What is Deafblindness?

The State of Wisconsin’s definition of deafblindness is “Deafblind means concomitantly deaf or hard of hearing and blind or visually impaired, the combination of which causes severe communication and other developmental and educational needs such that the individual disability-related needs of the student extend beyond the instruction and supports required for a student who is solely deaf or hard of hearing or blind or visually impaired.”  PI 11.36 (4m) Wis. Admin. Code.

Deafblindness may also be described as “dual sensory loss,” “combined vision and hearing loss,” “multiple disabilities sensory impaired.” Regardless of what label we use, individuals with deafblindness are at a severe disadvantage. Individuals with hearing loss rely on their vision to access information. Individuals with vision loss rely on their hearing to access information. For individuals with a combined vision and hearing loss, they are unable to rely on either their vision or their hearing to access information accurately. They do not have enough usable hearing to make up for their lack of vision while also not having enough vision to make up for their lack of hearing.

A child who is identified as having a combined vision and hearing loss may not necessarily meet the state eligibility criteria for a child with a vision loss or a child with a hearing loss but they could still qualify as being deafblind. It is important to note that identifying the child as deafblind through WDBTAP would not change the services a child would qualify for on an IEP.

There are currently 157 children on the Wisconsin Deafblind Registry. Of these 157 children, 87% have severe multiple disabilities and are most likely being served in a classroom for children with Intellectual  Disabilities. These children often have a diagnosed syndrome or have what is known as Cortical Visual Impairment. Many children with Cortical Visual Impairment also present with auditory processing delays. These children often startle to new noises, respond very favorably to music and “sing-songy” interactions, seem unable to process speech or have delayed responses to spoken directives, and tend to respond more consistently to familiar voices. We look at these children as having a combined vision and hearing loss. Why? It is necessary to implement strategies and interventions that include additional sensory systems (touch, smell) and don’t rely solely on the auditory and visual pathways to access information.

If you have a child or work with a child that fits any of the descriptions above, please consider requesting services from the Wisconsin Deafblind Technical Assistance Project (WDBTAP).