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Introduction To Deaf-Blind Interpreting: What You Need To Know

Deaf-Blind Interpreting

The Purpose of Deaf/Blind Interpreting

In the last few decades and especially in the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic, accommodations for those with hearing or vision loss have become more familiar to the general public. Who among us hasn’t seen an ASL interpreter standing behind a politician addressing the nation or seen braille on the buttons of an elevator? While the presence of these has become more commonplace, what about those who identify as Deaf-Blind?

The Helen Keller Assumption

Those familiar with the story of Helen Keller might have a very narrow idea of what Deaf-Blind interpreting looks like. It doesn’t just refer to sign language being done into the palms of the Deaf-Blind individual. Since the experience of being Deaf-Blind is different for each person, their needs will vary too. This form of interpreting might also take the form of close-vision ASL, warning a person of upcoming objects in their path, providing protactile touch signals, or describing immediate surroundings.

3 Facts About Deaf/Blind Interpreting Services

  1. Hearing and vision loss operate on a spectrum! While there are those that have been diagnosed as entirely Deaf or entirely blind, many people live with just a degree of one or both. Depending on where they fall on the spectrum of experience, their needs might be different. When initially requesting Deaf-Blind interpreting services, the best way to ensure the right accommodations is to be specific on what and will not be needed, such as tactile interpreting, pro tactile communication, and low vision accommodations
  2. Hearing and vision can change over time! Just like how a hearing person might need to turn up the volume on the TV as they get older or a sighted person might need to get new glasses every so many years, those with hearing and vision loss might experience the same changes. This means that their needs, preferences, and abilities might be one thing now and something else at your next interaction.
  3. Avoid assumptions! Many Deaf-Blind individuals have been taking advantage of Deaf-Blind interpreting services for a long time. It’s quite likely that they already know which services they prefer and which they don’t. On the other hand, it’s possible that these same people might not know about any new options to have become available. Obviously, the best solution here is to avoid any and all assumptions and just communicate about what the interpreter has to offer and what the consumer prefers.

3 Tips for Using Deaf-Blind Interpreting Services

  1. Independence! A sense of independence is important regardless of age and ability. This means that, if the Deaf-Blind person would prefer to navigate an unfamiliar space on their own or to not take advantage of a particular service, they have every right to do so.
  2. Preparation! Prepare the space prior to the arrival of the Deaf-Blind consumer and interpreter by ensuring walkways are clear, removing bright lights, and minimizing the use of strong sensory distractions such as intense fragrances and loud music.
  3. Communication! Not only should there be a frank conversation between the Deaf-Blind individual and the interpreter on what services will be wanted, but there should be just as much open communication between these two parties and the agency making use of Deaf-Blind interpreting in the first place. Some suggestions that could be shared include rearranging the furniture or seating in a room or altering the visual or auditory media that’s going to be presented.

Equal Access for All

While the experience of being Deaf-Blind is quite different from just experiencing one or the other, the reasons for providing Deaf-Blind interpreting remain the same. Every human deserves to have their preferences respected, their life experiences acknowledged, and of course, equal access, be that to watching a politician address the country on their televisions or just having the option to push the button in an elevator.


  • Helen Keller National Center for Deaf Blind Youths and Adults [HKNC]
  • National Center on Deaf-Blindness [NCDB] “Deaf-Blindness Overview.”

Written for Inclusive Communication Services by Nicole K. Orr
TypeWell transcriber, audio describer, video captioner, world traveler

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