Definitions of deafblindness

A woman reading a book in a libraryDefinitions of deafblindness focus more on the effect of the combined loss on a person’s everyday life – how it affects their ability to communicate, to get around and to access information – rather than the degree of the impairment. 

A combination of sight and hearing loss is usually described in one of three ways: 

  • Deafblind
  • Multi-sensory impaired
  • Dual-sensory impaired

In 1995, a Department of Health report, called Think Dual Sensory, established a definition of deafblindness in the UK:

"A person is regarded as deafblind if their combined sight and hearing impairment cause difficulties with communication, access to information and mobility. This includes people with a progressive sight and hearing loss."

Often health and social healthcare professionals use the term dual-sensory impairment as well as deafblindness. This is more often associated with adults who have acquired sight and hearing loss.

Multi-sensory impairment is generally associated with children who are born with a sight and hearing loss and a range of other disabilities that affect their ability to process information and communicate.

The longstanding 1989 Department for Education policy statement on education provision for deafblind children defined deafblindness as:

"A heterogeneous group of children who may suffer from varying degrees of visual and hearing impairment, perhaps combined with learning difficulties and physical difficulties, which can cause severe communication, developmental and educational problems.
"A precise description is difficult because degrees of deafness and blindness - possibly combined with different degrees of other disabilities – are not uniform, and the educational needs of each child will have to be decided individually.”

First published: Friday 18 May 2012
Updated: Tuesday 15 October 2013