Teaching Students with Deaf-Blindness

There are many teaching strategies you can use to ensure effective and productive learning environments and experiences for all students, including those with disabilities. Accessible Education[i] is the process of designing courses and developing a teaching style to meet the needs of people who have a variety of backgrounds, abilities and learning styles. Just as there is no single way to teach, people learn in a variety of ways; using different instructional methods will help meet the needs of the greatest number of learners[ii].

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, you have a responsibility to learn about accessibility for persons with disabilities and how it relates to the development and delivery of accessible programs and courses.

The following are some practical tips for teaching students with deaf-blindness.

What does it mean if someone has deaf-blindness?

A person who has deaf-blindness has a greater or lesser extent of hearing and vision loss. This results in difficulties accessing information.

Persons with deaf-blindness use different communication methods. Persons with deaf-blindness may be accompanied by an intervenor, a professional who is trained in tactile sign language. This sign language involves touching the hands of the client using a two-handed, manual alphabet, also known as finger spelling.

Other persons with deaf-blindness may use American Sign Langauge (ASL) or Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ), or they may require small window interpreting (signing within a restricted range of vision). Some persons with deaf-blindness have some sight or hearing, and others have neither. Persons with deaf-blindness will probably let you know how to communicate with them. If you are unsure, ask.

Suggested tips on teaching a person with deaf-blindness

Suggestions for interacting one-on-one with a student with deaf-blindness

  • Patience, respect, and a willingness to find a way to communicate are your best tools.
  • When you approach a person with deaf-blindness, identify yourself and speak directly to them.
  • Ask permission before touching the individual, unless it is an emergency.
  • A service animal may accompany a person with a visual disability. Service animals are working and should not be distracted.
  • Speak directly to the person, not to the intervenor.
  • If you are not sure what to do, ask, “Can I help?”

Accommodating a student with deaf-blindness

As an educator, you have a responsibility to accommodate students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Requests for accommodation are made on an individual basis by students through the Office for Students with Disabilities and require medical and/or formal documentation.

The following are common academic accommodations that may be required for students with deaf-blindness. This list is not exhaustive and is not intended to replace the official request for academic accommodations as communicated by the Office for Students with Disabilities.

Remember that students with disabilities do not have to disclose their disability to their professors or anyone else in the academic environment in order to receive accommodations. Unless a student chooses to disclose to you the nature of his or her disability, you will only receive information on the accommodations the student is entitled to receive. It is important to familiarize yourself with the accommodation and the accessibility resources and protocols at your university to ensure you are following recommended practices.

Sources

Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Disability Information and Strategies

University of Ottawa, A Guide for Professors: Minimizing the Impact of Learning Obstacles

Trent University, Accessibility in Teaching: Strategies and Requirements for Supporting an Accessible Learning Environment

York University, Faculty Resource Guide: Teaching Students with Disabilities

[i] The term Accessible Education has been adopted to capture the value of two frameworks in improving the accessibility of university education: Universal Instructional Design (UID) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Both were informed by the architectural concept of Universal Design, which is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” (Center for Universal Design, The Principles of Universal Design)

“UID is not just about accessibility for persons with a disability – it’s about truly universal thinking – maximizing learning for students of all backgrounds and learner preferences while minimizing the need for special accommodations.” (University of Guelph, UID Implementation Guide)

“UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” (Center for Applied Special Technology, Universal Design for Learning)

[ii] Nilson, Linda B. (2010). Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors (3rd ed). John Wiley & Sons.

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