Deafblind

Deafblindness is a combined visual and hearing impairment. These impairments can be of any type or degree and are sometimes called dual sensory loss or multi sensory impairments (MSI).

Living with deafblindness is very challenging as the combination of the two impairments creates a unique and severe disability.

People who are deafblind will require different services and have different needs from those with a sight or hearing loss. This can be due to the fact that one sense is unable to help compensate for the other. Most people affected by the condition do retain some degree of sight or hearing but problems are likely to be experienced with communication, accessing information, mobility, isolation and loss of independence.

Communication

People who are deafblind may be able to communicate in a number of different ways. Again, this differs depending on the age of onset, the type of deafblindness and what resources and support they have available. It is common for someone who grew up deaf and suffered from vision loss in later life to use a type of sign language. Similarly people who grew up blind and lost their hearing in later life usually use a tactile mode of their spoken or written language.

Information about communicating with people who are deafblind is available on the SENSE website.

Causes of deafblindness

Acquired

You do not have to be totally deaf and blind to be deafblind or dual sensory impaired. Most people who are deafblind have had use of both their sight and hearing for the majority of their lives. The loss of these senses can occur through injury, illness or, most commonly through the ageing process. Read the SENSE factsheet about hearing and sight loss in older people.

Congenital

Some people who are deafblind may have had a congenital sensory impairment. This means they were born without either sight or hearing. An example could be a person born with congenital deafness acquiring a visual impairment through macular degeneration in later life.

People who are born deaf and blind are said to have congenital deafblindness. This can occur for several reasons:

  • prenatal infections such as rubella, chromosomal or genetic syndromes (such as Down syndrome)
  • excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol during pregnancy
  • trauma occurring during childbirth

Due to widespread vaccinations, rubella, which was once the major cause of congenital deafblindness is now exceedingly rare.

Another major factor in congenital deafblindness is Usher syndrome. This is a genetic condition where the person is born deaf and then gradually begins to lose their sight. The sight loss typically occurs during adolescence and is due to a condition known as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). Early warning signs of Usher syndrome include a loss of peripheral vision and night blindness. To find out more, visit SENSE (Scotland) and RP Fighting Blindness.

Find out more

For more information, please contact the Sensory Services Team. You can also visit the Deafblind (Scotland) website.