Communication and congenital deafblindness

People often think of communication as spoken, written or signed language.

A young person with congenital deafblindness signing to an adultBut many people who are congenitally deafblind with no formal verbal communication methods will use non-verbal improvised forms including:

  • Gestures
  • Vocalisation
  • Pointing
  • Changes in breathing patterns

There are also symbol systems such as objects of reference that are used to represent different types of activities.

Through observation it is often possible to understand the meaning of these communication forms and to learn how to react and interact with the deafblind person.


"Instead of understanding deafblindness as something wholly different from me, we must understand the deafblind person as someone very similar to me.

"That makes the gap between my experience as a seeing-hearing person and the experience of a congenitally deafblind person much smaller."
Paul Hart, 2008

There is a developing understanding of the possibility of true, meaningful communication between a congenitally deafblind person and their communication partner.

By meaningful communication we mean conversation rather than simply sending and receiving information.

When looking to have meaningful conversations it is important to concentrate on all that we have in common with the person who is deafblind.

By focusing on shared similarities – the need to develop social interactions, wanting to share our thoughts and emotions or recalling events and telling our stories – we should try to ensure that the person who is deafblind is an active participant, and that conversations are meaningful, rather than just an exchange of information.

Share what you have in common so that a person who is deafblind is involved in all the social activity around you.


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First published: Monday 21 May 2012
Updated: Friday 23 January 2015