Deafblind person – who is it?
Deafblindness is dual sensory impairment or loss, that is, the loss or damage of both eyesight and hearing. Deafblindness is also sometimes known as multi-sensory impairment. Many people with deafblindness still have a limited amount of sight, hearing or both, although some have a complete loss of both senses.
There are over 23,000 people with deafblindness in USA, although this figure could be much higher if all the elderly people who have lost both sight and hearing are taken into account.
Sense, the country’s leading organisation for deafblind people, estimate that there could be as many as 250,000 people with deafblindness in United States today.
Facts about Deafblindness
Communication is one of the biggest problems for people with deafblindness. Many people used to use the Block alphabet to communicate with deafblind people. This involves using the tip of your index finger to trace out letters of the alphabet in block capitals on the palm of the person you are communicating with.
Block has since been replaced by the Deafblind Manual Alphabet. In this alphabet, a particular sign or place on the hand represents each letter.
So, for example, the vowels are communicated by touching the tip of your index finger to the tip of the finger of the person you are talking to the tip of the thumb for A, the tip of the index finger for E, the tip of the middle finger for I, the tip of the fourth finger for O, and the tip of the little finger for U.
The Deafblind Manual Alphabet can be slow to use at first but is very easy and quick to learn, and can be very useful when communicating with a person who is deafblind.
Signs of deafblindness
Loss or impairment of both eyesight and hearing.
Causes of deafblindness
A person who is born with impaired sight and hearing has congenital deafblindness. This means that the condition has existed since birth, due to a genetic disorder (a faulty gene), or through an infection passed on by the mother during pregnancy.
For example, pregnant women who contract Rubella (also known as German Measles) are at higher risk of giving birth to babies with deafblindness.
In the past, Rubella was the main cause of congenital deafblindness, but in recent years this has been a much less common cause due to the availability of vaccination.
Another major cause of deafblindness is Usher syndrome which is characterised by total or partial hearing loss, together with Retinitis Pigmentosa (a disease that results in damage to the retina � the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye).
Acquired deafblindness is used to describe when a person:
- loses hearing and sight as a result of an accident, disease or old age;
- is born without hearing and loses sight in later life;
- is born without sight and loses hearing in later life.
Diagnosis of deafblindness is based on the loss or impairment of both hearing and sight. The level of deafblindness varies greatly from person to person, and a medical examination including sight and hearing tests are used determine the severity of deafblindness.
Some people may have complete hearing loss but have limited vision and even be able to read with visual aids. Others may retain a level of both sight and hearing, while some may have complete loss of both senses.
Treatment for a deaf and blind person
Treatment depends heavily on the cause of impairment; hearing and sight will usually need to be treated separately. If the hearing and sight loss is due to a reversible or treatable medical condition, surgery may be an option. For example, cancerous tumors that are affecting sight or hearing may be surgically removed or treated with drugs.
Visual impairment may be helped with the use of glasses or other visual aids. Some people with visual impairment may benefit from using magnifiers, particularly for reading or writing. Type of magnifiers available are:
- spectacle-mounted magnifiers (commonly known as glasses or spectacles);
- held-in-the-hand magnifiers, these are usually round or dome shaped and may differ in size depending on the level of visual impairment (generally, the larger the magnifier, the milder the magnification will be – small dome-shaped magnifiers usually provide the most intense magnification);
- and hung round the neck magnifiers, used to keep the hands free for other tasks.
Other aids available include screen readers, computer software that reads out information on a computer.
Hearing impairment may be improved with the use of hearing aids. There are many different types of hearing aids. The most commonly used types are:
- the BEHA (Behind-the-Ear-Hearing-Aid), an often skin coloured plastic case containing a microphone, an amplifier and a loudspeaker, which sits just behind the ear and increases the volume of sounds as they enter the ear;
- the ITEHA (In-the-Ear-Hearing-Aid), a smaller, less powerful hearing aid that sits inside the ear. The ITEHA may not be useful for people with severe hearing impairment as it is too small to contain a powerful amplifier;
- and the Completely-in-the-Canal-Hearing-Aid, a very small device for people with mild hearing impairment, which fits completely inside the ear canal and is almost unseen outside the ear.
People with profound hearing impairment may benefit from a cochlea implant. The cochlea implant transmits sound directly into the ear’s auditory nerve through an electrical wire implanted into the cochlea. The cochlea is a coiled, hollow tube inside the inner ear that enables us to hear.
Research continues into treatments for both sight and hearing impairment and for conditions such as Usher syndrome that cause hearing and sight loss.
For example, although there is no recognized cure or treatment for Retinitus Pigmentosa, recent research suggests that a daily 15,000 IU supplement of vitamin A palmitate may help to delay sight loss for people with the condition.
Stay away from Rubella
The rubella virus can be caught by coming into close contact with somebody who is already infected. Symptoms include a red, slightly raised rash on the face, neck and body, swollen glands and flu-like symptoms (shivering, coughing, high temperature).
The main danger of Rubella is the threat is poses to unborn children. If a woman catches Rubella early in her pregnancy the baby is at high risk of congenital Rubella syndrome. This can cause deafness, cataracts and other sight problems as well as heart problems, cerebral palsy and learning difficulties.
There is a vaccine available to women in Britain, which can prevent Rubella. It is most commonly given as part of the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccination. Women who are thinking about having children should be tested by their GP to find out if they are immune to Rubella and if they are not immune, they should receive either the MMR or Rubella vaccine.