What To Know About Communications Devices for Deaf-Blind People

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 25, 2022
4 min read

People with deaf-blindness have both hearing and visual impairments. Some deaf-blind people have profound blindness and deafness, while others can use their hearing and vision to varying extents. This condition can make it challenging for affected individuals to communicate with others. Luckily, recent advances in communication technology make it easier for deaf-blind people to communicate with and understand other people. 

Deaf-blind people can use a broad range of hearing and vision aids to communicate. These devices improve quality of life by allowing people in the deaf-blind community to convey their needs and interact with others. Below, learn about popular communication devices for deaf-blind people.

Most deaf-blind people can still hear and see to some extent, but the severity of sensory impairment varies from person to person. Deaf-blindness can impact communication and social interactions in numerous ways. For example, individuals with this condition may face any of the following:

  • Avoiding social activities 
  • Being overprotected by caretakers, family members, and teachers
  • Being unable to perceive or understand some forms of communication 
  • Experiencing high rates of anxiety, depression, or stress due to communication challenges 
  • Feeling isolated or ostracized
  • Finding it difficult to communicate with large groups or in loud settings 
  • Getting ignored by people without hearing and vision impairments who don’t want to put in the effort to communicate
  • Having reduced self-confidence 
  • Struggling to follow changing topics in conversation 
  • Withdrawing from social interactions out of fear of miscommunicating 

Communication devices can help deaf-blind people overcome these challenges and interact more easily with others.

Individuals with deaf-blindness can use assistive technologies to perform daily activities involving visual information, such as reading books and writing text messages. These devices promote accessibility, independence, and social inclusion. 

Examples of communication devices for people with vision impairments include: 

  • Refreshable braille display. This device uses a series of pins to translate information from a computer braille display or smartphone. The pins move up and down on braille cells to convey information from the screen. 
  • FaceToFace. This application facilitates face-to-face communication between a person with impaired vision and a sighted or deaf-blind braille user. You can install the software on your computer. The sighted person can use the keyboard to type words in braille, and the conversation will appear in braille on the computer screen for the blind person. 
  • Screen reader applications. These software programs use a braille display or screen synthesizer to help people with impaired vision interpret information on a computer or smartphone. For example, an individual with deaf-blindness can use a screen reader to understand emails and text messages. 
  • Talking book players. The Royal National Institute of Blind People developed these audio book players to help blind and partially sighted people who can’t read print books. These specially designed players have easy-feel buttons and navigation features like bookmarks. 

With the help of communication technology, a deaf-blind person can browse social media, read emails, write text messages, and engage in other forms of communication.

Assistive technologies allow people with deaf-blindness to understand audio and spoken language. Popular examples of communication tools for deaf people include: 

  • Hearing aids. A person with a hearing impairment can insert these tiny devices into or behind the ear. Traditional hearing aids contain microphones that amplify sound and direct it into the ear canal. Patients can also have a hearing system surgically implanted into their ear. These devices translate audio into an electrical signal or vibration, which travels to the inner or middle ear. 
  • Personal amplifiers. These smartphone-sized devices amplify sound and decrease background noise, allowing people with deaf-blindness to concentrate on essential noises more easily. For example, individuals can use a personal amplifier while driving a car or watching TV. 
  • Visual alert signalers. These devices detect important household sounds, such as a crying child or a ringing telephone. When the signaler senses audio, it will flash a light or vibrate to attract attention. 

These innovative communication devices make it easier for people with partial or total deafness to interpret spoken words and other sounds.

Hearing-impaired telephones allow people with hearing loss to speak with hearing people through a landline or smartphone. There are two main types of assistive phone technologies: 

  • Captioned phones. A captioned telephone service has a live assistant who listens in on a phone call and uses speech recognition technology to transcribe spoken words. The transcribed text appears on the captioned phone, just like captions on a television. 
  • Hearing-aid compatible phones. A cell phone with hearing aid compatibility won’t cause staticky interference noises when used with a hearing aid. Some phones can also pair with a telecoil, a device implanted in some hearing aids. A telecoil can detect magnetic fields from the phone and translate this information into sound. 

Hearing-impaired phones make it easier for individuals with hearing loss to communicate with 911 operators, doctors, family members, and others. People with both hearing loss and visual impairment may benefit from assistive technology incorporating refreshable braille displays.

The National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, or iCanConnect, is a federal program for low-income people with both severe hearing and vision loss. The program provides these people with free assistive communication devices and training. 

Examples of free equipment offered by iCanConnect include: 

  • Accessories like Bluetooth devices, keyboards, and speakers
  • Amplified speaker phones 
  • Braille devices that can pair with mobile devices and connect to Wi-Fi
  • Computers
  • Large monitors 
  • Screen magnifier programs 
  • Screen readers
  • Signalers
  • Smartphones
  • Tablets

You may be eligible for the iCanConnect program if you meet specific income requirements and have significant hearing and vision loss. You can visit the website to see if you qualify and apply to receive free assistive technologies. 

Innovative communication devices can significantly improve the lives of people with hearing and vision impairments. These technologies empower deaf-blind people to access information, communicate with others, and navigate the world with more confidence and ease.