What is Deafblindness?

The Federal Government through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (2004) defines deafblindness as “concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness” (Section 300.8 (c) (2)).

The New England Consortium on Deafblindness (NEC) uses a more functional definition and defines deafblindness as: combined vision and hearing loss, which may challenge a person’s ability to communicate, interact with others, access information, and move about safely.

Incidental information that most children acquire naturally must be introduced deliberately and systematically for children who are deafblind. Infants and children with this disability require early intervention and specialized services to facilitate and support learning and development.

Most individuals who are deafblind have some useful vision and/or hearing. There is a wide range of cognitive and developmental ability among individuals who are deafblind. Estimates indicate that there are approximately 40,000 people in the United States who are deafblind, approximately 11,000 children and youth (ages birth to 22) are deafblind (NCDB, 2013).

Several factors that may contribute to the overall impact of deafblindness on an individual’s learning and development include:

  • Age of onset
  • Degree and type of vision and hearing loss
  • Type of interventions provided and educational history
  • Presence of additional disabilities
  • List of at Risk Conditions

Impact of Deafblindness

Vision is our key to exploration and mobility, to building concepts, and to developing social relationships. Hearing is the basis of the language and communication system that most people use. The development of communication skills, mobility skills, and social relationships are the three areas most impacted by deafblindness.

When both vision and hearing are compromised, a child’s development may be impacted in several areas:

  • Communication and language development
  • Movement and motor development
  • Cognitive development
  • Emotional and social development
  • ​Body image and self-concept