Deafness is the inability to understand speech, even in the presence of amplification. In profound deafness, even the highest intensity sounds produced by an audiometer (an instrument used to measure hearing by producing pure tone sounds through a range of frequencies) may not be detected. In total deafness, no sounds at all, regardless of amplification or method of production, can be heard.
Someone who does not hear well is referred to as hard of hearing (HoH or HH). This may be due to being born with a partial inability to hear or to a diminished ability to hear later in life. Many hard of hearing people are unaware of the fact. Some simply deny it, even though they may know that their ability to hear has diminished. Some people who are completely deaf may consider themselves hard of hearing. In all, approximately 10% of all people are hard of hearing or deaf.
It is estimated that 28 million people in the U.S. are deaf or hard of hearing. The largest part of that group (perhaps 25 million or more) can hear well enough that, with proper hearing aids or assistive listening devices, they could use spoken language as their primary mode of communication.
DeafBlindness is the condition of little or no useful hearing and little or no useful sight. The term DeafBlind does not mean that someone has no vision and no hearing at all. Some may have low vision and no hearing. Others may have no vision and be hard of hearing. The way that a DeafBlind person communicates is largely based on how and when that person becomes deaf and blind, and the range of vision or hearing the person has. Many DeafBlind individuals who communicate using ASL have Usher Syndrome, a genetic disorder in which one is born deaf and gradually loses the ability to see over time.
A person who can hear and comprehend speech is referred to as hearing.
American Sign Language (ASL) is a language in its own right, not a form of signed English. Bearing in mind that a language and the culture in which it has developed are integral to one another, it will come as no surprise that there is a Deaf Culture.
“A set of learned behaviors of a group of people who have their own language, values, rules of behavior, and traditions.” (Padden, C. The Deaf Community and the Culture of Deaf People. Sign Language and The Deaf Community: Essays in Honor of Dr. William C. Stokoe, National Association of the Deaf, 1980.)
The primary values of American Deaf Culture are:
• A belief that American Sign Language is the most natural and effective way for deaf people to communicate, and that ASL is a beautiful language equal to any spoken language.
• A belief that deafness is not really a disability. In the words of Dr. I. King Jordan, the first deaf president of Gallaudet University (the world’s only liberal arts university for deaf and hard of hearing students): “Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear.”
• A belief in the value of the Deaf Community’s history and experience.
American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural language that serves as the predominant sign language of Deaf communities in the United States and most of Anglophone Canada. A natural language is any language that has evolved naturally in humans through use and repetition without conscious planning or premeditation. Natural languages can take different forms, such as speech or signing. They are distinguished from constructed and formal languages such as those used to program computers or to study logic.
• ASL is a complete language with its own syntax, morphology, and cultural base.
• ASL and English are separate languages. ASL is not a form of signed English.
• Sign languages are not universal, just as spoken languages are not universal. For example, deaf people in the United Kingdom communicate with one another primarily in British Sign Language.
• Sign language is a mode of language, just as written and spoken language are. Therefore, it is usually most appropriate to refer to the specific language, not simply sign language. For example:
• What language are they speaking? American Sign Language. [Not Sign language.]
• What language are they speaking? English. [Not Speech.]
ASL emerged as a language in what is now the American School for the Deaf (ASD), founded by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet in 1817, by bringing together Old French Sign Language, various village sign languages, and home sign systems. Although ASL was created in the melting pot of the ASD, it is distinct from its forerunners.
Although there may be some deaf people who may prefer some of the above terms, they are offensive to members of Deaf culture. When you take a look at the values of Deaf culture listed above, it is easy to see why. Terms like hearing-impaired and hearing loss focus on the negative; they are disabling instead of empowering. What’s more, these terms have been imposed on deaf people by the hearing world. The preferred terms are deaf and hard of hearing.
You might have noticed that sometimes the word deaf is capitalized and sometimes not. The word deaf with a lower-case d means simply that someone cannot understand speech, even in the presence of amplification. The word Deaf, with a capital D, refers to Deaf culture. If someone says, “I am Deaf,” it means a great deal more than “I cannot hear.” That person is self-identifying as a member of Deaf culture. Membership in Deaf culture has much more to do with values, belief, and language than it does with degree of ability to comprehend speech.
Terminology: What are the “proper” terms and definitions to be used in regard to deafness? The Deaf, the deafened, and the hard of hearing are all very distinct groups. Using the proper terminology shows respect for their differences. Developed by the Canadian Association of the Deaf—Association des Sourds du Canada.
The Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing was established to create an environment in which Idahoans of all ages who are deaf or hard of hearing have an equal opportunity to participate as active, responsible, productive, and independent citizens of Idaho.
Deaf Culture (PEPNet Tipsheet): A two-page overview handout, suitable for printing, written by Professor Linda Siple, Assistant Professor Leslie Greer, and Associate Professor Barbra Ray Holcomb, all of the Department of American Sign Language and Interpreting Education, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY.
Inside Deaf Cultureby Carol Padden and Tom Humphries (Harvard University Press, 2006). The authors trace the significant moments in the history of the American Deaf community, illuminating the efforts of Deaf Americans of all backgrounds to rise above the oppression and coercion they have faced at every turn.
Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture by Carol Padden and Tom Humphries (Harvard University Press, 1988): This excellent book, written by two Deaf authors, illuminates the tension between the Deaf and hearing views of deafness. An essential primer for any student of Deaf Culture.
See What I Mean: Differences Between Deaf and Hearing Cultures, 2nd edition (DVD; Eye to Eye Productions, 2009): Presented by Thomas K. Holcomb & Anna Mindess, this funny and entertaining video clearly shows the differences between Deaf and hearing cultures, with a little help from Miss Deaf Manners and Miss Hearing Manners. In case you are unable to borrow this DVD, it is available for purchase from the publisher.
Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf by Oliver Sacks (New York: HarperCollins, 1989): Why is this book is a classic in the field of Deaf Studies? Because Sacks weaves together history, linguistics, and a deep understanding of culture to create a compelling introduction to American Sign Language and Deaf culture for the uninitiated.
An Exploration of Deaf Culture in America: A world of silence. That’s often how those of us who can hear imagine deafness. But that silence contains a multitude of voices, with a shared history and language and a controversial future. NPR’s Neal Conan and guests discuss the history of the deaf community and the complex issues it currently faces. Guests:
•Carol Padden and Tom Humphries, coauthors, Inside Deaf Culture. Padden and Humphries are professors of communication at the University of California, San Diego.
•I. King Jordan, the first deaf President of Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.
Idaho Educational Services for the Deaf and the Blind: The IESDB was established in 1906, by what is now chapter 34, title 33, Idaho Code, with the purpose of providing supplemental educational services, early invention/education, consultation, and transition support to families and local school districts throughout the state of Idaho. The goal of the IESDB is to assist school districts and state agencies in providing accessibility, quality, and equity to students in the state with sensory impairments through a continuum of service and placement options. For all youth, from birth to 21 years of age, who are living with hearing or vision loss, including those with other disabilities and deafblindness, in the State of Idaho:
• The IESDB‘s residential and outreach programs provide a consortium of educational opportunities, services, and supports designed to ensure that these children achieve their highest potential.
Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., is a federally chartered private university for the education of students who are deaf or hard of hearing. The University is officially bilingual, with ASL and written English used for instruction and by the college community. Although there are no specific ASL proficiency requirements for undergraduate admission, many graduate programs require varying degrees of knowledge of the language as a prerequisite.
Gallaudet was the first school for the advanced education of the deaf and hard of hearing in the world and remains the only institution of higher learning in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Hearing students are admitted to the graduate school and a small number are also admitted as undergraduates each year. The university, named for Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, has continued to evolve since April 8, 1864, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation authorizing the establishment of a college for deaf and hard of hearing students in Washington, D.C.
U.S. News & World Report offers a profile, rankings, and data report for Gallaudet University as well as photos of the school’s 99-acre urban campus.
The term audism was coined by Deaf scholar Tom Humphries in 1977. He defines audism as “the notion that one is superior based on one’s ability to hear or to behave in the manner of one who hears.” Source: Communicating Across Cultures (deaf-hearing) and Language Learning. Doctoral dissertation. Cincinnati, OH: Union Institute and University, 1977.
Janice Humphrey and Bob J. Alcorn, authors of So You Want to be an Interpreter?: An Introduction to Sign Language Interpreting (Amarillo, TX: H&H Publishers, 1995), define audism as “an attitude based on pathological thinking which results in a negative stigma toward anyone who does not hear; like racism or sexism, audism judges, labels, and limits individuals on the basis of whether a person hears and speaks.”
Harlan Lane’s groundbreaking book, The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community (New York: Knopf, 1992) defines audism through its sweeping effects on American society: “The corporate institution for dealing with deaf people, dealing with them by making statements about them, authorizing views of them, describing them, teaching about them, governing where they go to school and, in some cases, where they live; in short, audism is the hearing way of dominating, restructuring, and exercising authority over the deaf community.”
Some scholars have proposed the term Deaf Gain as a response to the label hearing loss. Deaf Gain promotes a focus on the many contributions that deaf people and Deaf Culture have made to the larger society, rather than disregarding deaf people as broken or impaired.Watch this brief clip from the ABC Family television show, Switched at Birth to gain a better understanding of the concept of Deaf Gain. Switched at Birth is now available for streaming on Prime Video.
To gain a more in-depth understanding of audism, it is important to listen to the experiences of those who live with it every day. The one-hour documentary Audism Unveiled (DawnSignPress, 2008) is a powerful collection of these stories. The film is presented in American Sign Language, with captions for the signing-impaired. Audism Unveiled is available for purchase from Amazon.com.
Library patrons who are deaf want and use many of the same services and programs enjoyed by patrons who are hearing. It is important to keep in mind that the deaf patron may require some accommodations to gain full access to the library’s services, collections, and programs. These may include:
• Communicating with staff by writing on paper or by typing on a device.
• Telephoning the library through a video relay service (VRS).
• Requesting an ASL interpreter for library programs.
• Making use of clear visual signage to help navigate the library building.
• Captioning of videos or DVDs.
• If you have a television playing in any public area of your library, be sure to have the captions turned on at all times.
• Research shows that captioning helps all children, deaf or hearing, learn to read.
• Many people who are hard of hearing also rely on captioning to provide additional or interpretive information and descriptions of non-speech elements.
• Depending on a deaf patron’s proficiency level in English or in the presence of physical disabilities, additional accommodations may be required.
Whatever your library’s funding or staffing situation may be, every staff member can contribute to improving service to patrons who are deaf. For most deaf people, miscommunications and misunderstanding by hearing people are an everyday fact of life. Just by being willing to educate yourself about the needs of your deaf patrons, you are displaying a positive and open attitude that can lead the way to greater changes. This attitude of willingness and patience to take the time to provide equitable access to deaf and hard of hearing patrons is the most important factor in improving their library experience.
An innovative new resource and a model for library services to Deaf patrons is the Maryland Deaf Culture Digital Library, established as the “first stop” information center to provide Maryland residents, local public library staff, college and university librarians, and other libraries in the state of Maryland with access to:
• online resources on Deaf Culture,
• a comprehensive electronic collection of deaf resources,
• Deaf Cultural programs, and
• training programs for library staff.
A guide featuring resources for librarians and patrons is a feature of the DCDL website, comprising sections on ASL, Deaf Culture, Deaf History, Library Accessibility, and more. You can follow the Deaf Culture Digital Library on Facebook as well.
American Sign Language (ASL) is the preferred language of the majority of people who are deaf in the United States. For those whose first language is ASL, English is often a second language, so it is not always realistic to expect first-language fluency. Here are some tips for communicating with library patrons who are deaf.
If there is no one on your library’s staff who knows ASL, all is not lost. Here are some tips for communicating with patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing.
• Do not assume that every deaf person speechreads. Speechreading is quite a difficult skill to master and many deaf people do not find it effective beyond commonplace phrases like ‘How are you?’.
• Position yourself for visibility, in a well-lighted area.
• Be careful not to stand with your back to a window or other light source, as this makes speechreading and obtaining information from your facial expressions difficult.
• Look and speak directly to the patron, not to an interpreter.
• Avoid relying on hearing children to interpret for you. Interact directly with the adult, even if that means writing notes.
• Keep your face and lips visible.
• Make sure the deaf person is looking at you before you speak, sign, or gesture.
• Maintain eye contact at all times during the conversation. Don’t look away at a computer screen or down at the desktop. Don’t speak as you turn to retrieve materials. Although patrons may not read lips, they can get cues from facial expressions. These cues let patrons know when staff have stopped speaking, signaling that it is the patron’s turn to talk.
• Speak naturally. Do not exaggerate your mouth movements or speak too slowly. AND DON’T SHOUT!
• Keep it simple! Use short sentences and plain language. And avoid idioms and slang.
• Repeat, rephrase, or spell words if not understood. For example, patrons may not hear the word quarter, but they may hear twenty-five cents.
• Use gestures, write, or type back and forth on a device or computer, using a program like Word, to add clarity to communication.
• Be aware that English is a second language for many deaf people. Use short sentences and plain language, avoiding idioms and slang.
• Instant Messaging (IM), texting, or other virtual reference services are accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. If the library uses IM or virtual reference services, make an extra effort to market it to the Deaf Community.
• Train staff members who provide telephone services to receive and make calls using TTY or video relay services (VRS). Provide assistive listening devices, interpreter services, or real-time captioning services for public programs upon request.
• Provide print materials advertising the technologies and services that the library provides for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Place these items where they can be easily seen.
• Attitude is the most important thing and patrons who are deaf will appreciate your efforts to communicate!
• Here is a handy printable resource that you can keep at service desks to assist in communicating with patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing, speak Spanish, or have limited communication skills. This 21-page communication guide was created by The Library of Fanwood and Scotch Plains (NJ), and includes English, Spanish, and fingerspelled words, as well as pictures for common concepts and items in the library setting.
⇒ If you would like to improve your communications skills and knowledge of Deaf Culture, the American Library Association offers an excellent series of online courses:
⇒ American Sign Language for Library Staff: Level 1: This six-week, asynchronous online course will introduce basic American Sign Language vocabulary and grammar appropriate for use in a library setting and place that information within a linguistic and cultural context to aid participants in improving library services to patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Each session will focus on a different aspect of library services.
⇒ American Sign Language for Library Staff: Level 2: This six-week, asynchronous online course will introduce more American Sign Language vocabulary and grammar appropriate for use in a library setting and place that information within a linguistic and cultural context to aid participants in improving library services to patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Each week will focus on a different aspect of library services.
⇒ Sign Language for Children in Storytime or in the Classroom: A Practical Guide: American Sign Language is most commonly used in storytimes for babies, but the applications can go much further. In this six-week eCourse, ASL expert Kathy MacMillan explores the benefits of signing with all children. In addition to learning basic American Sign Language (ASL) vocabulary appropriate for use with children in library and classroom settings, you will also learn to teach stories, songs, and other activities that incorporate ASL. MacMillan provides you with a linguistic and cultural context to help make your programming more accessible.
Some libraries and other entities have created special departments or services for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Take a look at some of the services they provide to get an idea of what is possible for your library.
• Deaf Culture and History Section of the National Association of the Deaf (NAD): A resource and education center providing deaf-related information regarding culture, history, and the arts.
• Deaf Culture Forum – January 24, 2020 — The Deaf Culture Forum, was a half day event to bring the library culture and the deaf culture together. This resource includes the agenda, handouts, PowerPoints, and Captioning text for the presentations.
• Deaf Literacy Center — A service of the Safety Harbor and Pinellas Public Library Cooperative: The Deaf Literacy Center creates opportunities for learning, social engagement, early literacy, and community building for the Deaf or Hard of Hearing community. The DLC meets the unique needs of its users through a variety of accessible services and programs that include ASL classes, group and individualized tutoring, rich cultural experiences, and literacy instruction.
• Deaf Services Center — A service of the San Francisco Public Library: Provides in-depth resources for adults and children who are deaf or hard of hearing, their families, friends and professionals.
• Deaf Literacy Initiative — The umbrella organization for literacy in the Deaf and DeafBlind community in the Province of Ontario: Services are accessible and culturally appropriate and include training, research, networking, and resources.
• Directory of Organizations — Compiled by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD): Lists selected national organizations that provide information on communication disorders. Many have local or state affiliates to seek information, speakers, and partnerships.
• Library Equal Access Program (LEAP) — A service of the Seattle Public Library: Coordinates accessible library programs, services, and assistive resources and offers accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The term DeafBlind does not mean that someone has no vision and no hearing at all. In fact, there is much variation in both hearing and vision among people who are DeafBlind. Some may have low vision and no hearing. Others may have no vision and be hard of hearing. The way that a DeafBlind person communicates is largely based on how and when they became deaf and blind, and the range of vision or hearing they have.
Many DeafBlind individuals who use ASL have Usher Syndrome, a genetic disorder in which people are born deaf and gradually lose their sight as they grow older. DeafBlind individuals may work with Support Service Providers, who assist with mobility and access to visual information. Interpreters who work with DeafBlind individuals make use of a variety of interpreting methods depending on the individual’s needs. These methods may include:
• Using a smaller signing space to accommodate a person with tunnel vision.
• Sitting close to the individual to interpret, with the individual tracking the signs by resting hands on the interpreter’s forearms.
• Tactile signing: Signing and fingerspelling into the individual’s palms.
• Pro-Tactile ASL: Replacing visual features of ASL with touch-based features signed on the other person. See examples here.
• Sign-supported speech: Interpreting into Signed English while mouthing everything in English to be speechread.
• Print on Palm: Block letters written on the palm.
Idaho Code does not expressly require that a public library hire an ASL interpreter for programs or events. However, ASL interpreters in Idaho are required to have a valid license from the Idaho Bureau of Occupations Licenses (IBOL) to interpret in the State of Idaho, with few exceptions. See Idaho Code section 54-2904(5). This statute clearly defines what constitutes someone who is interpreting regardless of the job title. A person functioning as an interpreter in the state of Idaho must be licensed. So, if your library does choose to hire an ASL interpreter for a program, interview, or other event, please be certain that it is an interpreter who is licensed in Idaho. This is a very important consideration, as a non-licensed interpreter could potentially edit the client’s message, add personal opinions, answer for the individual, or impede the development of the client relationship. A minor child cannot act as an interpreter in an official capacity except in an emergency involving imminent threat to the safety or welfare of an individual or the public. Hiring a non-licensed ASL interpreter is also unethical, as it takes work away from licensed interpreters.
Video Relay Service (VRS)
VRS utilizes communication assistants who are skilled interpreters to relay calls in ASL, rather than communication assistants to relay calls in text. Consumers can use any service provider they choose. Below is a list of VRS providers in alphabetical order:
For meetings and programs held via Zoom, the multi-pinning option is available. With multi-pinning, the host may “pin” and give other participants permission to pin up to nine others on-screen in their custom personal view. This is particularly helpful for presenters and participants who use American Sign Language, as it does not automatically trigger the speaker to appear in the speaker view. Participants who are deaf or hard of hearing can pin both presenter and interpreter on the screen for a more accessible experience.
In order to provide the best possible library service to patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing, your library needs to a) find out what your community’s DHH patrons want, b) assess how you are already meeting those requests, and c) plan how you will meet remaining and future requests. As with all library services, continuous assessment leads to continuous improvement.
Following are some top-notch staff training tools that will provide some insight into the experiences and needs of patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing.
• The Deaf Cultural Resource Center gathers resources—including Communication Tips—to help library staff better connect with the Deaf Community.
• This Gallaudet University LibGuide provides tips for librarians who work with deaf or hard of hearing patrons or with deaf-related collections.
• The best way to understand audism is to listen to the experiences of those who live with it every day. The one-hour documentary Audism Unveiled (DawnSignPress, 2008) is a powerful collection of these stories. The film is presented in American Sign Language with captions for the signing-impaired.
• In This Sign is Joanne Greenberg’s highly acclaimed novel of a family whose love and courage enable them to prevail in the bewildering world of the hearing through the remarkable communication tool of American Sign Language. The filmization of In This Sign is titled Love Is Never Silent and stars Sid Caesar, Phyllis Frelich, Cloris Leachman, Ed Waterstreet, and Mare Winningham.
•Through Deaf Eyes explores nearly 200 years of Deaf life in America. This film presents the experiences of American history from the perspective of deaf citizens. Interviews include Marlee Matlin, I. King Jordan, other community leaders, historians, and deaf Americans with diverse views on language use, technology, and identity. Six artistic works by Deaf media artists are woven throughout the documentary that complement the core of the film.
•Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America is an original, groundbreaking volume on Deaf history and culture in which author Jack R. Gannon, former Special Assistant for Advocacy to the president of Gallaudet University, brings together for the first time the story of the Deaf experience in America from a Deaf perspective. Recognizing the need to document the multifaceted history of this unique minority with its distinctive visual culture, Gannon has painstakingly gathered a montage of artifacts and information to form an utterly fascinating record from the early nineteenth century to the time of its original publication in 1981.
• The American Library Association’s Office of Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS) promotes interest groups that enable members who gather virtually via ALA Connect and at conferences to share knowledge of and enthusiasm for a specific subject. The primary focus of the Bridging Deaf Cultures @ your library interest group is building support for the nation’s libraries to work with organizations serving the deaf (OSD) in forming a Deaf Cultural Digital Library.
• This ALA Connect community allows access without a paid ALA membership. To access the community, you will need your ALA login information. If you do not already have a login, you can create an account at no charge.
• If you land on a page that requires login, you will be directed to a page with three options, one of which allows you to create a free account.
• In the resulting window, enter your e-mail address and last name. The system will confirm whether you have an account in our system already. If an account exists, you will be given password recovery options.
• For a new account, complete the contact details. Save changes once complete. Login to Connect, accept the Code of Conduct, and select the Join Community button on the community you would like to join or have the admin send an invite link via e-mail.
People who are deaf and those who are hard of hearing can be individuals with disabilities within the meaning of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To learn more about how the ADA affects job applicants and employees who are deaf or hard of hearing, visit the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) website.
Complying with Federal Law
The Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing maintains a set documents to provide information on the ADA as it relates to people who are dear or hard of hearing.
To File an ADA Complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice: You can file an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint alleging disability discrimination against a state or local government or a public accommodation (such as a restaurant, doctor’s office, retail store, hotel) either online, via U.S. mail, or by fax.
Resources for Serving Patrons Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired (BVI)
The definition of visual impairment is “a decrease in the ability to see to a certain degree that causes problems not fixable by usual means, such as glasses.” In the U.S. there are four terms used to describe different levels of vision impairment and blindness – partially sighted, low vision, legally blind and totally blind. Partially sighted means a person has partial vision, either in one or both eyes. Low vision refers to a severe visual impairment in which visual acuity is 20/70 or poorer in the better-seeing eye and cannot improve with glasses or contacts.
Blindness is “the state of being unable to see due to injury, disease or genetic condition.” Legally blind means a person has a corrected vision of 20/200 in their best-seeing eye. If visual aids such as glasses can correct a person’s vision to 20/20, they are not considered legally blind. Totally blind refers to a complete loss of sight.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a near or distance vision impairment. In at least 1 billion of these cases, vision impairment could have been prevented or has yet to be addressed. Most people with vision impairment and blindness are over the age of 50 years; however, vision loss can affect people of all ages. The most common causes of visual impairment globally are uncorrected refractive errors (43%), cataracts (33%), and glaucoma (2%).
“Culture develops when barriers exist interrupting the communication between members of the group in question and the larger society. Hispanic people, or any group using languages other than English as their preferred tongue, often draw together and communicate in their own language. They may function in the larger society, but they naturally gravitate toward others who share their life experience. Deaf people frequently use American Sign Language as their preferred method of communication and recognize this as a distinct language. Even the written communication of profoundly deaf people is often characteristic of their culture and quite different from standard English composition. For this reason and because they frequently have difficulty communicating with hearing people at all without an interpreter, they talk about the “deaf culture”.
“Blind people have no problem communicating with other English speakers. Braille is not a language since it is used to write any language. It is merely a tactile method of writing. And blind people have no difficulty using a computer to communicate in written English. Blind people do not congregate in living groups or in order to enjoy a shared lifestyle, religion, political outlook, or any other similarity of experience that holds a cultural group together. Today you will find blind people in every walk of life and at every social and economic level of American society.”
You can view Barbara Pierce’s full explanation here.
The way we talk to or about people is important because it reflects our attitudes and assumptions. Ideally, we should refer to people in the language that they prefer. However, terminology changes from time to time because certain words and phrases take on pejorative connotations.
Assistive Technology (AT): Technology that enables people who are blind or visually impaired to access computers and the Internet more easily.
Braille: A system of writing or printing, devised by Louis Braille in 1824, for use by people who are blind or visually impaired. The system uses raised dots that are ready by touch.
Cataracts: A cloudy area in the lens of the eye that blocks light from reaching the retina and may cause vision problems. It is common in older adults and associated with aging. Cataracts can cause blindness, although this is rare.
Glaucoma: An eye disorder that damages the nerve at the back of the eye (optic nerve), resulting in loss of eyesight, especially peripheral (side) vision. If glaucoma is not treated, loss of vision may continue and lead to blindness.
Legally Blind: Anyone with vision worse than 20/200 that cannot be improved with corrective lenses. In addition, people with a visual field of less than 20 degrees diameter (10 degrees radius) are also considered legally blind.
Low vision or Visual Impairment: A severe visual impairment that cannot be corrected with conventional glasses or contacts, surgery, or medication. Low vision is still usable vision and can be improved with the use of visual aids.
Low Vision Specialist: A trained professional who helps patients use their remaining vision to the maximum potential. Some options may include different low vision aids, devices, custom optical systems, or new wearable technology.
Partially Sighted: Means a person has partial vision, either in one or both eyes.
Refractive Error: Is a problem with focusing light accurately on the retina due to the shape of the eye. The most common types of refractive error are near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia.
Totally Blind: Refers to a complete loss of sight.
Libraries play a fundamental role in society. The resources and services they offer create opportunities for learning, support literacy and education, and help shape the new ideas and perspectives that are central to a creative and innovative society. Library patrons who are blind or visually impaired have the same information needs as a sighted person. When helping a patron who is blind or visually impaired, keep these tips in mind.
Avoid the tendency to group all visual disabilities into one group and assume that everyone within the group needs the same services. The term visual disabilities covers a wide variety of conditions, including blindness, low vision, and color blindness. People with low vision have different challenges than people who are blind.
A person with low vision has some useful sight. However, low vision usually interferes with the performance of daily activities, such as reading or driving. Persons with low vision may need to use large print and have restrictions placed on their driving. A person with low vision may not recognize images at a distance or be able to differentiate between colors of similar hues. Those who are legally blind may only see light and dark images and may need to be inches away from objects to observe them properly.
Blind persons may use mobility aids, including canes and guide dogs. It is always best to ask the patron what you can do to assist, rather than assuming that help is needed. Tips:
Speak in a normal tone of voice. Avoid yelling or speaking loudly to individuals with vision loss.
Identify yourself and others with you. In a group setting, identify the person who you are addressing. Announce your comings and goings: don’t leave a blind person talking to an empty chair.
In a meeting, identify yourself when you begin speaking.
Ask the patron, “How may I help you?”
Speak directly to the patron, not through a sighted companion.
Do not touch or pet a guide dog.
When giving directions, use the clock’s face as your basis: “The reference desk is about two feet ahead at three o’clock from where you’re facing.” Offer to escort the patron to his or her destination.
When guiding a patron, offer your elbow for guidance. Do not grab the patron’s arm or hand. Stand next to the patron and slightly ahead; then offer your arm. Describe your path, including obstacles and changes in the levels you are walking, such as stairs. If the path narrows, push your elbow back, so that the patron can walk directly behind you.
Have material available in a variety of formats, and ask for format preferences, including large print, Braille, electronic text, and CD.
Make sure your library is well lit for persons with low-vision and that signage incorporates high contrast, large print, and when possible Braille.
Useful Materials and Assistive Technologies
Large-print books and magazines that have a typeface greater than font size 14.
Braille books and magazines (some with tactile graphics) available on loan from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (see below).
Combination of print and Braille picture books that sighted individuals and Braille readers can enjoy together.
Various audiobook formats, such as cassette tapes, CDs, preloaded MP3 players (e.g., Playaway), downloadable audiobooks, and e-books.
Audio-described television programs (formatted to include a narration of events which are happening for which there is not a dialogue) and movies on DVD.
The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS), Library of Congress, administers a free national library program that provides braille and recorded materials to people who cannot see regular print or handle print materials. Established by an Act of Congress in 1931 to serve blind adults, the program was expanded in 1952 to include children, in 1962 to provide music materials, in 1966 to include individuals with other physical disabilities that prevent reading regular print, and in 2016 to permit NLS to provide refreshable braille displays. The NLS program is funded annually by Congress, and books and materials are mailed as “Free Matter for the Blind or Handicapped” through a separate appropriation to the United States Postal Service. Cooperating network libraries are funded through a combination of state, local, and/or federal sources.
Under a special provision of the United States Copyright Law, and with the permission of authors and publishers of works not covered by that provision, NLS selects books and magazines for full-length publication in braille, ebraille, and digital audio format. Reading materials are circulated through a network of libraries across the United States and its territories and to American citizens living abroad. The materials and free playback equipment needed to read audiobooks (called talking books) and magazines are circulated to patrons by libraries by postage-free mail. Digital audio and ebraille materials also are available through the NLS BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download)service and the BARD Mobile app for iOS and Android devices. In early 2019, the United States joined the Marrakesh Treaty as its 50th member, allowing NLS to assist patrons in requesting accessible materials in a wide range of languages from the other libraries around the world that are also Marrakesh Treaty members.
Eligibility: Any resident of the United States or American citizen living abroad who is unable to read or use regular print materials as a result of temporary or permanent visual limitations may apply for service.
Resources: NLS has converted about 100,000 books such as best sellers, biographies, histories, cookbooks, and other genres, including children’s and young adult books, into braille and audio format. About 100 magazines are also accessible to NLS patrons. The NLS has the world’s largest collection of braille music scores for voice, piano, and other instruments as well as music appreciation and instructional materials. There is also a growing collection of audio and Braille books in foreign languages including Spanish, French, German, and Russian (NLS, Foreign Language Materials). There are multiple ways to learn about specific resources: regional libraries offer readers’ advisory services, there is an online catalog, and “Talking Book Topics,” a large print catalog, is published every two months (Bernstein). There is no cost to eligible patrons for borrowing any NLS resources.