All posts by Geof Collis

How Do Deaf-Blind People Communicate?

American Association of the Deaf-Blind

Deaf-blind people have many different ways of communication.
The methods they use vary, depending on the causes of their combined vision and hearing loss, their backgrounds, and their education.

Below are some of the most common ways that deaf-blind people communicate. These methods described are used primarily in the United States.

Sign Language and Modifications

Signed Languages:

Some deaf or hard of hearing people with low vision use American Sign Language
or an English-based sign language. In some cases, people may need to sign or fingerspell more slowly than usual so the person with limited vision can see signs more clearly. Sometimes the person with low vision can see the signs better if the signer wears a shirt that contrasts with his or her skin color (e.g., a person with light skin needs to wear a dark-colored shirt).

Adapted Signs:

Some deaf-blind people with restricted peripheral vision may prefer the signer to sign in a very small space, usually at chest level. Some signs located at waist level may need to be adapted (e.g. signing “belt” at chest level rather than at waist level).

Tactile Sign Language:

The deaf-blind person puts his or her hands over the signer’s hands to feel the shape, movement and location of the signs. Some signs and facial expressions may need to be modified (for example, signing “not understand” instead of signing
“understand” and shaking one’s head; spelling “dog” rather than signing “dog”). People can use one-handed or two-handed tactile sign language.

People who grew up using ASL in the deaf community may prefer tactile ASL, while others who came from an oral background or learned signs later may prefer a more English-based tactile system.


Some deaf-blind people with restricted but still usable vision (e.g., tunnel vision) may follow signs by holding the signer’s forearm or wrist and using their eyes to follow the signs visually. This helps them follow signs more easily.

Tactile Fingerspelling:

Usually blind or visually impaired people who lose their hearing later, or deaf, or hard of hearing people who have depended on their speech reading and do not know how to sign, prefer tactile finger-spelling because sometimes sign language can be difficult to learn.

The deaf-blind person may prefer to put his or her hand over the fingerspelling hand, or on the signer’s palm, or cup his or her hand around the signer’s hand.



This is a way for deaf-blind people with little or no usable vision to speech-read another person by touch. They put their thumb on the other person’s chin, and their fingers on the other person’s cheek to feel the vibrations of
the person’s voice and the movement of their lips. This method is rarely used nowadays.

Other deaf or hard of hearing people with usable vision use speechreadng as well as their residual vision and hearing. They may use hearing aids, cochlear implants and/or assistive listening devices to help them hear and understand other people better.

Face-to-Face Communication Systems

Screen Braille Communicator:

Some deaf-blind people use a Screen Braille Communicator (SBC).
This is a small, portable device that enables them to communicate with sighted people. The device has a QWERTY keyboard wotj an LCD display on one side, and an eight-cell braille display on the other side. The sighted person types short text on the QWERTY keyboard. The deaf-blind person reads the printed text by placing his or her fingers on the braille display. He or she then uses the braille display to type back text. The sighted person can read the text on the LCD display.

TTY with Braille Display:

The TTY is connected with and stacked on top of a braille display, although both can be separate. It allows a deaf-blind person who reads braille to use the telephone. The deaf-blind person can also use this system as a face-to-face
communication device to communicate with someone else who does not know the person’s preferred communication method.

Also, some people who don’t see well can use TTYs with large visual displays or computers with larger font to communicate with others.


Some people with hearing and vision loss use CapTel to make telephone calls. Using a special phone, the CapTel USB, people can dial into a captioning service that types the other caller’s conversation onto a computer screen. Then,
deaf-blind callers can read a conversation script on their screens in addition to listening to another caller on their telephones. The captions can be adjusted for color, size or font style on the screen.

Braille Notetakers

Deaf-blind people can also use braille notetakers to communicate with others who don’t know braille or their communication system. Many braille notetakers can be connected with personal digital assistants (PDAs) that are commonly used by others.


Print on Palm (POP):

The person communicating with the deaf-blind person prints large block letters on the other person’s palm. Each letter is written in the same location on the person’s palm. This is frequently a way for deaf-blind people to communicate with the public.

These are only a few of the many ways that deaf-blind people can communicate with each other and with others. For more specific information, contact the AADB Office.

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Stargardt Disease

Stargardt disease is the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration. The progressive vision loss associated with Stargardt disease is caused by the death of photoreceptor cells in the central portion of the retina called the macula.

The retina is the delicate light-sensing tissue lining the back inside wall of the eye. Photoreceptor cells in the retina provide vision by conveying information from the visual field to the brain. The macula is responsible for sharp central vision for tasks like reading, watching television, and looking at faces.

Decreased central vision is a hallmark of Stargardt disease. Side vision is usually preserved. Stargardt disease typically develops during childhood and adolescence. Also involved in Stargardt disease is a region beneath the macula called the retinal pigment epithelium.

What are the symptoms?

The symptom that brings most people to an eye doctor is a change in central vision. A doctor looking at the retina of a person with Stargardt disease will see characteristic yellowish flecks in and under the macula. The flecks might extend outward in a ring-like fashion.

The flecks are deposits of lipofuscin, a fatty byproduct of normal cell activity. In Stargardt disease, lipofuscin accumulates abnormally. The Foundation Fighting Blindness supports research studying lipofuscin build up and ways to prevent it.

A decrease in color perception also occurs in Stargardt disease. This is because photoreceptor cells involved in color perception are concentrated in the macula.

How quickly does vision fade?

The progression of symptoms in Stargardt disease is variable. Visual acuity (the ability to distinguish details and shape) may decrease slowly at first, accelerate, and then level off.

A study of 95 people with Stargardt disease showed that once a visual acuity of 20/40 is reached, there is often rapid progression of additional vision loss until it reaches 20/200. (Normal vision is 20/20. A person with 20/40 vision sees at 20 feet what someone with normal vision sees at 40 feet.) By age 50, approximately 50 percent of people in the study had visual acuities of 20/200 or worse.

Eventually, almost everyone with Stargardt disease has a visual acuity in the range of 20/200 to 20/400. The vision loss is not correctable with prescription eyeglasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery.

Is it an inherited disease?

Stargardt disease is almost always inherited as an autosomal recessive trait. It is inherited when both parents, called carriers, have one gene for the disease paired with one normal gene. Each child has a 25 percent chance of inheriting the two copies of the Stargardt gene (one from each parent) needed to cause the disease. Carrier parents are unaffected because they have only one copy of the gene.

In 1997, Foundation-funded researchers found the gene for Stargardt disease, ABCA4, which normally causes the production of a protein involved in the visual cycle. Lipofuscin buildup appears to be related to a mutation in this gene, and the resulting production of a dysfunctional protein.

Genetic counselors are an excellent resource for discussing inheritability, family planning, career choices and other issues related to living with Stargardt disease.

What treatment is available?

While there are currently no treatments for Stargardt disease, the Foundation is supporting several promising avenues of research, including gene, stem cell and drug therapies.

For the latest research advances for Stargardt disease treatments, refer to the Foundation publication Stargardt Disease: Research Advances (opens in new tab/window).

UV blocking sunglasses are generally recommended for outdoors. For people who already have significant vision loss, low vision aides are available.

Are there any related diseases?

Stargardt disease is also known as Stargardt macular dystrophy or fundus flavimaculatus. In addition to recessive Stargardt disease, there are other rarer forms inherited as dominant rather than recessive traits.

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Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a deterioration or breakdown of the eye’s macula. The macula is a small area in the retina the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eye. The macula is the part of the retina that is responsible for your central vision, allowing you to see fine details clearly.

The macula makes up only a small part of the retina, yet it is much more sensitive to detail than the rest of the retina (called the peripheral retina). The macula is what allows you to thread a needle, read small print, and read street signs. The peripheral retina gives you side (or peripheral) vision. If someone is standing off to one side of your vision, your peripheral retina helps you know that person is there by allowing you to see their general shape.

Many older people develop macular degeneration as part of the body’s natural aging process. There are different kinds of macular problems, but the most common is age-related macular degeneration.

With macular degeneration, you may have symptoms such as blurriness, dark areas or distortion in your central vision, and perhaps permanent loss of your central vision. It usually does not affect your side, or peripheral vision. For example, with advanced macular degeneration, you could see the outline of a clock, yet may not be able to see the hands of the clock to tell what time it is.

Causes of macular degeneration include the formation of deposits called drusen under the retina, and in some cases, the growth of abnormal blood vessels under the retina. With or without treatment, macular degeneration alone almost never causes total blindness. People with more advanced cases of macular degeneration continue to have useful vision using their side, or peripheral vision. In many cases, macular degeneration’s impact on your vision can be minimal.

When macular degeneration does lead to loss of vision, it usually begins in just one eye, though it may affect the other eye later.

Many people are not aware that they have macular degeneration until they have a noticeable vision problem or until it is detected during an eye examination.

There are two types of macular degeneration:

Dry, or atrophic, macular degeneration (also called non-neovascular macular degeneration) with drusen

Most people who have macular degeneration have the dry form. This condition is caused by aging and thinning of the tissues of the macula. Macular degeneration usually begins when tiny yellow or white pieces of fatty protein called drusen form under the retina. Eventually, the macula may become thinner and stop working properly.

With dry macular degeneration, vision loss is usually gradual. People who develop dry macular degeneration must carefully and constantly monitor their central vision. If you notice any changes in your vision, you should tell your ophthalmologist right away, as the dry form can change into the more damaging form of macular degeneration called wet (exudative) macular degeneration. While there is no medication or treatment for dry macular degeneration, some people may benefit from a vitamin therapy regimen for dry macular degeneration.

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Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. In the early stages of the disease, there may be no symptoms. Experts estimate that half of the people affected by glaucoma may not know they have it.

Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This nerve acts like an electric cable with over a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.

There is no cure for glaucoma­yet. However, medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma among other factors. Early detection is vital to stopping the progress of the disease.

It was once thought that high pressure within the eye, also known as intraocular pressure or IOP, is the main cause of this optic nerve damage. Although IOP is clearly a risk factor, we now know that other factors must also be involved because even people with “normal” levels of pressure can experience vision loss from glaucoma.

The most common type of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma.

The other main type of adult glaucoma is angle-closure glaucoma.

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Smell the Coffee Blind Businessman Knows When the Roast is Just Right

By Alicia Wallace, Camera Business Writer September 7, 2003

Gerry Leary slowly flipped the switch on the coffee roaster, and the small machine started to hum.

Leary, founder of The Unseen Bean, a Boulder-based coffee roasting company, slid his hands along the counter to a bag of beans from Malawi and Zambia. Unroasted, the beans smelled sharp and bitter.

That smell changed dramatically after the green beans were poured into the 375-degree barrel of the roaster.

As they rolled in the cage, the rattling grew quieter and the crackling of the expanding beans became more frequent. The second wave of crackling was higher in pitch – the bulging beans released less moisture and instead produced a husky aroma that filled the surrounding air.

The beans turned dark in color, a sign to most roasters that the desired product was achieved.

But to Leary, who is blind, the color is absolute.

>From the sounds, smells and timing, he knows when his house blend has been roasted to perfection. However, Leary said it is something other than blind-roasted coffee that sets him apart from the competition.

“I cater more to the individual than the businesses or coffeehouses do,” he said. “I roast about four to five different batches and make them try a little of each to find out what they do like. I note the temperature, the time it takes and the type of beans so I can do the same the next time when they want more.”

A slight change in temperature or length of the roast can mean a big world of difference to two customers, he said. To Leary, coffee roasting is an art form.

“I might not be able to tell what color it is,” he said, “but I just have to pay a little more attention to the smell, the sounds and the taste.”

It was sound that initially intrigued Leary to take the path of roasting.

“Back in the early ’90s, I was in San Francisco at a restaurant with a friend and I heard a noise that sounded like a rock polisher,” he said. “I was really curious and they proceeded to take me through a roast. After tasting it, I thought, ‘Wow, this is much better than what I usually find for coffee.'”

Leary’s fascination spurred him to find a training job as a roaster. However, some viewed his vision impairment as an obstacle that couldn’t be overcome. Despite the challenges, Leary kept searching until he found training.

“He’s always got such an upbeat attitude and people tell him ‘no’ all the time and it doesn’t stop him,” said Barbara Spohn-Lillo, owner of Prosthetic Illusions, the company that made Leary’s two artificial eyes. “I just like the fact that he kind of gets rid of the stereotypes of blind people. He can do stuff that people tell him that he can’t do.”

At the end of January, Leary was finishing at the San Francisco Coffee Training Institute. He bought a couple of 100-pound burlap bags of beans and purchased roasting equipment.

One of his first tasks was to specialize his roaster. He couldn’t read the thermometer settings, so he set up a talking thermometer and timer. The roaster is out in his shed, so if business expands and he buys a larger roaster, he said he’ll have to set up shop in his garage and use the shed to store beans.

Although business has been a little slow starting out, through word-of-mouth Leary has gained about 25 customers.

On Leary’s table sat a thank-you note from Carl Ruby: “Thank you for your gift of excellent-tasting coffee,” the card read. “A better cup I have not had in many a month, so wonderful in the mouth, so smooth after the swallow.”

The two met when Leary was roasting coffee at a mutual friend’s wedding anniversary.

“I was most fascinated with his roasting,” said Ruby, who lives in Westminster. “He has a good ear and a good nose and it seems to get the job done. He’s got it down.”

Ruby said he also was impressed with The Unseen Bean’s logo that is on each quarter-pound bag of beans. The black-and-white label, which is a portrait of Leary’s guide dog, Midnight, is simple. Above the picture, written in Braille, is the type of roast.

“It’s something that’s different,” Leary said. “It fits well with The Unseen Bean.”

The logo with Midnight also is on the front page of Leary’s Web site. He said he hopes to gain further business after he gets up and running.

Although he has stopped by a few coffee shops and ice cream parlors looking for commercial contracts, he said he doesn’t want to lose the personal aspect of his business.

“I want to be able to also help people educate themselves,” he said. “This way, whether the roast is darker or lighter, they’ll know what they really like.”

Contact Alicia Wallace at or (303) 473-1332

ACC Installs Wind Chimes to Help Students With Vision Disabilities Navigate Campus

May 26, 2016

The wind chimes now hanging around Alvin Community College (ACC) are there for more than just decoration and ringing pleasant sounds on campus. The college installed the chimes to assist students with vision disabilities at the college.

wind chimesWind chimes were installed at certain locations on campus to help students find where they need to be.

“The chimes can be used for finding a building or for directing the student past on open space to a border where they can use their canes to navigate,” said Eileen Cross, ADA advisor for the college.

ACC advisors thought about implementing the chimes after Texas A&M University had success with its program.

“It seemed like a simple idea that was low cost and extremely beneficial for our students,” Stephanie Stockstill.

Students with vision disabilities say the chimes have been helpful in their daily walks on campus.

“It really helps you find direction especially around Admissions or the book store,” said Tameron Zaid. “It gives me the sense of a landmark and it serves as a clue at times when I’m having difficulty finding my way.”

Tameron said he also appreciated that the ACC staff considered using innovative methods to help him as a student. Several chimes have been installed around the ACC campus in areas where students with vision disabilities do not have physical landmarks to find their way, Cross said.

“Whether the chimes are used for the location of a building or a sidewalk they seem to be helping our students,” she said. More chimes will be installed in the future as the college anticipates enrolling more students with vision disabilities , Stockstill said.

The chimes have also had another effect on ACC students and staff members.

“Faculty and other students have made comments about the chimes because they find them relaxing and say that the campus has a friendly homey feel now,” Cross said.

Reproduced from

Still I Rise

A poem by a Washington State School for the Blind student
written by Elora Handcock.

Still I Rise

Can you see colors?
Can you see the words on a page?

These are the questions I hear every day

I want to answer, but I can’t find the words

Still I Rise

I know I don’t have to be the same as everyone else
But I still feel as if I have to hide
Have to lie

Still I rise

Someone once told me
I would never be able to see
So I would never be able to do anything

Still I rise

That isn’t true
This is not holding me back
I can do anything
Even if they don’t see it, I do

Still I rise

Can you see a sunset?
Can you see the little bird flying?
Oh honey, it flew by I’m so sorry
But look, there’s another

Still I rise

“I saw it!” I exclaim
She begins to cry because she really thinks I did
I feel terrible

Still I rise

Why do I have to hide?
I don’t mind it this way
But everyone else does
I know I’m special

Still I rise

People ask me
How can they help me
I feel a pang
They mean no harm but I feel sad
I can do anything

Still I rise

They send me to a school
I don’t have to hide ever again
At least not while I’m at school
With my friends

Still I rise

I never have to hide there
Who I am
How I feel
I can feel OK about being me

Still I rise

My friends and I
We don’t talk about our vision
We don’t need to
That’s not how we measure who we are
It’s a part of us
But not all of us

Still I rise

Someday I will grow the rest of the way up
I will do anything I set my mind to
I will do anything people with full sight have
But I do have full sight
I see the world differently

Still I rise

No one can stop me

Still I rise

Accessible Media Inc(AMI)

AMI-audio offers a wide range of compelling stories and engaging original content for Canadians who are blind or partially sighted. Daily, a team of professional narrators present feature articles from top Canadian and international magazines and hourly information updates. AMI-audio also produces a variety of original programs covering historical and current events, technology, entertainment and more.


National Federation of the Blind(NFB)

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.


Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians(AEBC)

Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) is a national grassroots, peer support organization that comprises Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted and our supporters from the public at large. We work to ensure we have a voice on all matters affecting our participation in Canada’s mainstream society.