There are a range of literacy issues that come from dual sensory disability, however as with the general community, literacy standards within the deafblind community vary enormously.
Where Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is a person’s first language, they may have difficulty reading and writing in English. If people are blind and don’t know braille, all their information is gathered audibly, and this can result in poor spelling. On the other hand, if they know braille or have had good hearing or good sight, their literacy may be of a high standard.
People with deafblindness use a range of communication techniques. An ability to communicate is essential. Communication can be through an interpreter, note taker or both. Communication styles vary.
Auslan is widely used and often a deafblind person uses a modified Auslan where they sign in a confined area within their vision, called visual field signing. Where a person is unable to use their vision, they can modify Auslan further using tactile sign. To do this they place their hand over the hand of the signer to feel or ‘read’ the signs. If Auslan is not their first language, the deafblind person may communicate by spelling the alphabet into the palm of a person’s hand. This is called deafblind fingerspelling.
Some people with deafblindness have enough hearing to be able to speak and they usually have hearing aids.
In an education setting some people may prefer to communicate through typing on a computer, even using a chat program. Email and internet access are removing the barriers to information and making it easier for people with deafblindness to access courses in higher education and in the community. Communication is possible with email or even SMS text.
An interpreter must be sensitive to the needs of people who are deafblind and make changes to their signing to make sure the person can ‘read’ what they are saying.