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Check out the deafblind Materials available in our Resource Library

Overview of DeafBlindness

It is commonly estimated that 95% of information comes to us through our vision and hearing.  Students who have a hearing or vision loss don't have access to the same amount of information without accommodation for their sensory losses.  This "input impairment" must always be understood and addressed before any thoughts of processing or products (such as I.Q. scores) can be discussed.

  • Children who are deaf or hard of hearing learn primarily through their vision.
  • Children who are blind or visually impaired learn primarily through their hearing.
  • Children who are deafblind may not have enough vision or hearing to learn the way that children learn in programs for the deaf/hard of hearing or for the blind/visually impaired.  This is also true for other special and general education placements.
  • An educational program that takes into consideration the unique learning needs of each child will have to be specifically designed for him/her, with particular attention to the input of information, communication skills, and consistent access to communication.

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DeafBlindness in IDEA-97 and the Federal Regulations

The federal definition of deafblindness: According to 34 CFR 300.7(c)(2), "deafblindness means concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which creates 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". 

The federal definition of multiple disabilties:  According to 34 CFR 300.7(c)(7), "multiple disabilities" means concomitant impairment (such as mental retardation-blindness, mental retardation-orthopedic impairment, etc) combinations of which causes such severe educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for one of the impairments.  The term does not include deafblindnes."."."

Implications for the December-Unduplicated Child Count:  In regard to the annual report of children served, 34 CFR 300.751 (f)(1) states that "If a child with a disability has more than one disability, the SEA shall report that child under paragraph (c) of the section in accordance with the following procedure:

    (1)  If a child has only two disabilities, and those disabilities are deafness and blindness, and the child is not
           reported as developmental delays, that child must be reported under the category "deafblindness".

    (2)  A child who has more than one disability and is not reported as having deafblindness or as having a
          developmental delay must be reported under the category "multiple disabilties".

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DeafBlind Project Team

Members of the DeafBlind Project Team include:

  • Consultant for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing
  • Consultant for the Blind/Visually Impaired
  • Interpreter/Intervenor
  • Orientation and Mobility Specialist
  • Speech and Language Clinician
  • Educational Audiologist
  • Special Education Teacher


Characteristics Affecting Learning

There are several characteristics that affect learning in the child who is deafblind.  Depending on the age of onset, deafblindness can affect learning in the following areas:

  • Difficulty with communication
  • Distorted perceptions: Difficulty in imaging the whole picture or relating one element to the whole;
  • Anticipation: Difficulty in knowing what is going to happen next, lacking the context normally provided through "overseeing" or "overhearing" information and cues;
  • Motivation:  The motivating factors may be missing from a situation, going unseen or unheard;
  • Incidental learning: First hand experiences are much more effective than incidental observation group experiences.

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Effective Teaching Strategies and Techniques

Help the learner to communicate and have an understanding of communications.

  1. Make use of the residual hearing and the residual vision, but don't regard hearing or vision as all or nothing, know what the student can and cannot see and how it changes in different environments
  2. Give plenty of time for reactions and decisions - with less access to context, it may take longer to "put the pieces together".
  3. Build a strong relationship.
  4. Develop positive self-esteem by giving the learner opportunities for choices.
  5. React to the learner's actions and communication attempts as they happen.
  6. Give immediate feedback on their actions, including reinforcing success and feedback to refine their actions.
  7. Plan experiences so that problem solving is required.
  8. Use functional activities that can be learned in the natural routines of the day.
  9. Activities and experiences should be planned to involve the learner at every step, from the start to the finish of an activity.


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Frequently Asked Questions

1)  Does deafblind mean that there is no useable hearing or vision?  Absolutely not.  About 6% of the children who are deafblind are totally deaf and totally blind.  Most have useable residual hearing and vision, but even a "mild" combination of losses will impact access to information, communications, and all of the "input" required for learning to take place.

2)  What about children with multiple disabilities- can they be deafblind?  Many children have hearing and vision loss as included with additional disabilities (such as cerebral palsy).  The hearing and vision loss may also be a part of a syndrome (such as Ushers syndrome or CHARGE syndrome).  In either case, the impact of the combined sensory loss impacts their access to information, concept development, and communication. 

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Further information on State and Local Resources

Minnesota DeafBlind Technical Assistance Project
4001 Stinson Boulevard NE
Suite 210
Minneapolis, MN 55421
1-612-638-1526 or

National Family Association for DeafBlind
111 Middle Neck Road
Sands Point NY 11050-1129
Phone & TTY:  1-800-255-0411 ext. 275
Fax:  1-516-883-9060
Web Site: