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How do Deaf-Blind People Communicate?

Last Updated:
Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Deaf-blind people have many different ways of communication. The methods they use vary, depending on the causes of their combined vision and hearing loss, their backgrounds, and their education. Below are some of the most common ways that deaf-blind people communicate. These methods described are used primarily in the United States.

Sign Language and Modifications

Signed Languages:

Deaf-Blind and SSP

Caption: A deaf-blind person chats with his friend, using tactile signs.
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Some deaf or hard of hearing people with low vision use American Sign Language or an English-based sign language. In some cases, people may need to sign or fingerspell more slowly than usual so the person with limited vision can see signs more clearly. Sometimes the person with low vision can see the signs better if the signer wears a shirt that contrasts with his or her skin color (e.g., a person with light skin needs to wear a dark-colored shirt).

Adapted Signs:

Deaf-blind and Interpreter

Caption: A deaf-blind person watches her interpreter about five feet from each others, during a workshop.
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Some deaf-blind people with restricted peripheral vision may prefer the signer to sign in a very small space, usually at chest level. Some signs located at waist level may need to be adapted (e.g. signing “belt” at chest level rather than at waist level).

Tactile Sign Language:

Deaf-Blind signing to another Deaf-Blind

Caption: Two people use tactile sign language to communicate with each other.
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The deaf-blind person puts his or her hands over the signer’s hands to feel the shape, movement and location of the signs. Some signs and facial expressions may need to be modified (for example, signing “not understand” instead of signing “understand” and shaking one’s head; spelling “dog” rather than signing “dog”). People can use one-handed or two-handed tactile sign language.

People who grew up using ASL in the deaf community may prefer tactile ASL, while others who came from an oral background or learned signs later may prefer a more English-based tactile system.



Caption: This is a close view of the deaf-blind invidual's hands using the tracking method.
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Some deaf-blind people with restricted but still usable vision (e.g., tunnel vision) may follow signs by holding the signer’s forearm or wrist and using their eyes to follow the signs visually. This helps them follow signs more easily.

Tactile Fingerspelling:


Caption: A deaf-blind person uses tactile fingerspelling for communication.
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Usually blind or visually impaired people who lose their hearing later, or deaf or hard of hearing people who have depended on their speech reading and do not know how to sign, prefer tactile fingerspelling because sometimes sign language can be difficult to learn. The deaf-blind person may prefer to put his or her hand over the fingerspelling hand, or on the signer’s palm, or cup his or her hand around the signer’s hand.



A deafblind girl and her teacher

Caption: A deaf-blind student chats with her teacher, using Tadoma.
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This is a way for deaf-blind people with little or no usable vision to speechread another person by touch. They put their thumb on the other person’s chin, and their fingers on the other person’s cheek to feel the vibrations of the person’s voice and the movement of their lips. This method is rarely used nowadays.

Other deaf or hard of hearing people with usable vision use speechreadng as well as their residual vision and hearing. They may use hearing aids, cochlear implants and/or assistive listening devices to help them hear and understand other people better.

Face-to-Face Communication Systems

Screen Braille Communicator:

Screen Braille Communicator

Caption: Two people use a screen Braille Communication to chat with each other.
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Some deaf-blind people use a Screen Braille Communicator (SBC). This is a small, portable device that enables them to communicate with sighted people. The device has a QWERTY keyboard wotj an LCD display on one side, and an eight-cell braille display on the other side. The sighted person types short text on the QWERTY keyboard. The deaf-blind person reads the printed text by placing his or her fingers on the braille display. He or she then uses the braille display to type back text. The sighted person can read the text on the LCD display.

TTY with Braille Display:


Caption: A deaf-blind man makes a telephone call using a TTY with a Braille display.
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The TTY is connected with and stacked on top of a braille display, although both can be separate. It allows a deaf-blind person who reads braille to use the telephone. The deaf-blind person can also use this system as a face-to-face communication device to communicate with someone else who does not know the person’s preferred communication method.

Also, some people who don’t see well can use TTYs with large visual displays or computers with larger font to communicate with others.


Using Captel

Caption: A man follows a telephone converstation using Cap Tel with large print on his computer screen.
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Some people with hearing and vision loss use CapTel to make telephone calls. Using a special phone, the CapTel USB, people can dial into a captioning service that types the other caller’s conversation onto a computer screen. Then, deaf-blind callers can read a conversation script on their screens in addition to listening to another caller on their telephones. The captions can be adjusted for color, size or font style on the screen.

Braille Notetakers

Braille Notetaker

Caption: BrailleNote M Power
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Deaf-blind people can also use braille notetakers to communicate with others who don’t know braille or their communication system. Many braille notetakers can be connected with personal digital assistants (PDAs) that are commonly used by others.


Print on Palm (POP):

Print on Palm (POP)

Caption: A Security Officer is printing block letters on the deaf-blind individual's hand.
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The person communicating with the deaf-blind person prints large block letters on the other person’s palm. Each letter is written in the same location on the person’s palm. This is frequently a way for deaf-blind people to communicate with the public.

These are only a few of the many ways that deaf-blind people can communicate with each other and with others. For more specific information, contact the AADB Office.