This page explains what hand-under-hand signing is, who uses it, how it works and how to get started. You can also watch Caroline having a conversation using hand-under-hand signing.
What is hand-under-hand signing?
Hand-under-hand signing is two people signing together using touch.
If you are a child or adult who is deafblind, your hands can act as your eyes, ears and voice.
Hand-under-hand signing allows you to:
- Have more control.
- Play a more active part in tasks and learning.
- Focus on the objects you touch and not just on the other person’s hands.
- Connect to the world.
- Learn at your own pace.
Who uses hand-under-hand signing?
Hand-under-hand signing is used by children and adults who are deafblind.
How does hand-under-hand signing work?
If you are a parent, family member, friend or educator, you’ll rely on the person’s hands to communicate.
In hand-under-hand signing, the person rests their hands on yours.
You can then guide, gently, from underneath. This gives the person the choice to move their hands freely.
The more opportunities a person has to use their hands and the safer it feels to explore, the more confident and motivated they will be to connect with the world, discover and learn.
You can use hand-under-hand signing to:
- Introduce an object.
- Show how to do an activity or task.
- Encourage the person to get involved in things.
- Stimulate a person’s curiosity to reach out to the world beyond themselves.
- Prepare for and teach tactile signing.
- Explore items together through touch.
- Use on-body signing.
- Do things with the person, not for them.
Before you read on…
- You can communicate using a mix of different ways. (We all do!)
- At Sense, we use whatever combination of speech, touch, sign or visual language works best.
- It’s never too late to start.
- Have a go and don’t worry about getting it wrong.
How to get started with a child who is deafblind
- Let the child put their hands on top of yours to feel what you are doing.
- Practise doing this from different angles to see what works best.
- Work from behind the child so that your hands and the child’s move in the same direction.
- When the child is very young, sit them on your lap.
- When the child is older, sit behind them and reach your arms around.
- Let the child know you are going to do something by touching their shoulder or elbow.
- Bring an object up and under the hands of the child.
- Start an activity under the hands of the child and describe verbally what you’re doing with your hands.
- Before you show your child how to do something, try it yourself with your eyes closed. Pay attention to the steps you take.
- If the child pulls away, keep doing what you were doing and gently invite the child again to take part.
- If the child throws an object you are trying to show them, it’s OK to hold on to it tightly or move it.
- If the child chooses to show you that they like to throw things, this may be their way of coping with someone guiding their hands. So, if they do this:
- Find some suitable things to throw, let the child throw them and then you throw them.
- Try doing a little something with the object before you throw it, and with every throw, take a little bit more time.
- Be patient, gentle and persistent.
- Most children need to try a new task several times before they learn it, so be patient.
- Some children don’t want to try new activities. They’ll pull their hands away and won’t want to touch.
- If they do this, try to respect what they’re telling you.
- But remember, if a child who is deafblind is never encouraged to try new things, learning will take longer.
- So, it’s OK to persist. Remember, though – don’t try to control. Just coax gently, allowing the child the freedom to choose and discover.
- And always remember to:
- Follow their pace.
- Be creative.
- Be flexible.
- Find things they are interested in.
Say hello to Caroline
Watch Caroline using several different ways to communicate, including hand-under-hand signing.
“Caroline started losing her vision as a teenager. As her vision deteriorated, Caroline found it harder to use British Sign Language, especially at a distance. But hand-under-hand signing meant her world opened up again. Caroline excels at bringing people into her world with hand-under-hand signing. The only problem is she sometimes signs so fast it’s hard to keep up with her.”Sarah Turpin, senior MSI practitioner, Sense
Caroline expresses herself in different ways, including with body language and facial expressions.
When someone is talking to Caroline, they use hand-under-hand signing so she can feel the signs they are using.
Other ways of communicating
- Braille uses raised dots to touch.
- Deafblind Manual spells words on to your hand.
- Block alphabet spells letters on to your hand.
- Moon uses raised lines, curves and dots to touch.
- Tadoma uses lipreading by touch.
- Sign language.
- Makaton, a simpler version of sign language.
- Visual frame signing for people with reduced vision.
- Objects of reference.
- Non-formal communication without speaking, writing or signing.
- Intensive interaction treating everything as communication.
This content was last reviewed in April 2022. We’ll review it again next year.