Deaf Blind Awareness 2021

What is deaf-blindness?

The U.S. began celebrating Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Awareness Week in 1984. President Ronald Ragan issued a proclamation setting aside time to recognize the important contributions of deaf-blind individuals. This year’s Helen Keller Awareness Week begins June 27.

Deaf-blindness overview

A deaf-blind individual has vision and hearing loss. This limits their access to auditory and visual information.

Individuals with deaf-blindness usually fall into one of four categories.

  • Individuals who are deaf and losing vision

  • Individuals who are blind and losing hearing

  • Individuals losing both hearing and vision simultaneously

  • Individuals who are totally deaf-blind

Deaf-blindness is rare and hard to track. Children with dual-sensory loss are usually tracked through the education system. Some individuals may voluntarily identify themselves to a social service or rehabilitation agency. Many older adults gradually losing vision and hearing will choose not to enter a system to receive assistance. Others might not know where to go for help.

Typical common causes of deaf-blindness include:

  • Usher Syndrome and other genetic conditions

  • Congenital Rubella Syndrome

  • Illness such as meningitis

  • Injuries caused by a car accident, combat or workplace accidents

  • General loss due to the aging process

  • Congenital blindness with acquired hearing loss resulting from disease, kidney failure, prescription or illicit drugs, and exposure to loud sounds over time

  • Congenital deafness with acquired vision loss resulting from macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and traumatic brain injuries

Many people with dual-sensory loss will isolate themselves from others because they believe they can no longer participate in social activities. They may also pull away from activities they love. Others will start retreating inward and due to the losses, will withdraw from participating in engagements with family and friends. 

Signs that might include a change in hearing or vision include:

  • The deaf individual is not visually seeing the signs and hand shapes you are completing with accuracy.

  • Reading printed communications such as notes, or text messages becomes increasingly more difficult.

  • The individual may ask you to repeat yourself with more frequency or may not acknowledge they heard you.

  • A person may change the topic of the conversation mid-conversation so they maintain control of the topic when they are unable to hear you. 

  • Avoid participating in family/group activities or going to busy restaurants where background noise may make it hard for them to hear others in the group.

Rehabilitation training for individuals who are deaf-blind, in many ways, are similar to training and techniques learned by visually impaired individuals. However, accommodations are made based on the degree of hearing loss.

In some cases, auditory cues are eliminated, and tactile/vibratory indicators are taught. For example, a deaf-blind individual will not hear a pot of water boiling. They feel the handle to test the vibration to determine if the water is boiling. These minor changes in technique provide deaf-blind individuals confidence and safety. 

Significant challenges are encountered when safely traveling and navigating city streets.  A blind individual relies heavily on hearing to identify cues such as crossing an alley or parking garage. People with vision loss rely on sound to identify traffic patterns and to determine when to cross a street. When you cannot hear the traffic, safe travel can become challenging. Through learning specific orientation and mobility skills, safe travel can be achievable.

Hellen Keller once said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens.”

Outlook Enrichment can assist you or your family member with dual-sensory loss. Deaf-blind people can and do live fulfilled lives. Contact us for more information.

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