The federal definition of deafblindness is "concomitant hearing and visual impairments, the combination that creates such severe communication and other developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education in programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness." FR Dept. of Education, 34 CFR Parts 300 & 303. Vol. 64, No. 48.
Deafblindness may also be described as "dual sensory loss," "combined vision and hearing loss," "multiple disabilities sensory impaired." Regardless of what label we use, individuals with deafblindness are at a severe disadvantage. Individuals with hearing loss rely on the vision to access information. Individuals with vision loss rely on their hearing to access information. For individuals with a combined vision and hearing loss, they are unable to rely on either their vision or their hearing to access information accurately.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has adopted the federal definition of deafblindness to also be the state definition of deafblindness. It is important to know that a child who is identified as having a combined vision and hearing loss may not necessarily meet the state eligibility criteria for a child with a vision loss or a child with a hearing loss.
There are currently 202 children on the Wisconsin Deafblind Registry. Of these 202 children, 87% have severe multiple disabilities and most likely being served in a classroom for children with Cognitive Disabilities. These children often have a diagnosed syndrome or have what is known as Cortical Visual Impairment. Many children with Cortical Visual Impairment also present with auditory processing delays. These children often startle to new noises, respond very favorably to music and "sing-songy" interactions, seem unable to process speech or have delayed responses to spoken directives, and tend to respond more consistently to familiar voices. We look at these children as having a combined vision and hearing loss. Why? It is necessary to use implement strategies and interventions that include additional sensory systems (touch, smell) and don't rely solely on the auditory and visual pathways to access information.
If you have a child or work with a child that fits any of the descriptions above, please consider making a referral to the Wisconsin Deafblind Technical Assistance Project (WDBTAP).