Tactile signing is one method of communication used by the DeafBlind community, who have a combination of both hearing and vision losses. Having a dual sensory loss impacts communication, socialization, mobility, and daily living. Statistics from 2008 indicate that approximately 50,000 or more people (including children and adults) living in the United States are DeafBlind.
Being categorized as DeafBlind refers to a wide array of people; the sensory loss varies from person to person and can change over time. For example, an individual could grow up with blindness and then lose their hearing later in life. Types of sensory loss for the DeafBlind community include the following:
|Vision Loss||Hearing Loss|
|totally blind||severe to profound loss|
|light perception only||moderate to moderately severe loss|
|legally blind||mild loss|
|low vision||functional hearing loss|
|functional vision loss||progressive loss|
|progressive vision loss||auditory neuropathy|
DeafBlindness may be the result of a variety of conditions, such as Usher Syndrome, glaucoma, birth trauma, CHARGE Syndrome, Down syndrome, meningitis, hydrocephalus, macular degeneration, or due to accidents or illnesses. According to the American Association of the DeafBlind, approximately half of the DeafBlind community has the genetic disorder called Usher Syndrome, which has three types:
- An individual is born deaf and they lose sight later.
- An individual is born hard of hearing and they lose sight later.
- An individual is born hearing and sighted (or with a mild loss) and they lose both senses later in life.
Just as each DeafBlind individual has varying hearing and vision loss, they also communicate in a variety of ways depending on their preference and situation.
The DeafBlind community communicates in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, the following:
- American Sign Language (ASL) in their usable field of vision
- When DeafBlind individuals have some residual vision, they can still communicate using American Sign Language as long as it is produced within their field of vision.
- Resource for Tactile Sign Language and fingerspelling
- Tactile sign language, explained further in the next section, is using sign language in combination with touch.
- Pro-Tactile Sign Language
- Developed by two DeafBlind individuals, pro-tactile sign language, like tactile sign language, values touch for the purposes of communication. Unlike tactile signing, pro-tactile sign language incorporates feedback through tapping on the signer’s legs, hands, shoulders, and arms, similar to the function of facial expressions in ASL.
- Tracking involves holding the signer’s wrist or foreman to keep track of the signing. This is useful when the DeafBlind individual has some residual vision, but needs support in locating the signing within their field of vision.
- Tadoma Method
- While rarely used nowadays, this approach, also known as tactile lipreading, involves the DeafBlind individual placing their finders on the chin, cheek, neck, and lips of the other person in order to speechread.
- Coactive Signing
- Coactive signing is a technique in which the signer molds the DeafBlind individuals hands to make the signs. This is used primarily with children for expressive communication.
- Speech is the ability to articulate sounds and a communication method used daily by most of the world’s population.
- Lipreading, also known as speech reading, is when an individual with a hearing loss watches the lips of the person speaking in an attempt to understand what they are saying, but even in good conditions (e.g., lack of facial hair, clear speaker) only about 40% of English sounds can be seen on the lips.
- Braille, Large Print, or Audio
- Braille is a form of written language represented by patterns of raised dots that are felt with the fingertips.
Tactile Sign Language
While communication approach and language preferences vary among the DeafBlind community, tactile sign language is commonly used among those individuals who grew up using ASL in the Deaf community. Tactile signing is one way of communicating in sign language that also involves touch. It is hand-over-hand signing (also called hand-under-hand). This allows the DeafBlind individual to feel the shape, location, and movement of the other signer’s hands. Tactile signing can be one- or two-handed.
When two DeafBlind individuals are communicating with each other using tactile signing, they take turns with hand-over-hand signing. If a DeafBlind individual is communicating with a Deaf or hearing signer who is not also blind, then the DeafBlind individual can sign in ASL without hand-over-hand when they are signing and then place their hands over the other signer’s hand when they begin to sign.
To learn more about DeafBlindness, visit the National Center on Deaf-Blindness, the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths & Adults (HKNC), the American Association of the Deaf Blind, the Center for Deaf-Blind Persons, Inc., or Minnesota’s Online Resource About Combined Vision and Hearing Loss. You can also learn more about tactile signing or ASL by reaching out to a TakeLessons ASL instructor.