Communication and Deaf-Blindness

Communication Bill of Rights poster
Communication supports and services for individuals who are deaf-blind must be customized to meet their individual needs.

How best does someone take in information (receptive communication)? How do they let others know what they want to say (expressive communication)? To what extent are communicative interactions successful?

Explore the information and resources about communication programming for individuals who are deaf-blind that we have compiled. If you need assistance designing a comprehensive approach to improve the communication skills of someone you are supporting, these three levels of support are available:

• Information Resources: Explore the information shared on this website and/or contact us with requests for specific information to guide your intervention efforts.

• Professional Development: Get in touch with your state’s project contact person to make a request for targeted professional development to address the needs of the team providing services to a child who is deaf-blind.

• Professional Development with Follow-up Support: If you need help putting ideas and strategies into practice with an individual learner, communicate with your state contact person to negotiate some form of individualized support. This may involve distance support strategies and/or onsite visits.

Additional Resources to Support Communication Programming

Assessment: The Communication Matrix

Communication occurs in many forms. Conventional systems such as print, speech, sign, tactile symbols, and graphic symbols, are guided by a system of rules that makes it possible for others to easily understand. Communication also occurs in less conventional forms, such as vocal output, gestures, body movement, facial expressions, and eye contact. These behaviors require varying degrees of “interpretation” on the part of the communication partner and as a result, may only be understood by a those who know the person quite well. It is important to honor all current forms of communication used by a child who is deaf-blind, while simultaneously working to shape unconventional communicative behavior into more readily understandable forms.

A good starting point in developing a communication intervention for a student who is deaf-blind is to examine the child’s current forms of communication. The Communication Matrix is an excellent tool for these purposes. This free online tool allows teams to create a communication profile for a student, documenting the behavior and forms of communication a child currently uses to convey a full range of communicative intents. The profile is saved online and can be periodically updated to measure progress. Explore the website for this tool to gain a better understanding of its structure as well as an appreciation of how it can support your efforts to improve the communication skills of a child who is deaf-blind. If you need technical assistance to use the Communication Matrix, get in touch with your state contact person.

Communication Systems

Communication board

Results from an assessment conducted with the Communication Matrix will provide a good starting point for designing a comprehensive approach to communication intervention. Results may point to the use of an unaided communication system, an aided communication system, or some combination of the two.

Instructional Strategies

To be successful, communication interventions must occur throughout the day, embedded in everyday activities and routines. Drawing from a large body of research and practice literature, the recommended strategies below all have an evidence base to support their effectiveness. Additional information about instructional strategies can be found in the list of Communication Resources in the box above.

o Be a responsive communication partner.

o Honor all forms of communication.

o Wait, and look with expectation for a communicative response.

o Use motivating activities and preferred materials to stimulate communication.

o Support and expand the student’s modes of communication.

o Model communication using the student’s current system whenever possible.

o Embed communication supports in activities throughout the day.

o Ensure that student has access to some workable mode of communication across activities.

o Use peers to promote communication and interaction.

o Check for understanding in communicative and instructional exchanges.