Interpreting for Individuals Who Are Deaf-Blind

The spectrum of consumers who utilize Deaf-Blind interpreting services consists of individuals with differing degrees of vision loss and hearing loss. The amount and type of vision and hearing a person has determines the type of interpreting that will be most effective for that individual. Environmental factors must be taken into account in order for effective communication to take place. In addition, many Deaf-Blind individuals require support service providers (defined below) in order to fully access the environment. Each of these factors, as well as considerations for hiring interpreters, is explained below.

There is a continuum of vision and hearing loss among people who are Deaf-Blind. Persons within this community are not necessarily fully deaf or fully blind. Some Deaf-Blind people have a substantial amount of usable vision while others have little (limited vision and/or legally blind) or no usable vision (blind). The same is true regarding the degree of hearing. Individuals may be hard-of-hearing with usable hearing while others are profoundly deaf. The range and degree of both hearing loss and vision loss will determine critical communication factors between the consumer and the interpreter.

Factors that contribute to the diversity in communication within the Deaf-Blind community include:

  • type, degree and age of onset of hearing and vision loss
  • whether current vision and/or hearing is stable, progressive or fluctuating
  • level of language competencies in American Sign Language (ASL) or other signed
  • language systems and/or English
  • family, ethnic, socio-economic and educational backgrounds
  • physical, cognitive or other disabilities

Interpreting for Deaf-Blind Individuals

The type and extent of the combined hearing and vision loss determines an individual’s mode of communication and needs regarding visual accommodations. Individuals who are Deaf-Blind employ one or more of the following communication modes:

  • sign language at close visual range (less than 4 feet) and/or within a limited visual space (often a small area including and just below the signer’s chin to signer’s chest)
  • sign language at a greater visual range (4-8 feet) to accommodate those individuals with limited peripheral vision
  • sign language received at close visual range with the use of tracking [hand(s) is/are placed on the interpreter’s wrists/forearms for the receiver to maintain signs within their visual range] sign language received by sense of touch with one or two hands (tactile)
  • fingerspelling received by sense of touch (tactile)
  • Print-on-Palm (capital block letters drawn on the palm)
  • speechreading at close visual range
  • hearing with assistive listening devices
  • reading via text-based devices and services (e.g., real-time captioning connected to a large visual display or refreshable Braille output)
  • sign supported speech

Experienced interpreters who work with Deaf-Blind people are knowledgeable about and sensitive to environmental factors that may significantly affect the interpreting process. Skilled Deaf-Blind interpreters are able to incorporate the speaker’s message while also transmitting visual, auditory and environmental stimuli that contribute to the context of the interpreted message.

Dependent on the Deaf-Blind consumer’s preference, the following components should be considered and may be incorporated during to the beginning of the meeting/workshop/conference:

  • the layout of the room (position of windows, color of walls/platform background, tables, chairs, doors)
  • specific visual background (signer’s shirt in contrast to skin color, high-necked collar, minimal jewelry/accessories)
  • seating positions (need for distance or proximity; logistics for teaming)
  • auditory factors (background noise; use of assistive listening devices)
  • identify who is speaking and location of the speaker
  • the speaker’s emotional affect and gestures
  • unspoken actions and reactions of people in the room
  • information from handouts, PowerPoint slides, other audiovisual materials
  • when a person enters or exits the room

The amount of information incorporated is at the discretion of the Deaf-Blind consumer and also requires considerable skill and judgment on the part of the interpreter

© Copyright 2002 Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc. Updated 2007.