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Deaf-Blind Americans Have Developed a New Language

November 3, 2016

While Braille may be a useful tool to the blind and sign language useful to the deaf, have you ever wondered about those who are both deaf and blind? Most alternative methods for communicating involve one of the other non-affected senses. However for those who can only rely on their senses of touch, smell, and taste, communication can be extremely difficult.

Pro-tactile ASL is a newer language developed in only the past few years. It is not widely used or well known as of yet, but it is a way for Deaf-Blind people to more easily communicate with others, including one another. The practice typically involves a translator who uses ASL. While signing, the Deaf-Blind individual loosely places their hand on top of the signer's. When they want to respond, they tap out a response on their interpreter's body, anywhere from their knees up to their shoulders. The interpreter then signs the response, again in ASL.

This type of conversation can be fascinating to watch and leave those who don't sign bewildered. Regardless, it is catching on as a new way for these individuals to communicate with the world around them. “Prior to 2007, Deaf-Blind people rarely communicated directly with one another,” said Terra Edwards, an anthropological linguist at Gallaudet, in a 2011 interview with the Wenner-Gren Foundation.

Surprising to most, there are roughly 50,000 DeafBlind individuals living in the United States currently. For much of the past 30 years they have relied heavily on finger-spelling (the method Helen Keller used), Braille, and physically tracking ASL as their primary methods of communications. Also surprising is that many Deaf-Blind individuals with even a small amount of vision would fake that they were sighted and follow ASL so as not to be discriminated by sighted deaf people.

We're hoping this new form of communication will bring down barriers and open doors for members of the Deaf-Blind community.

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