An Introduction to The Deaf/Blind Community
As interpreters we work with Deaf people of all kinds. But have you ever interpreted for someone who is Deaf and Blind? According to the Nation Consortium on Deaf-Blindness in 2008 there were an estimated 50,000 DeafBlind individuals in the United States. ASL is primarily a visual language, so how would that even work?
Did you know?
Not all Deaf-Blind people are fully deaf and fully blind?
They fall into a wide spectrum. At one extreme are Deaf individuals with only some vision loss. On the other extreme are the Blind or near-Blind with only some hearing loss. Right in the middle are those who are both totally Deaf and totally Blind. The services we provide as interpreters vary widely depending where our client is on this spectrum.
Meet a Local DeafBlind Person
Daniel Hawkins is local to St. Louis. At a young age he began learning sign language. He lost his vision around the age of 25. Now he works as an advocate for DeafBlind people, and he coaches others on how accessible technology can help them be more independent. He shared the following,
The Sky is Blue.
A Bird tweets.
That is what they tell me.
I am DeafBlind.
I cannot see or hear.
With Tactile Sign Language, Accessible technology, and Braille –
I am able to interact with the World.
Some say my world is small.
But with the help of family and friends
I am able to communicate and live independently.
I teach other Blind and DeafBlind how to be independent.
I can do most things that everyone can do.
I cook, clean my house, travel, and even invent.
Big thanks to all the ASL Interpreters who help me communicate.
Don’t be shy, meet a DeafBlind person. Learn how they do things. It can be fascinating.
Smiling face emoji. Heart emoji.
– Daniel Hawkins – Awesome DeafBlind Person
What to do if you meet a DeafBlind person?
Introduce yourself to a DeafBlind person the next time you have a chance. Follow these tips so that everything goes smoothly.
- First, touch the person’s hand gently and slide your hand underneath theirs to show that you want to communicate.
- Identify yourself. Do not assume that the person knows who you are.
- Start to communicate. Be flexible. You might have to make adjustments in the way you sign. If possible, ask the person how they prefer to communicate.
- Take your time. Communication can be slow to start but be patient. Remember that you are talking with a human. Treat them with dignity. Guide them rather than move them.
- Communicate what you are doing. If you are leaving the room, or someone else is asking to talk to them, let them know.
- Have fun! You can meet people who have vastly different perspectives on life than you do.
There is so much to learn about DeafBlindness. Few interpreters have experience with this often-marginalized population. Take a leap. Learn something new. Meet someone. Maybe you’ll make a new friend and broaden your interpreting horizons.