California Deafblind Services
Maurice: Deaf-blind or deafblind: Why We Still Use the Hyphen09/04/2009 13:07
When searching websites and resources about deaf-blindness, you may wonder why you sometimes see deaf-blindness spelled with a hyphen and at other times without (i.e., deaf-blind and deafblind). There is an opinion that by merging the two words into one without a hyphen, the new word more accurately reflects the uniqueness of the disability. Deaf-blindness isn’t simply deafness plus blindness; the combination of the two creates something that is bigger and more significant than the parts of the whole.
I understand the rationale for merging the two words. At CDBS, however, we made the decision many years ago to follow the lead of the American Association of the Deaf-Blind (AADB), which is the largest consumer group in the U.S. of teens and adults who are deaf-blind. AADB currently spells deaf-blindness with a hyphen. If it changes the spelling in the future, CDBS will follow their lead and make the change as well.
With that said, it is probably more important to understand what the term really means. I often say that to be told that a child is deaf-blind doesn’t really tell you much about how or what the child might actually see and hear. Visual and auditory information that is missing, decreased, and/or distorted can have a profound impact on how a child learns, communicates, and interacts with the environment. This is one of the reasons that CDBS uses a functional definition of deaf-blindness:
If an individual (birth through age 21) has combined hearing and vision problems that are significant enough to require considerations (such as specialized adaptations, modifications, and strategies) when presenting information or interacting with the child, then that child, along with family members and service providers, is eligible to receive services from CDBS.
You’ll note that here at CDBS, we don’t use our functional definition to label children as having deaf-blindness. That is a process best left to families and local education agencies. The functional definition simply states that if the definition is applicable to a child, then CDBS can provide services to assist the family and educational team to better meet that child’s unique, specialized needs.
Deaf-blindness is a confusing and scary term, and I know this is particularly true for families of children who have recently been diagnosed with vision and hearing issues. For this reason, I hear family members say that their children aren’t deaf-blind, but rather that their children have hearing and vision problems. Others ask us why we use the term at all. I would give two main reasons for continuing its use. The first is that, when a new child is entering a program, the term alerts teachers and administrators that there are critical sensory issues for the child that must be addressed if he or she is going to be fully integrated into the instructional day and the school community. Secondly, the term “deaf-blind” represents a community of children, youths, and adults throughout the world with a rich and proud history of success, innovation, creativity, courage, and undaunted spirit.
Maurice Belote, CDBS Project Coordinator