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FAQs About DeafBlind and Deafdisabled

It is important to remember that there are varying levels of combined hearing and vision loss for deafblind students. When determining appropriate accommodations for virtual meetings or classes, it is vital that the deafblind student is included in the discussion. The U.S. Department of Education has also issued guidance on ensuring continuation of services in alternative communication formats (K-12 and postsecondary).

  • If the student utilizes interpreting services, refer to, “What strategies are available for deafblind students using interpreters?” for information on remote interpreting for deafblind students.

  • If the student uses braille, it is possible to provide remote speech-to-text if the student has a refreshable braille display that plugs into their computer.

  • If the student uses screen reader software (e.g. JAWS, ZoomText, NVDA) at school, ensure the student has access to the software at home. There are some free software versions available.

  • If the student uses a hearing assistive device, be sure they are able to connect and use the audio options available.

  • If the student uses a portable magnifier or CCTV, allow the student to continue to use it at home. Some vendors will allow schools to rent equipment that can be sent directly to the student’s home.

  • Allow the student to adjust font size, text, and background colors if using text-based chats. If remote speech-to-text services are being provided, make sure the output is set to the student’s preferences.

  • Provide accessible reading materials in the student’s preferred format. For example, make sure PDFs or other attachments are accessible for screen readers. Consider sending the student plain text documents. Add alternative text or image descriptions to pictures.

  • Ensure the Learning Management System (LMS, e.g. Canvas, Blackboard, Google Classroom) are accessible to deafblind students. If not, identify which LMS discussion boards are accessible. Consider alternative approaches, such as group email with threads.

  • Consider low-tech options, such as scanning and emailing documents between the teacher and student, or read material out loud over the phone.

Additional resources:

It is important to remember that there are varying levels of combined hearing and vision loss for deafblind students. Interpreters (tactile/protactile/low vision) and Support Service Providers (SSP) are considered essential workers, but the safety of the interpreter, SSP and deafblind student should always be a priority. Some interpreters and SSPs will continue to work using protective gear if everyone feels comfortable in doing so. The DeafBlind Interpreting National Training and Resource Center (DBI) discusses this in their COVID-19 statement. Some of the tips below are also from the New York Deaf Blind Collaborative.

Technology options:

  • Allow time for trial and error with technology in advance. Find what works best for the student and the interpreter. Multiple screens or windows may be needed to view the information and interpreter at the same time. When possible, do a test run of things before to make sure the set-up works.

  • Some videophones allow the deafblind student to zoom in to see the remote interpreter. If interpreters have access to a videophone, this would be a good method in providing remote interpreting.

  • Webcams may have the option to zoom in on the user. Make sure auto-focus is turned off, otherwise the video will become blurry when the interpreter moves on camera.

  • Other low vision aids may be used (e.g., digital magnifiers, smartphone apps, and tablet cameras with zoom in capabilities) to increase visual access on the screen.

For the remote interpreter:

  • Communicate in advance how the student can contact the interpreter if issues arise.

  • Ensure the interpreter's background is dark (e.g., black or dark blue) and solid with no patterns. Interpreters should wear solid, contrasting color to their skin tone. Wear shirts that are ¾ sleeve or longer, covering up to the neck.

  • Pace the sign language production, slow down fingerspelling and keep sign placement within a smaller frame.

  • Lighting is important! The interpreter should be illuminated from the front, without glare.

  • If tactile interpreters are needed, the interpreter could work remotely with the support person available in the home.

Additional resources: