Introduction to deafblindness

Deafblindness is a combination of vision and hearing impairments.

Man fingerspelling on another man's hand.Most people have a little sight and / or hearing they can use – but there are a few people who are completely deaf and blind.

Our world is organised around hearing sighted people, and this can present many challenges to a  person who is deafblind or has sensory impairments.


If you have little or no sight and hearing, learning to communicate, to make yourself understood, or hear other people speaking is very difficult – and can be isolating.

In a crowded room a sighted hearing person sees who is talking to them and hears what they are saying. A deaf person may use their vision to lipread what others are saying. But if they lose their sight as well, how will they know someone is trying to communicate and what they are trying to say?

Access to information

We all depend on information and feedback – for example, about what is going on around us. This is difficult for people who are deafblind to access if they don’t get the right support.


Moving around safely and getting to where you want to go can be challenging to a person who is deafblind. For example, partially sighted people who travel independently rely on their hearing. But with further hearing loss, hazards increase.


Living independently may be difficult, or even impossible, without receiving some level of support.

The impact deafblindness has on a person will vary according to the cause, age of onset, and the skills a person has in using their residual sight and hearing.

Instead of sight and hearing, the senses of touch, body awareness, balance, taste and smell can be used to access information, develop communication, and understand the world.

For many, sight and hearing loss are only part of the picture:

  • Sensory loss is known to be prevalent in people with learning disabilities
  • A child may also have difficulty processing information they get from their sight, hearing and touch, and be multi-sensory impaired as a result
  • Many physical disabilities can make communication and mobility difficult
  • Deterioration of sight and hearing is just one aspect of getting older that affects daily life and the ability to be independent

Specialist support

A person who is deafblind will need support from trained professionals who understand the impact that deafblindness can have on the person and their family.

Trained professionals can provide specialist support to the individual to address the difficulties with communication, access to information and mobility that they will experience.

First published: Friday 23 March 2012
Updated: Friday 23 January 2015