The term deafblindness describes a condition that combines in varying degrees both hearing and visual impairment. Two sensory impairments multiply and intensify the impact of each other creating a severe disability which is different and unique.
All deafblind people experience problems with communication, access to information and mobility. However, their specific needs vary enormously according to age, onset and type of deafblindness.
Deafblind people are unable to use one sense to fully compensate for the impairment of the other. Thus they will require services which are different from those designed exclusively for either blind people or deaf people.
What is deafblindness?
Deafblindness is not simply deafness plus blindness, but a specific disability. The fact that a person has a hearing loss of 20 per cent and a vision loss of 10 per cent doesn’t mean a deafblindness of 30 per cent but some 90 per cent. This happens because sight and hearing are the two reference senses: it is through them that we learn and develop our intelligence during the first stages of development.
The simultaneous loss or impairment of both senses multiplies therefore the disability of the person who suffers it.
Deafblindness may have a congenital or acquired origin. Not all deafblind people are 100 per cent deafblind, there are several degrees, but we can say that 5 per cent of all cases are completely deafblind.
Deafblind people have no contact with reality, since they lack the senses which make this link possible. As a consequence, they are people who cannot be self-sufficient and require a 24 hour support (1 to 1).
The European socio-health system has few centres specialized in this disability, consequently most of
these people end up in centres for mentally han-dicapped people, while they are not. Nevertheless, many of them will end up in these centers due to the lack of appropriate stimulation for their disability: psychotic outbreaks, self-harm, behaviour problems…
In most cases, dependence on family is almost total. However, and what is more serious, 1/3 of these families are mother-only families.
Most European countries don’t have a deafblind census. The incidence rate of this disability, by reference to the countries around us, is 40 cases per 100.000 population.