The following is from handouts and presentations. More information is in "Independence without sight or sound: Suggestions for practitioners working with deaf-blind adults" by AFB Press.
Communicating with the Deaf-Blind Student
Dona Sauerburger, COMS®
Learn the communication needs of the deaf-blind person AND YOU before instruction, and meet those needs!
Resources to learn communication needs of deaf-blind consumer:
- you will need to convey complex skills and concepts;
- you and your student will need to convey and understand questions and concerns.
Communication that does not convey these effectively will render your instruction and program ineffective and perhaps result in a student who is unsafe!
If the deaf-blind person's only language is a sign language and you are not proficient in that language, you cannot provide adequate O&M program without a qualified interpreter (not a family member, nor an agency staff person who happens to know sign language, but an interpreter who is proficient in the learner's language and adheres to a Code of Conduct / Ethics).
Principles for Communication
- consumer and family;
- referring agency;
- deaf-blind specialists
- For adult clients: HKNC regional reps (516-944-8900; www.hknc.org)
- For school-age students:
- The National Center on Deaf-Blindness (formerly "DB-LINK" and National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness) provides extensive information and resources about deaf-blind children (503-838-8754; https://nationaldb.org)
Language / Communication Categories:
- Which communication techniques to use? ASK! (the only expert about student's communication needs is the student!)
- If communication is visual or tactual, refrain from communicating when student is exploring / doing task / concentrating
- Communicate in optimal conditions whenever possible (e.g. before/after lesson, or before/after activity)
- Clarify the context or topic of the discussion (start with the big picture / main point, THEN go into details)
- Economize language (keep it short and to the point!)
- People with limited receptive skill tend to dominate conversation (this may be your student OR YOU!)
- Figure out ways for your warmth/personality to come through
- For students in communication transition
(losing hearing/vision and learning new method):
- be patient and allow time
- use preferred communication method whenever possible (facilitating as needed) until they are comfortable with new method
- use "non-language communication" when possible
- last resort -- postpone O&M till they can communicate
1. people born deaf, and native language is a sign language
2. people whose native language is a spoken language, such as English
3. people with minimal language or minimal communication (lack of exposure or cognitive disability or both)
Common Methods to Communicate with Deaf-Blind People
1. Sign language
Optimal conditions for communicating
American Sign Language (ASL)
2. English language (for consumers who are proficient with English!)
- is a language with syntax and grammar
- is NOT "English conveyed with signs"!
- must use qualified interpreter or risk lethal MIScommunication!
- NOTE: interpreter needs to understand your points / concept before it can be interpreted well.
4. Symbols and signals, pictures, maps
5. Pictorial description (using hands / space to convey positions and movements of people, vehicles, and objects, as is done in ASL) --
click here for examples.
- Complex room / building layouts and intersection design can be conveyed with drawings on the hand or back, or raised-line / tactile drawings or maps
- Use models, maps, and graphics
- Draw on student’s back and hand
- Use student’s arms/hands as map/model
- Use cane to show “parallel/straight” and angles
- Layouts of rooms can also be conveyed through spatial representation
Optimal conditions for visual communication
(individual needs vary!)
Optimal conditions for tactile communication
(individual needs vary!)
- Optimal lighting (individuals vary!)
- for signs:
- no glare from behind signer
- signer wears no distracting jewelry / visual clutter
- clothes contrast with skin
- sign within visual field and at appropriate distance
Note: The interpreter is not likely to know the visual needs of your student -- you and/or the student will need to explain.
- for speechreading:
- face student (perhaps head tilted back)
- speak distinctly & naturally (avoid mumbling and keeping lips closed)
Optimal conditions for auditory communication
- Comfortable position for both
- Keep fingernails short
- In hot, sweaty conditions, judicious use of powder on the hands can make things go smoothly and comfortably (be sure the student approves - some people are allergic or want to avoid getting powder on their clothes).
- In cold conditions, to communicate without gloves, a mobility muff can be essential!
Courtesies when communicating with touch:
- Put hand under student's hand
- Avoid manipulating student's hand
- Don't touch student's face / body without permission / comfort
- When touching student's face/body,
put hand under student's and then touch.
- quiet background
- use student's preferred:
- frequency of speech (high or low voice?)
- position (near right or left ear?)
- amplifiers, assistive listening device
In noisy environments, such as intersections and business areas, an assistive listening device such as the Pocket Talker can be a lifesaver!
- The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) certifies interpreters and has a code of professional conduct
- The interpreter should be professional / impartial, and not involved in discussion while interpreting
- Inform the interpreter if there will be a lot of walking and/or being outside so they wear appropriate shoes and clothing.
- Prepare the interpreter to expect the student's visual/tactual communication needs.
- If the interpreting will be intense / prolonged, 2 interpreters may be needed (they'll need breaks every 20 minutes).
- Tactile communication can be physically taxing for the student and interpreter; they'll need breaks!
- Some interpreters (deaf/hearing) specialize in working with consumers with limited language.
- Speak to the consumer, not to the interpreter, and refrain from discussions with the interpreter during the lesson.
- Interpreter must understand what you're explaining / teaching in order to interpret effectively
- Pre-conference: meet with the interpreter before the lesson to explain
- communication needs of client;
- the point of the lesson;
- anything that you do NOT want to be conveyed so that students can figure it out themselves, or so that you can assess what they see without unintended prompting from the interpretation of the request, etc.
- Plan interpreter / student / instructor positions.
- If student is visual, instructor stands near interpreter, to be seen by student easily while watching interpreter.
- When the student will be crossing streets, using escalators, etc., communicate what is needed ahead of time and decide where interpreter and instructor will be during the event.
- You can't communicate while visual / tactual student is distracted with visual / tactual tasks
- Consider consecutive interpreting rather than simultaneous interpreting (especially effective for conveying concepts or environmental layouts / routes)
With consumer's permission, this process ("consecutive interpreting") allows the interpreter to hold back on interpreting until you have conveyed the whole concept or skill, then the interpreter will interpret it as a whole.
sometimes easier to convey a concept this way than by interpreting it phrase by phrase ("simultaneous interpreting") before the interpreter grasps the whole concept.
When doing this, remember the principle of talking to the consumer, not the interpreter --
you explain the concept or skill to the consumer, and the interpreter will wait to interpret it until you have conveyed the full concept.
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