Deaf-blindness refers to a child with both hearing and visual disabilities. The Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) officially defines the term as “concomitant [simultaneous] hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.”
According to National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (abbreviated as NICHCY), deaf-blindness does not necessarily mean complete losses. NICHCY’s fact sheet on this disability category states, “the word ‘deaf-blindness’ may seem as if a person cannot hear or see at all. The term actually describes a person who has some degree of loss in both vision and hearing. The amount of loss in either vision or hearing will vary from person to person.”
The American Association of the Deaf-Blind notes that about half of individuals with deaf-blindness in the United States have a genetic condition called Usher Syndrome. In these cases a child may be born deaf, hard of hearing or with normal hearing; eventually, however, he or she loses both vision and hearing.
Aside from genetic conditions, causes for deaf-blindness include birth trauma, illness and injury. Possible illnesses and injuries which may lead to deaf-blindness include stroke, meningitis and head trauma.
The educational challenges related to deaf-blindness vary based upon a student’s individual needs. Two main areas of education affected by deaf-blindness are reading and communicating, creating the following potential issues:
- Understanding classroom lectures
- Participating in class discussions
- Presenting oral reports
- Fulfilling reading assignments
Tips for Teachers and Parents
Teachers, overcoming the aforementioned educational challenges entails knowing your student’s individual abilities. Does your student possess enough vision to use American Sign Language or read lips? Will large-print textbooks work or does the student read using braille? Get the answers to these questions!
Parents, Oklahoma’s State Department of Education emphasizes the power of touch. Through touch an individual can learn and gain perspective on different objects, and you can use touch cues to enhance your child’s academic pursuits. Touch cues involve touching your child in a consistent way to effectively communicate; for instance, a pat on the shoulder lets your son or daughter know, “Good job.” Sharing such cues with your child’s teacher should assist in improving communication in the classroom.