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TOUCH and Deaf-Blind People. Chapter 4.1.5. Overview. As Deaf people have been called visual people, DB people may be called tactile people. Touch is used for orientation, for language, for connection to the environment and to other people, and for pleasure.

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TOUCH and Deaf-Blind People

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Touch and deaf blind people

TOUCH and Deaf-Blind People

Chapter 4.1.5



  • As Deaf people have been called visual people, DB people may be called tactile people.

  • Touchisusedfororientation,forlanguage, for connection to the environment and to other people, and for pleasure.

  • Touch is used to add to what one receives through hearing and vision.

Many uses of touch


Feeling things

Feeling Things

Sighted-Hearing people use touch too, of course.

  • They use it to get more information, to verify what we see/hear

  • For connection to others

  • For pleasure

    DB people use it for these and additional purposes.





Looking at

‘Looking at..’

Interesting to touch

Interesting to Touch

This DB woman has added a piece of art to the handle of her cane.

Touch for connection to people

Touch for connection (to people)

Touch is not always obvious

Touch is not Always Obvious

  • Look at the picture on the next page. The man has tunnel vision; the woman is his SSP.

  • While he takes in information through his vision he is also aware of her stance, her orientation and her movement through the touch of her forearm.

Touch is not always obvious cont

Touch is not Always Obvious, cont.

Elbows knees

Elbows & Knees

  • The same is true of the two women in the next photo. The woman on the left has tunnel vision; the woman seated next to her is her SSP. Notice how their knees touch.

  • Another DB person reaches out a hand for her attention.

Elbows knees cont

Elbows & Knees, cont.

Feeling breath

Feeling Breath

A kiss

A Kiss

Beautiful to touch

Beautiful to Touch

Touching is experiencing just as seeing is experiencing. Some people like dogs or catsandfindpettingthemtobepleasurable. Lyinginfreshwarmgrasscanfeelwonderful.

The sense of touch


The sense of touch1

The Sense of Touch

  • Location

  • Texture

  • Temperature

  • Size and shape

  • Movement

Scanning focusing

Scanning & Focusing

In the next slide the DB woman first scans the sign to see its size and any tactile markings and then reads the Braille.

Scan then focus

Scan then Focus

Touch for orientation balance


  • When you leave the deaf-blind person for a few minutes, think about where you leave them and what they have to touch for information (orientation) and balance.

  • The edge of a table, back of a chair, wall, or a post are all examples.

  • If the deaf-blind person would like to sit down, make sure it is in a comfortable place (not in the hot sun, in a draft etc.)

Touch for orientation

Touch for Orientation

Touch for orientation 2

Touch for Orientation 2

Para linguistic signals


Tactile signals

Tactile Signals

  • The two DB women in the next slide are talking when someone enters the room.

  • The woman on the left felt this & touches her companion on the knee to signal “hold” as she looks toward the newcomer.

  • At the same time, the (sighted) man on the right is beginning to reach – to provide the same information.

Tactile signals1

Tactile Signals

Back channeling


  • Back-channeling is a universal feature of communication. In spoken English we say “un-huh, mmm, really!” and so on to show we are listening and understanding what is being said. This is a common feature of languages.

  • Even large audiences are monitored for signs of interest, understanding or the lack of either.

Back channeling 2

Back-Channeling 2

The woman on the left makes a comment to the (hearing) man while the interpreter on the right touches her elbow to signal his acknowledgement.

Touch and culture


The db community has rules

The DB Community has Rules

Public touch includes:

  • Hands & wrists

  • Forearms

  • Hand to Shoulder

  • Hand to the back

  • When seated – knees

  • Hand to elbow when guiding

Public private

Public / Private

  • Private touch requires either intimacy (youalreadyhaveacloserelationship),or

  • Permission – a direct request to touch your hair, to see your haircut for example

Communicating talking

Communicating - Talking

Touch and deaf blind people


Touch and deaf blind people


Friends hugging “Goodbye”



What is appropriate touch depends on the situation.

Some Variables:

  • What you are doing.

  • Whether you are in a group of DB people or in a more “Hearing” environment.

  • The gender and relationship of you and the person you are with.

Think about these cultures or cultures and touch

Think about these Culturesor ‘cultures’ and Touch

  • Italians

  • British

  • Arabs

  • Americans

  • Germans

  • Japanese

Think about touch and these regions and members of these professions region profession

Think About Touch and These Regions and Members of these Professions.Region Profession

  • Southern California

  • Kansas-Missouri

  • New York City

  • Actors, Dancers

  • Doctors

  • Librarians

  • Attorneys

Touch and meaning

Touch and Meaning

The meaning of touch is cultural, individual and situational.

  • Families vary in terms of their cultural heritage.

  • Eachofusasindividualsalsohaveourown history regarding touch and its meaning.

  • Parents and children, spouses, sisters, football teammates have special relationships.

Entering the db community

Entering the DB Community

  • Joining the DB Community means leaving your old comfort zone, entering a new ‘world,’ and learning to experience things in a different way.

  • Depending on your background and personality this will be more or less challenging.

Addition not subtraction


Adding touch

Adding Touch

  • Adding touch does not mean giving up vision or hearing although some deaf-blind people fear this.

  • This is parallel to the resistance to Sign Language in the fear that it will result in reduced use of hearing and speech.

Pressure to be normal

Pressure to be ‘Normal’

  • There is always pressure (on all of us) to ‘fit-in’ – to appear part of the ‘middle’ and not stand out as different.

  • DB people feel this pressure to stay “sighted” as long as possible and not appear too different.

  • To embrace touch is to embrace being deaf and blind – not easy.



Beginning to get comfortable:

  • Side by side touch of arms and knees.

  • Touchontheshoulderorelbowforaguide.

  • UsingtactileSignindarkordimlylitareas.

  • Using tactile Sign in close spaces such as the car.

    Communicating through touch in these situations eases the transition.

New perception

New Perception

  • As an SSP you will learn to “see” through the eyes of the DB person – what would beuseful,interestingorbeautifultothem.

  • You will begin to be more aware of touch and its meaning.

  • Youwilllearntousetouchtocommunicate more than just through sign language.

  • You will learn to “think tactually”.



  • In conclusion: Touch is a big part of Deaf-Blind culture just as vision is a big part of the Deaf culture.

  • To understand and use touch appropriately you must become familiar with the DB Community and DB Communication.

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