How Deaf People and Blind People Communicate With Each Other

From tactile signing to a whole list of phone apps.

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Dec 1 2016, 3:21pm

How blind people and deaf people communicate with each other may at first seem tricky. In this YouTube video by The Tommy Edison Experience, Tommy Edison, who is blind, sits down with Rikki Poynter, who is deaf.

The easiest way to communicate, according to Edison, is through technology, specifically phone or computer apps. Poynter uses one app called Make it Big. The app is simple—it enlarges text in order to take up the entire phone screen so that a deaf person can see what is said in a flash, rather than having to read the small print in something like a text message.


Edison also uses the voice over function on the iPhone, which allows him to dictate his words so that a deaf person can see them on the screen. He also commands the phone to read the messages, which he can't see, back to him.

Without the use of technology, blind and deaf people can try to talk directly to one another if, for instance, the deaf person has limited hearing in one ear, or can attempt to read lips. Poynter said that only 30 to 40 percent of the English language can be read on the lips and that's not a 100 percent guarantee. That comes with being under proper lighting and not being surrounded by lots of background. Poynter said that, personally, she cannot lip read well herself.

Another obvious option is to get an interpreter who knows sign language and can sign what the blind person said to the deaf person, or who can read the deaf person's signs and vocally translate them to the blind person.

A deaf person and blind person can also engage in tactile signing, which involves touching each other's hands while signing in order to feel what the other person is saying. But in the end, it's still easier to go mobile for the people who have access to devices.

Some apps accommodate those who are hard of hearing or seeing. Hamilton Captel, for example, is for those who can't hear well over the phone, allowing them to listen to the conversation while reading word-for-word captions of what's being said. Another app, Talkback, helps blind people hear what they are doing on their phone by talking them through the phone's actions. Other apps included Color ID Free, which has users point their phones at an object to find out what color it is. Light Detector, meanwhile, makes a sound when near a light source. And VM alert is a motion detector that notifies the user when something is approaching them.

Hopefully, as technology continues to evolve, we will continue to see more useful and inclusive communication systems in our everyday devices.

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