The population of those born deaf-blind in the United States is growing every year, but the term “deaf-blind” extends beyond lacking all vision or hearing. There is an estimated 50,000 children and adults in the deaf-blind community that are legally vision and hearing impaired but not all of them are completely without sight or hearing. There are thousands considered legally deaf-blind that have been diagnosed with several different conditions that were unlike anything that Helen Keller experienced. Helen Keller wasn’t born deaf-blind but at the age of 19 months old, due to a result of an unknown illness that has still yet to be determined, Keller lost all vision and hearing. In today’s world we are lucky to be capable of determining what can cause these impairments and thanks to Keller’s involvement with the American Foundation for the Blind(AFB), more studies were taken and rehabilitation centers were built after Keller decided to travel the United States in hopes to bring awareness to such a widely unknown disease.
It’s safe to say that Helen Keller’s experience as a social activist and the several autobiographies she authored created the deaf-blind movement and helped shape it into one of the most successful rehabilitation and welfare centers of the country. After traveling the United States to educate and bring awareness to those impaired, she decided to take her knowledge and personal experiences internationally in 1946.
What Causes People to Become Deaf-Blind?
Studies show that 50 percent of those diagnosed legally deaf-blind have Usher Syndrome, a genetic condition when a person is born deaf or hard of hearing, or with normal hearing and loses vision due to Retinitis Pigmentosa(RP). There are three known types of Usher Syndrome, the most commonly known type is when a person is born deaf and starts to lose their vision gradually as they get older. Type two is when they are born hard of hearing and loses vision in the later years, or type three when a person is born with normal vision and hearing and loses both senses later.
Usher Syndrome isn’t the only leading cause to deaf-blindness, other causes include birth trauma, optic nerve atrophy, cataracts, glaucoma, or diabetic retinopathy. However, most of these conditions only impair vision but it is possible to become hard of hearing later on.
Rehabilitation and Management
Thanks to Helen Keller’s movement in 1946 there is now an entire foundation built for educating you and those around you about deaf-blindness, and there’s also helpful facilities that do specialize in the rehabilitation for those visually impaired and/or hard of hearing. The first step to managing these impairments in your daily life begins with educating yourself, and the rest comes later. There are support groups that allow others with the same conditions to talk and share ideas or stories to help those still struggling with adjusting to their daily routines again. While being vision impaired can change your life drastically, little gadgets like a magnifying glass can aid in helping you read or write if not completely blind. There are tricks that help navigate like using a walking stick or the most common kind of caregiver, a service dog.
Now being hard of hearing or completely deaf can be tricky in its own ways as well, if your vision isn’t impaired there are nifty tools that transmit sound into visual flashes or alerts to notify you when a doorbell has been rung or a phonecall is being made. For those that are completely deaf-blind, although we’re in a new age of technology, pagers still exist and are still extremely effective when wanting the help of a caretaker or friend. These pagers notify our loved ones that we need some assistance and are especially useful in public when it might be harder to convey your needs without yelling.
If you or a loved one is struggling with deaf-blindness the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) offers services such as aiding in finding a job, support groups, educational groups, and provide resources for individuals or families.