Quite a few deaf-blind people still have some useful sight and hearing which can be assisted by wearing glasses and hearing aids. However, if there is a lot of background noise, the hearing aids magnify it all and it is really difficult for the person to pick out the speaker’s voice. If the person relies on lip-reading, a venue must be well lit or they may not easily see what the speaker is saying.
Deaf-blind people who were born deaf or went deaf in early years can use British Sign Language, rather than spoken English. Those who have some remaining sight may still be able to see Sign Language at close quarters. If they can’t, they may place their hands on the hands of the person signing to them to help recognise the signs.
Other deaf-blind people who have either very limited or no sight or hearing at all, need the speaker to communicate with them on the palm of their hand. One way is to trace out the letters of each word in block capitals, one on top of the other. This is simple but the drawback is that it is slow and also a person who has been blind all their life may not easily recognise the letters as they are more used to reading Braille.
A quicker method is called ‘deaf-blind manual’ and is like the fingerspelling used in British Sign Language, but placed on the hand. Different letters are spelt out by touching specific areas of the fingertips and palm of the deaf-blind person. For example, an ‘a’ is made by touching the person’s thumb.
Deaf-blind manual can be learnt in half an hour and after practice it can be possible to have a conversation at a reasonable pace by using this type of fingerspelling.
Sadly, many people never bother to learn this easy method of communication and if they meet a deaf-blind person who uses it, there is no way communicating which can be frustrating and embarrassing for everyone involved.