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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.

Original at

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.

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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

Mini-Camera Mounted on Glasses Helps People with Vision Disabilities Read

May 11, 2016

SACRAMENTO, CALIF: A miniature camera using optical character-recognition technology, mounted onto the eyeglasses of people who are blind, dramatically improves their ability to read an email, newspaper article, menu or page in a book, a study by researchers with UC Davis Health System has found.

Mini-Camera Mounted on Glasses Using the device, the study participants were significantly better able to perform activities of daily living. The device recognizes text and reads it to the user using an earpiece that conducts sound, and can also be programmed to recognize faces and commercial products.

The device offers new hope for the large and growing number of individuals with age-related macular degeneration or advanced-stage glaucoma, two of the leading causes of vision loss among the elderly in the United States, said Mark J. Mannis, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Ophthalmology & Vision Science.

The research, “Evaluation of a Portable Artificial Vision Device among Patients with Low Vision,” is published in JAMA Ophthalmology.

“Age-related macular degeneration is one of the most common causes of blindness in the elderly and it has no cure in its advanced stages,” said Mannis, Fosse Endowed Chair in Vision Science Research and the study’s co-author. “This device offers hope to patients who are beyond medical or surgical therapy for the condition.”

“It is easily used and could potentially bring greater independence, particularly for older patients who are struggling with vision disabilities,” Mannis said.

An estimated 1.8 million Americans 50 and older are affected by age-related macular degeneration, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number is estimated to reach approximately 3 million by 2020. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of permanent impairment of reading and fine or close-up vision among people 65 and older.

The pilot study included 12 participants with low vision, six men and six women, all of whom were patients at the UC Davis Eye Center at UC Davis Health System in Sacramento, Calif. With an average age of 62, the participants experienced vision loss from a wide array of disorders, including age-related macular degeneration and end-stage glaucoma. The participants’ best corrected vision was 20/200 or worse in their better eye. All were legally blind.

In order to establish their baseline vision, the researchers assessed the participants’ visual functioning using a 10-item test, with patients only using their eyeglasses and no low-vision aids for the assessment.

Initially, none of the participants were able to perform five of the 10 tasks: reading a message on an electronic device such as a smartphone or tablet, a newspaper article, menu, letter or page from a book. Eleven could recognize paper money denominations; eight could locate a room in a hallway using wall-mounted signs; and seven could recognize products and distinguish between similarly shaped and sized cereal boxes.

The researchers then trained the participants to use the portable artificial vision device, which operates either by pointing at an item, tapping on it, or pressing a trigger button. A wire attaches the device to a small pack containing the device’s battery and computer. It can be carried, fit into a pocket or attached to a belt.

After using the device for one week, all of the participants were able to perform nine of the 10 items on the test, with only one individual reporting a technical difficulty. The participants reported finding the device simple and easy to use, and said they would consider using it in their daily lives. The authors performed a separate sub-analysis of seven patients who were using other low-vision aids and found that their performance on the test was better when using the device, as well.

“Patients with low vision often are dependent on hand-held or electronic magnifiers, which may be somewhat cumbersome to use,” said Elad Moisseiev, co-author and UC Davis vitreoretinal surgery fellow.

“This is the first independent clinical study to evaluate this new low-vision-aid device based on novel optical-character recognition technology,” Moisseiev said. “Our results show that it can be a very useful aid for patients with low vision in performing activities of daily living, and increase their functional independence.”

For more information, visit

Reproduced from

What to do when you can’t see what you plant

]published 2003-01-01] Kim Kierans
The following article is reprinted from the Sunday Herald, September 7, 2003.

A MASTER GARDENER from South Nictaux shares the secrets of growing prize-winning vegetables without ever seeing the product of his labour.

Arthur Shepperdson of South Nictaux picked up 10 ribbons at the Annapolis Valley Exhibition for his garden vegetables. His success followed the Best in Show prize for green beans at the Wilmot Garden Club flower and vegetable show. What makes these wins notable is that Mr. Shepperdson is blind.

“I used to garden before I went blind,” he told Susanne Wagner of the Monitor-Examiner. Mr. Shepperdson said when he lost all his sight 11 years ago he looked at how he could continue his hobby.

“I tried gardening on the flat ground, but that didn’t work. I broke everything.” So he decided to build boxes and garden in raised beds. His entire back yard is filled with garden boxes that are four feet by 20 feet, about 60 in all. And Mr. Shepperdson knows what’s in each one.

“When I plant my garden I record everything on cassette – potatoes in box three, this end a certain variety. I can remember most of them but it helps in planning for the next season when you should plant different crops.”

He has markers attached to each planter to help him get around the yard.

“When you’re blind you have to have something to follow. It’s all, ‘how am I going to make it easy for myself to get from point A to point B?’ ”

Mr. Shepperdson said he devised his system because he there was no information on gardening for the blind.

“I didn’t have someone to tell me how.”

He said the way he gardens would also work for people confined to a wheelchair.

Kim Kierans is the director of the University of King’s College school of journalism in Halifax.


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