What is Deaf-Blindness?

The federal definition of Deaf-Blindness states: "Children and youth having auditory and visual impairments, the combination of which creates such severe communication and other developmental and learning needs that they cannot be appropriately educated in special education programs solely for children and youth with hearing impairments, visual impairments, or severe disabilities, without supplementary assistance to address their educational needs due to these dual, concurrent disabilities." 34 CFR 300.5 (b) (2)


For the North Dakota Dual Sensory Project, this generally means that children ages birth through 21 would likely have documented vision and hearing losses with the following criteria:

  • Have documented hearing loss (mild to profound degree) and vision losses (low vision to  legal blindness)
  • Have a diagnosed syndrome or pathology that impacts hearing and vision
  • Have multiple disabilities that impact central processing abilities as demonstrated by inconclusive vision and hearing responses during evaluations or in their natural environment


Nationally, over 90% of the children and youth on the census who are deaf-blind have additional disabilities (Killoran, 2007), resulting in a population with complex, diverse needs. This places this group of students among the most vulnerable, at-risk students because they have varying degrees of hearing and vision losses, in addition to other significant disabilities and health issues. While most children learn incidentally through observation, interaction with others, and overhearing, children who are deaf-blind require specialized instruction. The delivery of appropriate services for individuals who are deaf-blind requires knowledge and training of the impact on the development of the child. In addition it requires a set of effective instructional strategies, accommodations, and assistive technologies to meet the unique needs and learning styles of the children.


Behaviors that may indicate a dual sensory loss

The following questions are designed to help parents and professionals determine if there is a suspicion of a hearing and vision loss. Every child who is suspected of having these behaviors should receive comprehensive hearing and vision assessments.

Does the child or student:

  • Often bump into persons and objects?
  • Have difficulty walking or crawling smoothly across shadows or areas that are different like carpet or tile?
  • Need to touch or have an object close to the face to identify it?
  • Prefer only brightly colored or shiny objects?
  • Have difficulty reaching for and grasping objects in a coordinated manner?
  • Squint, cover, or close one eye when looking at objects?
  • Lose interest or tire easily when performing tasks?
  • Usually turn toward a light source?
  • Fail to recognize and respond to familiar faces?
  • Have difficulty following moving objects with eyes?
  • Have eyes that are red or watery, not clear?
  • Fail to react to loud noise?
  • Frequently ask to have things repeated or follow directions incorrectly?
  • Have difficulty locating the sources of sound?
  • Seem confused when verbal directions are given in noisy environments such as playgrounds or school cafeterias?
  • Indicate agreement (nods head) when you know the individual does not understand what was said?
  • Fail to recognize and respond appropriately to words or common home noises (telephone, door knock)?
  • Intently watch the speaker at all times?

If you observe two or more of these criteria with no other reasonable explanation, please contact project staff.


Deaf-Blind Census

The U.S. Department of Education mandates that the ND Dual Sensory Project staff conduct a census of children ages birth through 21 who are deaf-blind. This census is conducted annually and the information is used for regional, statewide, and national planning to develop appropriate services and funding for infants, children, and youth who are deaf-blind. Data are collected on the ages and co-occurring conditions of the children, along with information about their educational placements, access to statewide assessments, current living settings, and access to and use of assistive technology.


Project staff use the information to make decisions about trainings needed, technical assistance to be provided, and issues on which to advocate for the educators, families and children. For example, if a large portion of the census is children in transition to post-secondary services, project staff could provide training on creating effective transition plans, on strategies for accessing the general education high school curriculum, or methods for employment skill development.


The census information is kept confidential and non-personal identifiers are used in the information that is sent to the National Center on Deaf Blindness. To see the previous reports, go to https://nationaldb.org/groups/page/11/national-child-count .