People suffering from deafblindness use a variety of different communication methods. Which method they choose depends upon how much useful sight and hearing they retain. Other factors include the causes of their deafblindness and for how long the person has had sensory impairments. And in some cases a deafblind person can make use of a combination of techniques to communicate. Here are some of the most common types of communication used by deafblind people.
Deafblind manual alphabet
Also called finger spelling, this method represents the letters of an alphabet using only the hands. This type of signing makes use of touch by spelling out each word onto a deafblind person’s hand. Each letter is signified by a particular sign or location on the hand. Although the Deafblind manual alphabet can take a while to learn it’s much faster to use than other methods such as block. Due to it’s speed and fluency, this method is one of the most commonly used worldwide. The manual alphabet can be used to denote complex words by spelling individual letters or quickly express simple information such as ‘yes’ and ‘no’ through use of quick signs.
Block is another form of manual communication in which words are spelled out onto the palm of the deafblind person’s hand. As opposed to other forms of manual signing, Block makes use of tracing in order to spell the words on the palm. Block can be used to spell out complex words by tracing each letter with your finger in block capitals on the deafblind person’s palm. Letter’s are placed on top of each other and there are slight pauses to signify the end of a word. It’s important to keep letters large and clear as it’s easy to mistake similar shaped letters. Although learning Block requires very little tuition, it isn’t as fast and is less popular than other signing methods due to the limited speed at which information can be imparted.
British Sign Language (BSL)
BSL is the main sign language used in the UK and is usually the first language of deaf people in the country. This languages makes use of space and movement of the hands, face, body and head. BSL is a language in its own right, it has both its own grammar and word orders. Although mostly used in the deaf community some people who are deafblind are able to use this form of communication and is most commonly used with those suffering from Usher syndrome. Like any other language BSL has several regional dialects. This can mean that signs used in some parts of the country, such as Scotland, might not be understood in southern parts of England. Some signs are extremely local and may only occur in certain cities or towns. An alternative version of this method is Makaton, which uses some of the main BSL signs but without a grammatical structure. Due to this many people find it easier to learn.
Visual Frame Signing
Most people suffering from deafblindness will retain some useful sight and in these cases communication methods such as visual frame signing can be used successfully. Visual frame signing makes use of the remaining field of vision to communicate words by sight. An alternative version of this is close signing in which signs will be kept at a certain distance from the deafblind person.
Hands on signing
Based upon British Sign Language, in this method the deafblind person follows the signs made by placing his hands on top of those of the signer and feeling the signs as they are formed. As many people with deafblindness can retain some useful sight this type of signing can be helpful. This method is particularly useful in helping people with Usher syndrome to communicate as their sight reduces.
Speaking clearly is amongst the most effective ways to communicate with someone who has acquired hearing loss. Research indicates that this method can be highly effective in communicating with a deafblind person as they often retain some useful sight. It’s necessary to control several environmental factors to ensure the method works well. For example it’s important to check with the deafblind person which position is best for you to be in. Similarly it’s important to minimise background noise and avoid noisy places. It’s also recommended to hold a conversation in an area with good lighting. This allows your face to be seen more clearly and people with poor sight can often see more in a well lit place. In this method it’s crucial to adapt the conditions to suit the individual and make sure to speak slowly and clearly.
Tadoma, also known as tacticle lipreading, is a method of communication for deafblindpeople in which the deafblind person places their hands on the speakers lips, jawline or neck in order to feel vibrations. The middle three fingers usually fall along the speaker’s cheeks whilst the little finger is used to pick up the vibrations in the speaker’s throat. In this manner the deafblind person can feel both the movement of the lips as well as the vibrations in the vocal chords. It’s also useful to feel the puffing of the cheeks and warm air which is produced by nasal sounds when saying letters like N and M. Tadoma is a relatively difficult method to learn and is not commonly used nowadays. However some deafblind people can successfully use Tadoma to retain speech skills which they had before becoming deaf.
Braille and Moon
The Braille method is a system which is commonly used by blind people to read and write. Each Braille character is made up using six dot positions which are arranged in a rectangle. Dots can be raised at any of the six positions and can be used to form up to 64 permutations. Moon is a similar writing system for the blind which uses embossed symbols which are derived mostly from the Roman alphabet. Moon is popular with those experiencing acquired sight loss as many already possess the knowledge of the shapes of letters. And many deafblind people find Moon easier to understand than Braille. Although neither method can be used in general conversation, they can help deafblind people access information in books and magazines.