What is deafblindness?

Deafblindness is a combination of sight and hearing impairment that affects how you communicate, access information and get around.

Being deafblind is recognised as a unique disability in its own right. It doesn't necessarily mean that you are totally deaf or totally blind – most individuals who are deafblind have some residual sight and/or hearing.

It’s not about the amount of sight and hearing you have; it’s about the combined impact of having more than one sensory impairment.

Sense has been supporting people who are deafblind for over 60 years. We can help you find the information you need and advice on the support you are entitled to.

Everybody with a combined sight and hearing impairment connects, communicates and experiences the world differently. The approach to support will vary, especially between the two broad types of deafblindness explained below. But with the right support, you can lead a connected and fulfilled life.

The two broad types of deafblindness are:

  • Congenital deafblindness is a term used if a person is born with a sight and hearing impairment. This may be due to infections during pregnancy, premature birth, birth trauma and rare genetic conditions.
  • Acquired deafblindness is a term used if a person experiences sight and hearing loss later in life. Anyone can become deafblind at any time through illness, accident or as a result of ageing.

There are approximately over 390,000 people in the UK who are deafblind, with this figure set to increase to over 600,000 by 2035. If you would like more detailed estimates, please contact Sense Information and Advice.

Dual-sensory impairment/multi-sensory impairment (MSI)

Dual-sensory impairment or multi-sensory impairment are other terms that may be used if you have both sight and hearing impairments.

Many people take these terms to mean the same as 'deafblindness'. However, some people only use the term ‘deafblindness’ to refer to more severe impairments, whilst others prefer the term dual-sensory since it conveys more effectively the impact of being deafblind.

Multi-sensory impairment is considered a more appropriate term by some people, since the cause may be related to sensory processing, rather than the functioning of the eyes and ears. A person with sensory processing issues may have eyes and ears that function normally, but their brain has trouble filtering, organising and interpreting information taken in by the senses.

Causes of deafblindness

There are many causes of deafblindness, including:

These causes mean you may have:

  • A mild to profound sight and hearing impairment, with or without other significant disabilities.
  • Changing conditions which cause impairment to sight and hearing.
  • Sight and hearing impairments caused by difficulties with the structure or function of the brain, e.g. Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI).

The legal definition of deafblindness

In 1995 the Department of Health established a legal definition of deafblindness:

‘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.’

Support from your council

The legal definition of deafblindness was incorporated into the Department of Health's Deafblind Guidance in 2014.

Councils in England and Wales have a responsibility to follow the requirements of the Deafblind Guidance.

This means that if you have a combined sight and hearing impairment you are entitled to an assessment under the Department of Health's Deafblind Guidance.

Learn more about the Deafblind Guidance and the assessment process

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