Deafblind services

Opening up a world for people who are deafblind

Every deafblind person is different.  Some people who are blind or have low vision develop a hearing impairment later in life.  Others are deaf then lose their sight.  Some people are born deafblind, while others grew up sighted and hearing then became deafblind as they got older. Another way to describe being deafblind is “having dual sensory loss.”

AA deaf blindman using tactile sign language to talk to a woman combined vision and hearing loss can leave someone with difficulty communicating, socialising, getting around independently and doing daily tasks.  If that is happening to you, or someone you know, the Blind Foundation can usually offer support and service.

The Blind Foundation can help you develop skills that will meet your needs and aspirations arising from dual sensory loss – whatever they are.

The Blind Foundation has Deafblind Coordinators in Auckland, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Christchurch and Dunedin. They can support you wherever in New Zealand you live.  To find out more, just call 0800 24 33 33 or email generalenquiries@blindfoundation.org.nz.

How the Blind Foundation helps

The Blind Foundation offers a range of services to deafblind adults and children as well as other people in their lives.  We also call on specialist outside help when this is needed. Read about the full range of Blind Foundation services you can access in How We Can Help.

Family and friends, volunteers and paid support workers can be a huge support to deafblind people, so we don’t forget them. We can advise with training and where to go for funding for those involved with deafblind people.

The Blind Foundation’s Deafblind Awareness Coordinator is available to talk with groups about deafblindness, both for general information and to support specific people.

Many ways to communicate

Most people who are deafblind have some vision and hearing. How much, along with how long they have experienced deafblindness, and other factors, will affect their choice of communication methods and technology.

There are lots of ways to communicate when sight and hearing are limited.  Some are very simple, and others more complex. Technology is today’s hero when it comes to helping deafblind people communicate. But there are other ways to communicate too. Finding the right mix can open up life and opportunities.

The Blind Foundation can help deafblind people and their support networks identify and learn ways to communicate.

Some popular ways to communicate are:

Speech

Some people can still hear and understand speech in the right setting. Speech may be supported by amplification such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, or assistive listening systems.

Less technical options include lip reading from a distance or feeling the speaker’s throat, face and lips.  In ‘voice relay’, conversations are repeated by a hearing person to assist the deafblind person with parts of spoken phrases which they can’t hear from a distance.

Reading and Writing

Some deafblind people can read messages that are written or printed clearly. Braille can also be useful for deafblind people to access written information.

Deafblind people attending meetings might follow along with live captions, either on a screen or on a braille display.

Sign language

This can be adapted to suit an individual’s needs.  If peripheral vision is limited, all signing can be done within the person’s remaining visual fields. Some people follow the signer by holding their wrists and reading their body language, called tracked signing.  Tactile sign language involves the deafblind person putting their hands over the signer’s hands to feel the sign language.

Touch based communication

There are lots of different techniques for touch based communication. One example is the deafblind manual alphabet which is a modified form of the finger spelling used in New Zealand Sign Language. There’s also the print-on-palm or block alphabet, using the fingertip to trace upper-case letters into a deafblind person’s palm, spelling out words and sentences.

Social Haptics

These are tactile cues to inform the deafblind person of what is happening in their environments.  Some examples are a map drawn on the back of the person or taps on the shoulder to indicate how many people are in the room.

Symbols, pictures, photos and objects

All of these things help those born deafblind, or people who require more information about their environments when unpredictable changes occur, such as those residing in rest homes or hospitals.  For example, a towel could show it is time to go swimming or a fork that it is time to eat. Picture symbols help deafblind children with developing language.

Other tools

There are also a lot of tools available to help communicate.  These include:

Braille note-takers: These portable devices come with braille and QWERTY keyboard, and can connect to mobile devices too.

iPhones and iPads: These, along with Apple Mac laptops and some Android devices are replacing braille note-takers for some people as the software is updated more often. They use a refreshable braille display.

Screen braille communicators: These small, portable devices, have a QWERTY and a braille keyboard, and an LCD screen. The deafblind person reads text on their braille keyboard that the sighted person has typed on the QWERTY keyboard, then replies using braille. The reply appears on the screen for the sighted person to read.