Future Reflections January/February 1983, Vol. 2 No. 1

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By: Margaret Warren

Do you have a deaf-blind child in your family? Perhaps your child has a little useful sight and/or some hearing, or perhaps he or she has no useful sight or hearing. What can you expect for your child?

Several years ago, not very much. Things are changing now. With more research and modern techniques your child has a chance to live a much more happy, normal life. Let's look at some of the possibilities.

From infancy your child should have a specialized teacher available to offer suggestions and demonstrate techniques, probably coming to your home. Then your child will probably go to a special school, or have special help in a regular school. Each school has its own ideas on communication techniques, but most teach the one-hand manual alphabet and some word signs for the deaf. Your child will probably also be taught some speech and/or understanding of others speech -- to what extent, depends on individual abilities and on the methods used at the particular school. If your child masters communication skills, plus the knowledge of typing and Braille and travel skills, then he or she may be able to go to a regular high school with an interpreter. Your child then may want to go to college after high school. This is possible with the skills mentioned above and interpreters. A number of deaf blind have gone through college. He or she may attend a regular college or go to Gallaudet College in Washington, D.C. (a special college for the deaf).

After college your child will want a vocation. Here I cannot name any special ones in detail, but I am acquainted with deaf-blind people who are in factory work, computer programming, and rehabilitation teaching. These are the ones I know of, but there are many more. There is no reason your deaf-blind child should be put in a sheltered shop, unless there are other problems more serious.

Your son or daughter may want to take the correspondence course, "Independent Living Without Sight and Hearing", from the Hadley School for the Blind (700 Elm Street, Winnetka, IL 60093). Also, he or she may wish to take special training from your state rehabilitation agency, or the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults (111 Middle Neck Road, Sands Point, NY 11050). Some agencies are better than others.

Now that we have looked at educational and vocational possibilities, let's look at some other things that can be done.

Depending upon the cause of deafness and the degree, your child may be helped by surgery. If surgery is not advisable, a hearing aid may be a great help -- even if a person cannot understand speech, he may get useful information from other sounds.

In communication there are many possibilities. I have already mentioned the one-hand manual alphabet and sign language. I, myself, use the Tellatouch, which looks like a small typewriter. To talk to me, a person just types what he wants to say, and tiny pegs form Braille dots under my fingertip. Other methods of communication are printing on the palm; the alphabet glove; the alphabet card and plate; Braille; Morse Code; and special signals. Some of these have to be studied by the speaker, and some do not. The ones that do not are called "universal means". Some deaf-blind persons learn to read lips by placing the hand on the mouth and throat, but this takes special training and should not be used with all people because many will object to having someone feeling their face.

Those who cannot speak clearly need to develop a note system to express themselves to strangers who cannot use signs. Some common things can always be kept on a card, but the person needs to think ahead if going to the store, or on a trip alone, and type out what may need to be said. It is helpful to know handwriting, so things unexpected can be written.

There are some telephone devices which can help. One is the Tactile Speech Indicator from the Helen Keller Center. With this the deaf-blind person feels vibrations, but the hearing person has to use "yes", "no", and "I do not know", or Morse Code. Also, the Helen Keller Center is working on a special version of a Teletype, which will make regular messages possible in Braille, instead of print.

There is an alarm clock for the deaf-blind, but it comes in two pieces. A Remind-O-Timer is used. A vibrator is attached to it and placed under the mattress or pillow. One of the newest devices is the Tactile Communicator. It can be wired into a telephone, Teletype (TTY), doorbell, or fire alarm; each has its own coded signal. It comes in two parts. The transmitter, which is wired, has an antenna. The receiver is run by batteries and carried by the user. When there is a signal, it will vibrate, alerting the user to the type of signal being received. There are other uses also.

For more information on methods of communicatio, contact the Hadley School for the Blind, and ask for the pamphlet, "Touch Communication". For information on the devices mentioned above or a list of special aids and appliances for the deaf-blind contact the Hellen Keller Center. For information about the Telletouch, contact the American Foundation for the Blind, 15 W. 16th Street, New York, NY 10011.

I will conclude with a few remarks from a personal point of view about meeting people and getting acquainted. It is difficult to tell personality with the touch methods of communication. So often, the deaf blind person can make the mistake of thinking a person is unfriendly or mad, when he is just one of those people of few words, or he is just getting used to our methods of communication. Also, we cannot identify people with these methods; they must always introduce themselves. I cannot tell the number of times people have come up to me and said, "Remember me? I talked to you about a year ago at the state convention."

When asked to talk to a deaf-blind person, quite often people say, "What should I tell her?" The answer to that is to talk to us about the same things you would to your hearing friends. We may not always have experience with the subject you are talking about, but we can listen and learn.

I hope this information will be helpful to you to understand the deaf-blind better.

Margaret Warren is a deaf-blind woman who lives in Des Moines, Iowa. She works out of her home as a proofreader of Braille material. She also takes an 'live part in her church and goes to a day care center as a volunteer to read stories aloud to the children.

One of the most serious problems face by blind children is the lack of contact with competent blind adults. Deaf-blind children are much less likely to meet adults who have lived with, and successfully overcome, the problems of deaf-blindness. Miss Warren believes that deaf-blind adults have a responsibility to inform and encourage deaf-blind children and their parents.

Miss Warren also believes that deaf-blind people need to work together to solve common problems. That is why she continues to be a leader in the Committee on the Deaf-Blind of the National Federation of the Blind. She has written these observations about deaf-blindess in the hope that parents of deaf blind children will have the data they need to plan for the future.

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