Skip to content

Overview of Literacy for Children and Youth Who Are Deafblind

Overview of the impact of combined vision and hearing loss or deafblindness on children and youth and the implications for literacy.

A teacher uses tactile sign with a young girl.Deafblindness refers to a combined vision and hearing loss, but the effects vary extremely widely, depending on a number of factors.  A child who is deafblind may be able to read print and use speech to communicate or she may be a braille reader who is profoundly deaf. Frequently children and youth who are deafblind have additional disabilities and may not use symbolic communication.   Regardless of the particular situation for a given child, dual sensory impairment has a profound effect on learning, especially in relation to communication and concept development, which are the foundations of literacy.

Considerations Affecting the Impact of Deafblindness

Specific considerations which will help to determine the effect of the combined vision and hearing loss include the following:

  • How much vision does the individual have?
  • How much hearing does the individual have?
  • Is either of those losses progressive?
  • Are there medical considerations that affect learning?
  • Are there additional disabilities?
  • At what age did the individual lose vision and hearing?
  • Are assistive devices being used consistently?
  • How does the individual communicate?

Resources on Literacy for Students Who are Deafblind

Literacy for Children Who Are Deaf-Blind: Building a Foundation
National Center on Deaf-Blindness
This module is meant to be used in conjunction with the website Literacy for Children with Combined Vision and Hearing Loss. The website covers a full range of literacy skills, but this module focuses primarily on two topics: foundations for literacy and early emergent literacy.
Literacy for Persons Who Are Deaf-Blind   
National Center on Deaf-Blindness
Download as pdf.
This article by Barbara Miles examines the importance of literacy for individuals who are deafblind, as well as the social functions of reading and writing.  The article also explores the conditions necessary for the development of literacy, which include:
  1. Observation of significant people reading and writing for a variety of purposes
  2. Meaningful conversations during literacy experiences
  3. Accessibility of literacy materials
  4. Connection of literacy to experiences and interests
  5. Regular opportunities for independent use of reading and writing materials
Literacy for Children with Combined Vision and Hearing Loss
National Center on Deaf-Blindness
Literacy skills checklistThis website is entirely devoted to literacy and deafblindness.  It includes a Literacy Skills Checklist, which can help direct users to the most relevant parts of the website.
Sections include:
  • Building a Foundation
  • Early Emergent Literacy
  • Emergent Literacy
  • Writing
  • Vocabulary Development
  • Comprehension
  • Increasing Fluency
  • Expanding Fluency
  • Planning

Functions of Reading and Writing—the WHY

by Barbara Miles
When we consider our reasons for reading and writing today, it is obvious that all persons require some level of literacy skills in order to function in society. Given appropriate materials and expectations, many students who are deafblind are able to gain proficiency in some (if not all) of the following areas (containing some form of symbols or print):
Function of Reading/Writing Example for student who is Deafblind
Organizing and supporting memory     calendars, lists
Acquiring information  newspapers, phone books
Instructions      recipes, directions
Financial negotiations      checks, bank statements
Entertainment:  comic books, magazines, internet  
Identifying things or places signs, labels, packages  
Self-expression, dealing with emotions  
creating/maintaining relationships  
letters, journals, emails  

Collage of Deafblind literacy

Student making orange juice with a teacher using a juicing machine.
Activity and strategy

Non-Visual Multi-Sensory Experiences for Students with Multiple Disabilities


Second Language Acquisition in Children with Vision and Hearing Loss


Bringing Literacy to Life Through Storyboxes