Deafblindness: Seeing and hearing life differently

April 28, 2016 by Karine Page
Human beings are born with five senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste. Each sense plays a different and specific role. Together, they provide lots of information essential to interpreting and experiencing everyday situations.

Unfortunately, some people have one or more senses that function poorly. They have to deal with more limited sensory perception than most other people. When more than one sense is affected, the constraints are greater.


Deafblindness is a sensory disability characterized by the loss of hearing and sight. This combination of degeneration occurs in different ways, and the severity of the loss of each sense can also vary from mild to moderate to severe. The condition can be congenital (present from birth) or appear with age. To date and despite medical advances, the prevalence rate for this disease is 30% in Canada. Age-related deterioration is observed in 80% of the people affected.

Compensating for the lack of visual and auditory information

A person whose hearing loss only affects comprehension will naturally use the other senses to compensate for the missing auditory information (e.g., taking in visual information by lip reading).

Deafblindness presents additional difficulties, despite the many ways to offset this deficit. Sufferers are deprived of both auditory and visual information, which makes it difficult (or even impossible) to rely on visual information to compensate for the loss of auditory information, or vice versa.

This sensory deprivation causes serious communication difficulties that deprive affected people of their everyday autonomy. This can lead to a growing tendency to seek isolation and a lack of interest in social activities.

Here are few tips to facilitate and optimize the social interactions and autonomy of people affected by deafblindness:
  • Encourage them to participate actively in all tasks and activities they can do, even if they need more time or concentration. Offer to help them if needed, without doing things for them.
  • Bring them to see an audiologist or an audioprosthetist. Hearing aids can help maximize their hearing potential. Know that in case of deafblindness, Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) pays for the cost of two hearing aids adapted to the hearing loss.
  • Ask for help from someone else or from a support person.
  • Make sure their home is adapted to their condition, and that they have access to assistive listening devices (ALDs) such as an adapted phone, vibrating alarm clock, a system with a light flashing when there is a fire alarm or the doorbell rings.

For more information about deafblindness and ways to maximize the hearing potential of those concerned, see a hearing health professional.

References :

Institut de réadaptation en déficience physique de Québec (IRDPQ),  “Surdicécité”. Consulted online in November 2015 at
Institut Nazareth & Louis Braille (juillet 2012). “La communication entre personnes ayant une surdicécité : comment la faciliter?”. Consulted online in November 2015 at–cit–.pdf
Institut Raymond-Dewar. Centre de réadaptation spécialisé en surdité et communication, (2008) “Les hallucinations et les pertes sensorielles”. Consulted online in November 2015 at