Deafblindness involves a combined vision and hearing loss, to the extent that neither of these primary information-gathering senses (vision or hearing) compensates for the loss of the other sense. The educational and functional impact of these combined losses on each student will vary depending upon the degree and type of vision and hearing losses, the stability of the losses, the age of onset of each loss, the presence or absence of additional disabilities, and the quality of educational services provided. It is critically important to understand that the student’s vision and hearing losses are not additive in nature (deafness plus blindness), but rather are multiplicative (deafness times blindness). Therefore, sometimes even students with seemingly mild simultaneous vision and hearing losses can be greatly impacted by them (Huebner, Prickett, Welch, & Joffee, 1995; McInnes & Treffry, 1982).
Deafblindness creates a disability of access to the visual and auditory information about the environment (people, things, events) that is necessary for learning, communication, and overall development. Consequently, incidental information (visual and auditory information which sighted and hearing students receive automatically without effort) is not readily accessible to students with combined vision and hearing loss. Instead of effortlessly receiving a flow of information like others, these students must work to attend, gather, and interpret partial amounts of information which are often distorted and incomplete. Without clear and consistent information, the brain cannot function normally and learning cannot occur naturally. As a result, students who are deafblind have a difficult time connecting with and understanding the world, and often experience significant isolation and limited opportunities for self-determination (Alsop, Blaha, & Kloos, 2002; Robinson et al., 2000).
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