Learn to Communicate with a Deafblind Person (Includes the Deafblind Manual Alphabet)
I'm not sure if it's something that crosses the minds of all blind people, but it's certainly occurred to me a number of times in the past: What if I lost my remaining eyesight and hearing?
Imagine living in a world with neither sight nor sound. I honestly think I'm too weak a person to do that, but believe it or not, there are people who do it, and do it very well. Recent surveys show that there are almost 11,000 children and young adults (aged 0-21) who are deafblind in America alone.
These individuals are referred to as being "deafblind." Please note that not all deafblind people are completely deaf and/or blind - both senses may be severely limited, but still semi-functional.
I was very curious as to how a deafblind person communicates with others (and how others communicate with them), and my findings are as follows.
The Block Alphabet
This is how you or I - people who do not have any experience in conversing with one who is deafblind - would "speak" with a person without sight and hearing. One simply extends their forefinger and uses it to draw capital letters on their companion's palm.
However, it is important to remember that you use the entire palm when marking your desired letter - you do not write from left to right as one would when writing on a sheet of paper. Such a practice would be confusing and awkward for both people involved. Letters should be formed as large and as clearly as possible, and usually are drawn from left to right and from top to bottom. Try to remember that the characters "M" and "N" should be marked in one continuous stroke (i.e. without lifting your forefinger from the palm),.
When trying to communicate a number to your deafblind acquaintance, rather than writing "one," or "eight," etch the figures "1" and "8." Also, if you are tracing the figure "7," use the version you see here, rather than the continental figure (it is the figure 7 with a line through its diagonal section) as it can easily be mistaken for a "2."
The Deafblind Manual Alphabet
This is the best way to communicate with one who is both deaf and blind, and although it takes some getting used to, it is easy to memorise the positions and actions required. You should use your index finger (the one right next to your thumb) and fold the rest of your digits out of the way, as if making a fist with just one finger extended. Your deafblind friend will hold their hand out, palm upwards, and you will use your index finger as your pen.
You will first need to learn the vowels which are simple. Really, the only thing you'll have to remember here is the order - A, E, I, O, U. Many of you will have learned them in that order for the first time in school, anyway.
A: Touch the tip of the person's thumb.
E: Touch the tip of the person's index finger.
I: Touch the tip of the person's middle finger.
O: Touch the tip of the person's ring finger.
U: Touch the tip of the person's little finger.
The other letters are a little harder, but don't worry - you'll have them learned off in no time. The actions to be carried out are as follows:
A: See above.
B: Bunch your fingertips together and rest them on the person's palm.
C: Start on the inside of the person's thumb, and use your index finger to make a circular movement that ends at the tip of their index finger.
D: Use your thumb and index finger to form a "D" shape and place it on the person's index finger.
E: See above.
F: Make an "F" shape using your first two fingers and place it across the person's index finger.
G: Make a fist and rest it on the person's palm, little finger on the bottom.
H: Lay your open hand on the person's palm, then pass it over their fingers and off their hand.
I: See above.
J: Begin at the tip of the person's middle finger and move your index finger down to their palm and across and up their thumb. (Hint: think of this sign as an "I" with a tail.)
K: Bend your index finger and rest it across the tip of the person's index finger.
L: Simply place your index finger across the person's palm.
M: Rest your first three fingers on the person's palm.
N: Rest your first two fingers on the person's palm.
O: See above.
P: Hold the person's index finger between your own index finger and thumb.
Q: Circle the base of the person's thumb fully with your index finger and thumb.
R: Bend your index finger and rest it on the person's palm.
S: Hook the person's little finger with your index finger.
T: Touch the person's palm on the edge furthest from their thumb.
U: See above.
V: Use your first two fingers to create a "V" shape, and rest it on the person's palm.
W: Hold the uppermost part of the person's fingers and bend your own digits around them.
X: Create a cross-shape by resting your index finger across theirs.
Y: Lay your index finger on the flesh between the person's thumb and index finger.
Z: Place your fingertips against the person's palm
Place the outer edge of your hand across the person's palm.
You may also need to know how to say:
Yes: Tap the person's palm twice.
No (or to cancel something you just wrote): Do a "rubbing out" gesture on the person's palm.
Many British deafblind individuals will have learned sign language before losing their sight, and so this is a mode of conversing that suits them more than others. (As sign language differs from country to country - much like dialects and languages - this practice applies mainly to British people.) They feel what the other person is saying by resting their hands on the communicator's. Gestures should be slowed and restricted, so that it is not too confusing for the deafblind individual. This means of speaking is not used much, as even if the communicator signs with care, there is a lot of chance for mistakes and misunderstandings. However, if both individuals involved in the conversation are trained extensively in sign language, it is possible for one who is deafblind to interpret and understand as quickly as if they were listening to spoken English.
This is the term used to describe tactile lip-reading or tactile speech-reading. The deafblind person uses their fingers to feel the positions and vibrations of the speaker's lips, mouth, jaw, and throat as he or she talks aloud. This can be a very slow communication procedure, and it requires years upon years of practice and experience, though if mastered, it allows the user to interpret what is being said at near listening rates. In saying that, most users find the arrangement awkward and inaccurate. Plus, there is the added inconvenience of needing to be in contact with the speaker.
This method was termed "Tadoma," in memory of the first two children to whom it was taught - Winthrop "Tad" Chapman, and Oma Simpson.
Hopefully you'll now be able to carry out a simple, basic conversation, if you ever happen to meet a deafblind person. Perhaps take the time to memorize the deafblind manual alphabet - you never know when you might need it. It will make their day when they discover that they can speak with you comfortably and easily! Why not give it a go?