Communicating with people with deafblindness

Finding a way to communicate can be hugely challenging for someone who is deafblind.

Peru JuanaTicona

If you cannot hear words being spoken, or see the people around you, it can be impossible to express your needs. In most cases, families will not know how to communicate with their child.

There is no standard way of communicating with deafblindness. People have a wide range of challenges, and what is suitable for one person may not work for another.

However, there are a range of approaches that can be learned and used – often in combination (known as 'total communication’).

Some examples are:

  • Where a child has no communication, they might be helped to learn some simple hand signs at first (for 'food’ for example)
  • They might also learn to use an 'object of reference’ to communicate. For example, if they hold out a mug this means that they want a drink
  • People around a child who is deafblind can learn through observation to understand their body language and what they seem to want to communicate
  • Some people may be able to learn a more advanced form of sign language. In Bangladesh for example, people have been learning Bangla sign language, which is an adaption of the country’s sign language for people who are deaf.
  • Technology also has the potential to help people communicate. For example, someone who has learned to read Braille can access the internet via a Braille keyboard

Without some means of communication, people may become withdrawn and isolated, including from their family members. They will become very frustrated and possibly self-harming.

In our experience, when someone has been supported to learn some form of communication, their level of frustration greatly reduces: they start to express themselves, make choices and grow in confidence.

First published: Tuesday 20 August 2013
Last updated: Wednesday 11 October 2017