The disability category for children who are diagnosed as both deaf and blind under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is rather rare. Approximately 10,000 children across the United States have been diagnosed with both disabilities. The term deaf/blind may indicate that a person cannot see or hear at all. The term really describes a person who may have some degree of loss in both vision and hearing.
Under IDEA, the nation’s special education law, this term is defined as “concomitant (occurring simultaneously) hearing and visual impairments, the combination of which causes such severe communication and developmental and educational needs that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness. [&300.8(c)(2)].
The National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness states that the “key feature of deaf-blindness is that the combination of losses limits access to auditory and visual information.” This combination of disabilities can severely limit a child’s opportunities for learning, socializing and communicating with others.
For children diagnosed with both disabilities from birth to age 3, early intervention services under the Infants and Toddlers with Disabilities program (also known as Part C) of IDEA may be provided. Early intervention is essential to address the child’s unique developmental and learning needs as well as provide support to the family. Services for early interventions are provided either free of charge or are based on a sliding cost scale depending on the family’s income. Once the child turns three years of age, services are provided free of charge through the public school system.
Generally communication is one of the major areas which is critically affected by the dual diagnosis of deaf-blindness and it is usually the highest priority in the child’s educational programming. The communication systems may include signals, tactile sign language, object symbols, tactile symbol systems or Braille. Children diagnosed with both blindness and deafness generally use a variety of adaptive assistive technology devices to better acquire learning.
Some of the services which may be required depending on the child’s unique needs include: teacher of the visually impaired, teacher of the hearing impaired, orientation and mobility instructor, regular and special education classroom teachers, instructional aide, behavior specialist, school psychologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist and other related service providers such as speech/language therapist and audiologist.
Since the co-existing diagnosis of deafness and blindness is considered a low-incidence disability, it is important for you the parent to inform your local school district of your child’s diagnosis before your child reaches the age of three. This is essential so that all critical services are available upon your child reaching their third birthday.