normally use, and it ensures that the Deafblind person can see all the BSL without missing bits of the communication.

Hands-on signing is when the BSL user who is Deafblind places their hands over the other person's hands while they are using sign language and so follows the communication. 

People who are Deafblind and use sign language use may use Deafblind Manual, which is a tactile version of the British Sign Language (BSL) fingerspelling alphabet.  

You can learn to use Deafblind Manual to support your communication with someone who is Deafblind.

Block is another tactile method of communicating.  It involves tracing capital letters on the palm of the deafblind person's hand.