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How do totally blind people find braille signs?


I know that signs for bathrooms, exits, elevators, etc., have the braille under the regular writing, but how does a blind person find the braille in the first place?! Especially when they don't have someone with them. Then you wouldn't need the braille anyways, just ask the person what it says. That always confused me.


They're always in the same place, either on the door or right next to the door at shoulder-height. Blind people learn to sweep the door and the wall with their hand to find the sign and then the braille on the sign.


Inner Sound, Inner Sight

Inner Sound, Inner Sight

If you do a simple Internet search of the terms "dark and silent" or "a world without sight or sound," you'll find many results about deaf-blindness. The combination of deafness and blindness is often referred to as being in a world of darkness and silence. But there is absolutely nothing dark or silent about deaf-blindness. If you have ever spent a few days in complete silence, or closed your eyes even for a moment, you will find that you hear sounds and see things that aren't there. You may even be initially folded, thinking what you're hearing or seeing is real. But if you try to confirm with another person, you will soon realize that those sounds are all in your head. That is deafness and blindness. If you can't see or hear your environment, your brain fills in the gaps for you. I hear phones ringing; I see people out of the corner of my eye; I hear people call my name; I see colors flashing in my field of vision. But based on my medical vision and hearing loss, I know those sounds can't be real. They're out of the range of my sight and hearing. All I can see is light. I all I can hear is very loud sounds near to me. I'm as close as you can get to totally deaf and blind without being totally deaf and blind. I'm one step away from "total" in both cases. In fact most doctors would consider me total because I'm so close to it anyway. Apart from knowing when the light is on, I can see nothing. I feel vibrations before I hear the sound, and sometimes my brain converts vibrations I feel into sounds, so it's hard sometimes to know if I heard something or felt it and think I heard it. Yes, I can hear a train passing me by, but I feel its weight under my feet and I feel the vibrations from the sound before I hear them.

After your vision and hearing is gone for long enough, your brain sort of translates "vision" and "hearing" to your hands and body. I use the terms "vision" and "hearing" loosely here. I'm not talking about the image falling on your retina or the sound waves reaching your eardrums, but rather, the images and sounds your brain construct from your fingertips and body. I feel the braille characters of this essay I'm writing under my fingertips and "see" them in my head. I feel the music playing ever so slightly in the table when I rest my hand on it. If the music is loud enough, I feel it resonating in my ribcage, in my hair, and even in the area my ears. Though my ears themselves don't work, the shape and structure of the ears evolved to be conducive to vibrations so I can feel the sounds resonating in my skull and the cartilage in my ears, even though I don't hear them. Sometimes I can even feel the change in air pressure if a sound is loud and booming.

The world of deaf-blindness is far from a dead one. The world is constantly full of vibrations and smells and changes in temperature and air pressure. Many people seem to believe that without ears and eyes, the world becomes unmoving and still, but this couldn't be farther from the truth. The world is very much alive. And that's not even considering all the non-physical aspects to life such as relationships, fortunes and misfortunes, and the other non-material aspects of life. The world around me is very much alive. In fact I am as easily startled by a powerful vibration as I used to be by a loud sound. A strong smell can be as distracting as a flashing light in one's peripheral vision.

People's hands take on personalities. Just like a man may have a sharp-looking face, a man can also have sharp and pointed hands. Someone with a stiff facial expression carries that stiffness in their hands as well. A soft and gentle person has hands that are soft and gentle too. To communicate, I use sign language. Rather than "listening" with my eyes as the sighted deaf do, I "listen" by putting my hands lightly over the speaker's hands. Just as a woman's words can be articulate in speech, s to can someone's hands. They form the hand shapes clearly and distinctly. Just as a drunk person mumbles in speech; a drunk signer mumbles through their hands as well. Some people have a "loud voice"--their hands flying in the air taking up a large space while others are "soft-spoken"--signing in a small space and only changing their hand shapes as minimally as possible. Since I have to track people's hands, I prefer whisperers to shouters. (My shoulders get quite sore if I have to follow someone who signs big.) And just as you might remember the boom of your former teacher's voice or the high pitched voice of your sister, I recognize the different styles of people's signing. Likewise, the same person can speak gently into my hands by making their signs tender and slow. Someone can also yell into my hand by practically slapping my hand around and signing violently.

Just as some people wear bright colors and others prefer earthy colors, some people wear strong perfumes or use powerfully scented lotions or soaps, while others have a more subtle scent to them or have a natural musk to them. Some people choose scents that blend well with their body scent while others choose ones that clash, just as some people dress tastefully for their body shape while others wear whatever's in style without regards to how it appears on their particular body type.

The world of deaf-blindness if far from the barren image may people seem to have of it. It's a different world but it is nevertheless a world. I see through my hands and I hear through my body. My world is far from dark and silent. It is a world of inner sound and inner sight.


Deafblindness Quotes

Deafblindness Quotes - reprinted with permission from the author.

Life goes on after deafblindness. But it takes heart
and courage to embrace the deafblind lifestyle with
open arms and to follow one's own destiny.

Phantom vision and phantom sound is a reality
for most deafblind people. The brain is constantly
doing its utmost to fill in every void, thus creating an
alternate reality every time we close our eyes.

As we lose more of our vision and hearing, our sense
of touch, taste and smell becomes so much more
acute, exotic and, shall I say, erotic?

Deaf people fear blindness and blind people fear deafness
as if it were the dreaded plague. Yet it is not a terminal
disease. Life must continue into uncharted territory where
new discoveries await those who dare to dream.

Is it possible for a hearing-sighted or deaf-sighted person
to fall in love with a deafblind person 'til death do they part?
Of course it is! Love knows no boundaries and does not
discriminate against anyone, ever!

Many of us do not look deafblind though we may walk
amongst hearing and sighted people like aliens in disguise.
I find it amazing that people fail to recognize what they see
when we walk with our white reflective canes and dog guides.

How is it that Congress can be in the dark ages when it
comes to meeting the basic needs of deafblind people
everywhere? Where are our helpers, the Annie and Andy
Sullivans of the world, the Support Service Providers (SSPs),
and the support of our representatives and senators who can
give us assistance in training, mobility, communication,
technology and recreational access?

Does it surprise you to find that deafblind people can and
do get married, have children, go to work, cook and clean,
make love, read and write, surf the web, travel, shop, earn
their bachelor or masters degrees, teach, eat out and pursue
their favorite hobbies? Or that they can laugh or cry, become
angry or defiant, pleasant or calm, or mourn the loss of loved
ones? We all share the same human experience.

Being deafblind is an occupational hazard. Bright sunshine
and elusive shadows thwart our attempts to be safe. We
trip over curbs, potholes and steps. In the winter, we slip
and fall on snow and ice. At home, we walk into open
cupboard doors, open drawers, open dishwasher doors and
partly opened doors that are even more dangerous to us.
First, our bruises and injuries begin at the lowest level of
our bodies and as we lose more vision, they will continue to
work their way up from battered toes to ankles, knees, groins,
hips, fingers, hands, elbows, arms, chests, breasts, shoulders
necks and backsides. The last and worst bruising insults are to
our faces, eyes, ears, noses, chins, mouths, teeth, foreheads,
sideheads and rearheads as bruises and injuries become even
more painful and sensitive. If we tried to learn new defensive
strategies to protect ourselves, I'm afraid we'd only end up
hurting ourselves. The last resort is to wear armor. But then we'd
only fall down -- again!

Deafblind people are not all the same. Some are born
deaf and later become blind. Others are born blind and
later become deaf. Some are born with mild hearing or
vision losses and later become profoundly deaf and/or
blind. Some are born deafblind. Others are born with
multiple disabilities in addition to being deafblind. Some
learn to speak the oral way, others learn to speak using
their hands, communicating via American Sign Language
(ASL), Pidgin-Signed English (PSE), Signed Exact English
(SEE) and a variety of other contact languages. It seems
as if each language, whether spoken or tactual, must be
tailor-made to suit the unique needs of every deafblind
person who often ends up feeling alone and frustrated,
and out of touch with the world.

Copyright © Ipo 2010

I see with my hands and I hear with my body. I feel what you see and I
hear through vibrations.


My computer is way more than just a computer.
I use it as a braille TTY to make a relay phone call.
I use it as a GPS system to figure where I'm going.
I use it to go to school.
I use it to jot down a note.
I use it to communicate with other deaf-blind people across the world.
I use it to communicate with people in the same room, who don't know sign language.
I use it to stay in touch with family.
I use it to do my grocery shopping.
I use it to find out if it's raining outside.
I use it to access the library and read books.
I use it to find out about any emergencies.
My computer isn't just a computer. It's my connection to the world.



Deaf/Blind Students in the Classroom

Can deaf, blind, and deaf-blind people go to school?

Of course, provided a deaf/blind student has the proper accommodations, and their teachers stay on the same page throughout the entire school year. Accommodations need to be arranged months ahead of time so the disability office has enough time to make accommodations (such as hiring long-term interpreters, notetakers, and sending textbooks out to be transcribed into braille). Exam accommodations need to be arranged weeks in advance so that accommodations can be made (such as hiring an interpreter or reader/scribe). Most schools allow students with disabilities to register before other students so accommodations can be arranged in time.

What options does a deaf student who doesn't know sign language have for accommodations?

A non-signing, or oral, deaf student has at least three options for accommodations.

1) An oral interpreter
An oral interpreter sits in front of the deaf student and repeats everything that is said (by the teacher and other students) by mouthing it silently. This allows the deaf student to lipread without having to worry about lighting or the location of the speaker.

2) An FM system
For deaf or hard of hearing students that have enough residual hearing to understand speech, an FM system can be used. The teacher is fitted with a microphone and the auditory information is fed directly into the students hearing aid or cochlear implant. The only downside is that the deaf student can only hear the teacher and can't hear anything other students say.

3) Computer Assisted Real-Time Translation (CART)
CART works by having a professional transcriber type everything that is said in real time. The CART information can either be fed into a single computer screen for one deaf student, or projected onto a screen for several deaf students. It can also be displayed in large print or fed through a refreshable braille display for a deaf-blind student.

What other accommodations might a deaf or blind student need?

Deaf students need to be provided with a notetaker or notes on the lecture ahead of time so they can focus on watching the interpreter, reading lips, or reading the CART. Any videos that are shown in class need to be shown with the closed captions on. When a projector is being used in class, if a deaf student is watching an interpreter, they either need the lights on or need to have an individual light turned on near the interpreter so they can see clearly.

Before even starting the school year, blind students need an opportunity to tour the school and become familiar with their classrooms and the overall building layout before it's crowded by other students. Blind students need to have their school materials, including worksheets and text books, provided to them in the proper format (large print, audio, braille, or a combination thereof). Having what will be written on the blackboard provided in an accessible format ahead of time or at the beginning of the class is also extremely useful.

Blind students should also have any visual aspects crucial to the course content either described to them, or if possible, should have access to a model of it that can be explored tactually. (For example, in a math class where graphs are important, a blind student needs raised dot graphics or graphs made of string or wire so that they can appreciate the same concepts as sighted students). Generally, electronic format is best for writing papers and turning assignments in, because electronic documents can be magnified or converted to and from audio/braille much more easily. The school technology department also needs to make sure that any computer programs that will be used in a class are compatible with whatever magnification or screen reader software the student uses.

Blind students may or may not need someone to guide them to their classes. Any students with service animals may need a short break to give their service animal a chance to relieve themselves.

Deaf-blind students will need the same kinds of accommodations as deaf or blind students (specific accommodations obviously depending on the individual). A deaf-blind student may need to sit closer to an interpreter or may need to have a tactile interpreter. A deaf-blind student will probably also need a notetaker, and will need to have all their materials provided in a format they can read. Deaf-blind students may or may not need to be guided to their class.

The accommodations listed above are just some basic examples. Make sure to consult the school disability services, and any teachers specializing in special education or education for the deaf or blind for more detailed requirements specific to the student.

What to Consider When Employing a Deaf/Blind Person

What kind of work can a deaf, blind, or deaf-blind person do?

Almost any job a hearing/sighted person can do. What any particular individual can do depends largely on their skills, the extent of their hearing or vision loss, and the quality of their accommodations. When seeking employment, each individual potential worker needs to be assessed individually.

The most important issues to consider with a deaf candidate are:

1) Communication
How does the deaf person communicate? Do they use sign language? Do they speech read, write notes back and forth, or type on a PDA device? How good is their speech comprehension in one-on-one conversations, and how good is their comprehension in a group setting? How are their speech skills? Do they use their voice or sign language to communicate? It's important to consider one-on-one and group situations separately because the two affect a deaf person's ability to follow significantly. Generally, the same person will need more accommodations in a group setting.

2) Phone requirements
Does the job require using a phone? Some deaf people can hear on the phone with their hearing aid or cochlear implant on a special setting, or with a special amplification device. Some deaf people can hold brief conversations with people whose voices are familiar to them only. If a prospective employee can't hear on the phone at all, they may be able to substitute all phone needs with email and online conferencing (such as contacting business partners). If answering the phone is only a small part of the job, they may be able to make an agreement with another co-worker to trade the phone duty for another duty.

3) Auditory signals
Any auditory signals simply need to be supplemented with a visual or vibrating signal. (More often than not, machines that emit beeps or other signals already have a blinking light or other signal accompanying it.)

The most important issues to consider with a blind candidate are:

1) Mobility
Can the blind person get around? Give them some time to familiarize themselves with the building and their surrounding areas. Any in-the-way obstacles that can be moved to the side should be. Service aimal users will need to have occasional brief breaks so that their service animal can relieve themselves.

2) Lighting
Most blind people can see better in certain types of lighting. If the lights can be adjusted to their preference, go ahead and do that.

3) Reading format
Most blind people can read regular print, either with computerized magnification or optical aids. Blind people who rely on audio or braille are best off using electronic formats, which can easily be converted to and from print and braille/audio through a screen reader or special software program.

Deaf-blind candidates need to have the same issues as both deaf and blind candidates taken into account. Most deaf-blind people have some usable vision or hearing and will be able to use many of the same techniques as deaf or blind people. However, in the case of a deaf-blind prospective employee who has no usable hearing or vision, tactile communication will most likely be their only form of communication. Any employer or co-workers will benefit from learning basic tactile methods like the Deaf-Blind Manual Alphabet or tactile finger spelling. Employers and co-workers will probably also rely heavily on virtual communication, such as email and instant messaging, which can be fed through a braille display for the deaf-blind person.

Braille technology is expensive so definitely make sure to contact vocational rehab for any financial help. If they can't pay for braille technology in full, ask them for some other resources that can help cover costs.

If you're not exactly sure what your prospective employee needs, simply ask them. Also ask to get in touch with their vocational rehabilitation counselor. Vocational rehabilitation may be able to pay for adaptive technology and will probably train the person on any new technology for the job. Vocational rehab will probably also train them on any adaptive techniques needed to perform the same tasks as efficiently as a hearing/sighted person.

How do the ADA, DDA, and other laws protecting disabled employees work?

Laws protecting the disabled vary widely from country to country. However, the main idea behind these laws is: you cannot refuse to hire any applicant just on the basis of their disability. If an applicant's disability interferes with the very nature of the job, or compromises a large portion of the job, then you can refuse to consider their application. If the applicant can find alternative ways to do all the tasks required for a job, then they must be considered for the job along with any other applicants.

An applicant who has equal or better credentials cannot be disqualified from the applicant pool just on the basis of their disability either. They may need accommodations or extra training for the job. Vocational rehabilitation should provide any training related to using adaptive technology or adaptive techniques to perform the same tasks as efficiently as other workers.

Just remember: think in terms of tasks, not sensory loss, and ask--don't assume--what a candidate can and can't do.


Doorbell, Phone, and Alarm Clock Modifications for the Deaf and Deaf-Blind

How does a deaf or deaf-blind person know there's someone at the door if they can't hear the doorbell?

Deaf people often have their doorbell hooked up to at least one light in each room so that when the doorbell rings the light flashes. Deaf-blind people with at least light perception can use the same method or can opt for a system that sends them vibrations every time the doorbell rings.

How does a deaf or deaf-blind person make a phone call?

There are several options for making a phone call. Nowadays, with texting, email, and instant messenger, most deaf people elect to use these communication methods. However, some places (like hotels and doctor's offices) can only be contacted by phone.

Some deaf or hard of hearing people can hear on the phone with their hearing aid set to a special setting, specifically designed for using phones, iPods, etc. The setting is usually called a T-coil and receives the information directly from the phone.

A deaf person who can't hear on the phone can use a telecommunication device called a TTY or TDD. A TTY has a screen that shows letters and has a regular keyboard. The deaf person can type messages to another person with a TTY who then receives them. They can type back and forth.

Most places aren't set up with a TTY number and in this case, deaf people can use a relay service. There are four types of relay service.

1) Text relay
This can either be used from a TTY, done through a website, or set up from an instant messenger service. The deaf person calls 7-1-1 and gives a number to dial. Text relay works by having the deaf person type to a relay operator, who voices to the person on the other end of the phone line. Then whatever the hearing person voices is typed back to the deaf person via the relay operator.

2) Video relay
This works much like text relay, except instead of using text, the deaf person uses a webcam with a special service and gives a number to dial. The deaf person can then see a video relay operator in a webcam (much like a two-way webcam online) and can sign to the operator. The operator then voices to the hearing person on the other end of the line and signs back to the deaf person whatever the hearing person says.

3) Voice Carry Over
Voice carry over is used for deaf people who are comfortable speaking but just can't hear on the other end of the phone. The deaf person calls the VCO service and gives them a number to dial. Then just like with text relay, the operator types to them whatever is being said and indicates to them when it's their cue to speak. Then the deaf person voices whatever they want to say.

4) Captel
Some deaf or hard of hearing people can hear on the phone with visual assistance. The deaf/hard of hearing person has a regular phone call, both hearing the other caller and voicing themselves. The only difference is that the operator types whatever the caller is saying so that the deaf person can have visual support.

For deaf-blind people, the same methods above can be used with large print or braille modifications, such as a large-print TTY, large-print captel, or text relay set up through their computer that has magnification of its own.

For someone who can't read large print, they can use a braille TTY, called a TeleBraille. A deaf-blind person can also use whatever braille technology they might already have and use the same relay website, emails, instant messaging, or texting that sighted deaf people use through their braille display.

How does a deaf or deaf-blind person use an alarm clock?

A deaf or deaf-blind person can either get an alarm clock that rings extremely loud, an alarm clock that flashes a light, or an alarm clock that vibrates the pillow or shakes the bed.

How does a deaf or deaf-blind person use an alarm clock?

A deaf or deaf-blind person can either get an alarm clock that rings extremely loud, an alarm clock that flashes a light, or an alarm clock that vibrates the pillow or shakes the bed.

How the Deaf/Blind Think and Dream

When I think to myself, I have a running dialogue in my head. If someone has never heard a voice before, how do they think?

How a deaf person thinks depends on what kind of exposure they've had to language and life in general. A deaf person who has no hearing at all or who has never heard speech in any way doesn't know what voices or speech sounds like. Someone who has some hearing and can hear parts of speech does know what voices and speech sound like, but their idea of speech and voice is different from a typical hearing person's.

For deaf people who have never heard speech, they think in the same language that they use. A deaf person who uses sign language will think in sign language, and will "see" the signs in their mind's eye the same way hearing people "hear" a voice in their mind's ear. Similarly, a deaf-blind person who uses tactile sign language "feels" the signs in their hands in the same way a deaf person "sees" the signs in their mind. A deaf person whose main exposure to language is in its written form might visualize their thoughts like print on paper or handwriting on paper. Many deaf people also say they think in images or just concepts in general, independent of language. Of course the details of how a particular individual thinks varies, but deaf people can and do think independent of sound (and language when they've had little or no exposure to language).

When I think of a word, I imagine it written on paper in my head. How does a blind person visualize the spelling of a word?

Depending on the writing format they use the most, a blind person might also visualize a word or its spelling in print. If the blind person uses braille too, they can "visualize" the braille in their heads, in the same way as print. Some blind people "feel" the braille under their fingers in the same way a sighted person "sees" a word in their mind.

There's a lot of variety in how people think so the ways mentioned above aren't necessarily the only ways people think.

How do deaf, blind, and deaf-blind people dream?

People's dreams generally reflect their reality. Whatever extent of hearing loss or vision loss a person has in real life will generally experience the same in dreams. Whether or not a person was born blind, deaf or went blind or deaf a long time ago also makes a difference. Someone who is born totally blind cannot visualize images. Someone born totally deaf cannot conceive of sound.

Both totally blind and deaf people can conceive of sound and images in different ways though. Some deaf people have visual associations with sound (such as moving lips) and also an association with vibrations. Blind people can "visualize" through their sense of touch, where their brain forms an "image" from tactile information. A blind, deaf, or deaf-blind person may also experience smells and tastes in their dreams more often.

People with progressive vision or hearing loss may either still be able to hear or see in their dreams, or their dreams may reflect their progressive loss with a delay in time.

Sometimes deaf or blind people mention having a sense of "knowing" where things are in their dreams even if they may not know where things are in real life. Some deaf people also mention a sense of telepathic communication or communication free of language in their dreams. Some deaf people also mention that their dreams come with automatic "closed captions" for all the dialogue in their dreams. Deaf people who use sign language often experience the people in their dreams signing, regardless of if the person knows sign language in real life or not.

Because of the variety in how people think there might be other ways that deaf, blind, and deaf-blind people dream that haven't been mentioned here.