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Deaf-Blindness: Disability That Affects Vision and Hearing

image showing a Venn diagram depicting deaf blindness is at the intersection of visual and hearing impairment.
Samyak Lalit
Samyak Lalit | November 25, 2022 (Last update: November 25, 2022)

Samyak Lalit is an author and disability rights activist. He is a polio survivor and the founder of projects like Kavita Kosh, Gadya Kosh, TechWelkin, WeCapable, Dashamlav and Viklangta Dot Com. Website:

Deaf-blindness, as the name suggests, is a condition where a person’s ability to hear and see is affected at the same time. This is a serious condition as it significantly diminishes a person’s ability to communicate, access information, and get around.

Older adults are also at an increased risk of developing the condition of deaf-blindness and the condition may worsen over time if no preventive action is taken. We all need to be aware of any such conditions that may affect our or a loved ones’ lives. So, here we are with the facts about deaf-blindness. Read carefully as we have busted a few popular myths about deaf-blindness

Definition of Deaf-Blindness?

Deaf-Blindness is a condition affecting a person’s vision and hearing power at the same time. One important thing to know here is that a deaf-blind person may not necessarily be deaf or blind. It is only that their hearing and seeing ability is affected to the extent that their communication skill is severely affected.

For example, a young child categorized as deaf-blind has so severely affected communication that she cannot be accommodated in special education designed for either deaf or blind or multiple disability.

Each deaf-blind person is unique. The ability and mode of communication of deaf-blind people hugely vary as it depends on the amount of usable vision or hearing power they may have. The range of sensory impairment in deaf-blindness varies significantly. Some may have more vision with profound deafness, some may be blind with some usable hearing power while some may have profound deafness and blindness at the same time.

Though it’s not always the case, deaf-blindness in young children is often accompanied by issues like cognitive disabilities, physical disabilities, behavioral disabilities, complex healthcare needs, etc.

Causes of Deaf-Blindness

Deaf-Blindness is a condition not a disease in itself. The condition may be caused by various reasons. For example, we all are familiar with the name Helen Keller, the most famous deaf-blind person to date. When she was 19 months old she got a fever that took away her sight and hearing power. Her historical biography lists different diseases as the cause of her febrile illness. According to some, it was meningitis while others claim it to be rubella, scarlet fever, or encephalitis. In a nutshell, various diseases can cause deaf-blindness.

Let us see some of the diseases that can cause the condition of deaf-blindness.

  • Birth Defect – Some babies are born deaf-blind due to genetics or some developmental issues during their fetal phase. Polymicrogyria is one such condition that affects brain development before birth and may cause deaf-blindness.
  • Genetic Conditions or Mutations – Sometimes a genetic condition like Usher Syndrome, CHARGE Syndrome, CDKL5, Mosaic Trisomy 22, etc. may be the cause of deaf-blindness of a person.
  • Aging – Some older adults may become deaf-blind when age-related issues start impacting their seeing and hearing capacities at the same time.
  • Infection – Some young children may get deaf-blind due to an infection like rubella aka German measles. Typically, these infections are picked during pregnancy.
  • Prenatal Complications – Some prenatal complications like Cytomegalovirus, Hydrocephaly, Microcephaly, etc. may cause deaf-blindness.
  • Cerebral Palsy – Not very often, but Cerebral Palsy, a group of neurological disorders may also cause deaf-blindness.
  • Other Conditions and Syndrome – There are several other disorders that may lead to deaf-blindness including CHARGE Syndrome, Meningitis, etc.
  • Brain Injury – A brain injury at any age may lead to deaf-blindness if the area responsible for seeing and hearing is damaged for any reason.

Education of a Deaf-Blind Child

As discussed earlier, the impact of deaf-blindness on a child’s communication is so severe that she cannot be accommodated in special education designed for deaf or blind, or multi-disability children. Each deaf-blind child too is so unique and different from each other that there cannot be a one-size-fits-all course.

The uniqueness of the usability of sensory channels for each deaf-blind child necessitates the development of highly-individualized learning and training programs for each child. It is crucial for a deaf-blind child to be identified as early as possible so that they can get appropriate intervention at the right time. Assessment of the child is crucial at every stage of development. They need special and individualized attention not only for starting their learning process but also for transitioning to higher education, getting employment, etc.

The learning and education efforts of a deaf-blind child are focused on –

  • Utilizing the usable sight or hearing capacities to the fullest.
  • Providing an alternative way of communication and interaction.
  • Training for as much independence in daily life as practically possible.

Frequently Asked Questions about Deaf-Blindness

Can Deaf-Blind People See?

People with Deaf-Blindness have a very wide range of varying seeing and hearing capabilities. There are definitely some deaf-blind individuals with some usable eyesight. In such a case, they may be able to recognize faces when they see them from near or may even read a book (with difficulty).

Are there any types of deaf-blindness?

Deaf-blind people are categorized into four groups –

  • Those born deaf and blind
  • Those born blind and losing hearing power later
  • Those born deaf and losing sight later
  • Those who lost hearing and sight subsequently

Can deaf-blind people talk?

It is quite tricky and challenging for a deaf-blind child to learn to talk. They may not be able to talk as one normally does but appropriate training can make them able to communicate using alternative methods like sign language, finger signing, braille, etc.

Can deaf-blindness be cured?

There is no cure for those born with deaf-blindness or those born with hereditary or pre-natal issues leading to deaf-blindness. Treatment may be a possibility in some cases of acquired deaf-blindness. It depends entirely on the cause behind deaf-blindness.

How rare is the birth of a deaf-blind child?

Deaf-blindness from birth occurs in approximately 3 out of 1,00,000 births.

Is deaf-blindness included in multiple disabilities?

No, deaf-blindness is not included in multiple disabilities in the majority of countries, including the USA. This is because the law provides a separate category of persons with deaf-blindness. In some countries, like India, deaf-blindness is included in multiple disabilities.

Are there other accomplished deaf-blind people other than Helen Keller?

Though Helen Keller is the most famous deaf-blind person, there have been other deaf-blind persons as well who attained great popularity in their lives.

  • Haben Girma (disability rights lawyer and first deaf-blind graduate in Law from Harvard University)
  • Marie Heurtin (assistant teacher for other deaf-blind girls)
  • Laura Bridgman (first deaf-blind student of the first school for blinds in the world. She is sometimes called Helen Keller before Helen Keller)
  • Richard Kinney (Blind at age 6 deaf by 20. Was an educator and school administrator)
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2 responses to “Deaf-Blindness: Disability That Affects Vision and Hearing”

  1. Avatar Nikhil says:

    Does one eye blindness and one ear complete deafness come under multiple disability?

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