Symbol systems

Symbol systems are often used to assist deafblind people to communicate. Photos, pictures and objects can be added to other structured forms of communication.

Objects of reference

A wooden spoon hanging on a wall with people sitting in the backgroundSome congenitally deafblind or multi-sensory-impaired people learn to use particular objects to symbolise a significant activity. For example, a towel may indicate swimming, or a fork may be used to show that it is time for a meal.

This method allows people who are deafblind to make choices and enables others to let them know what is planned.

For further information on objects of reference visit

Picture symbols

Picture symbols are sometimes used to support the development of language, either accompanying text or in their own right.

There are a number of symbol sets available including Widgit and Mayer Johnson.


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First published: Monday 21 May 2012
Updated: Tuesday 9 August 2016