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About Deafblindness

Acquired Deafblindness

In medical terms the word “acquired” refers to a condition or a disease that affects a person after birth. “Congenital” refers to when an individual is born with a condition.

When the word “acquired deafblindness” is used it generally refers to adults who have become deafblind later in their life. The person was not born with this condition. It is sometimes called “acquired dual sensory impairment (ADSI). It can also be called “acquired dual sensory loss” (ADSL).

“Acquired deafblindness” refers to a combination of vision and hearing loss after a person learns to communicate. This may be using speech or using sign language. Sometimes, a child becomes deafblind before developing language. They are considered congenitally deafblind. See “Congenital deafblindness” for more information.

People who are not totally deaf and blind sometimes don’t like the term “deafblind”. They may prefer “Acquired Dual Sensory Loss” or “Acquired Dual Sensory Impairment”.

There are three types of acquired deafblindness which result from different causes:

  1. A person who is born deaf or hard of hearing and later their vision starts to deteriorate
  2. A person who is born blind or vision impaired and later their hearing starts to deteriorate
  3. A person who is born with vision and hearing and later loses both senses (not always at the same time)

For more information see “About Deafblindness”.

When people develop acquired deafblindness, they may need rehabilitation services to maintain independence. The person’s prior communication skills and daily living skills will help decide what new skills and modifications are needed.

For a person who is born Deaf or hard of hearing and who loses vision, learning language will depend on their level of hearing:

  • When a person is born Deaf they may learn to use visual forms of communication. This includes the use of lip reading and/or manual signs such as Australian Sign Language (Auslan). Auslan is a language in its own right being the first language used by people in the Deaf Community. People with an intellectual disability may use Key Word Sign (formerly known as Makaton).
  • When a person is born hard of hearing (or hearing impaired) a person may wear a hearing aid or a cochlear implant. Although, this depends on the level and type of hearing loss. They may be missing conversations and be unable to rely on speech alone. Lip reading may help to fill in the gaps.
  • Usher Syndrome is a hereditary condition where a person is born Deaf or hard of hearing. A person with a condition like this may start to lose vision in their teens or early 20’s. This is through Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP).

A person who is born blind or vision impaired and later their hearing starts to deteriorate:

  • A person who is born blind or vision impaired may use their hearing to compensate. For example:
    • relying on their listening skills in conversations,
    • using audio feedback on television or radio, or
    • listening to talking books.

With advances in technology, there are now many assistive technology options available. These include options for speech reading software on computers and other equipment.

  • A person who is blind or vision impaired may have learnt orientation and mobility skills. These skills might include using a cane or a guide dog. Also, making best use of their hearing to identify auditory cues when out and about.
  • For people with some functional vision, they may use their vision to be independent in everyday life.

A person who is born with vision and hearing and later loses both senses (not always at the same time):

  • Most people will use speech as their main way of communicating because they could see and hear.
  • After an accident or injury, getting a disease or ageing (getting older) a person can lose their sight (vision) and hearing. Most people will still have a bit of vision and hearing they can use.
  • The amount of useful vision and/or hearing that a person keeps will be different for everyone. When people get older, how much and how fast they lose their vision and /or hearing will be different too.