Getting to Know the Miracle of Living with Deaf-Blindness

Helen Keller, deaf-blind graduate from college

Helen Keller is the most well-known deaf-blind person. With the advocacy of her teacher, Annie Sullivan, and her own determination, Helen proved one could undertake higher education and graduate.



We all know about Helen Keller, notably through the astonishing performance by Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker. Helen Keller is the most famous deaf-blind person; her name is a household word – and rightfully so. Yet, many people do not fully understand what it is to be deaf blind. With that, President Ronald Reagan in 1984 proclaimed the last week of June as Helen Keller Deaf Blind Awareness Week. To keep the awareness fresh, every year the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Adults Youths and Adults (HKNC), publicizes this important declaration with a national campaign. HKNC is part of the National Family Association for the Deaf-Blind (NFADB).



What Is Deaf-Blindness?

What is deaf-blindness? According to the NFADB, “The term ‘deaf-blind’ seems to indicate the sum of deafness + blindness. However, the combination of these two sensory losses is much more like deafness multiplied by blindness = Deaf-blindness.” The combined loss of both senses poses unique challenges, with independence, access to  information, interpersonal communication, and special navigation is indeed profound. However, contrary to what most people believe, deaf-blindness is not a total loss of seeing and hearing. This is rarely the case. The National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) provides an excellent overview of the condition covering children, assessment in school, educational services, environment, communication, social-emotional concerns, and motor-movement issues.


Assistive technology in the form of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices are an important pathway to accessibility to full inclusion in society and independent living.  For New Jersey residents, the Advancing Opportunities Assistive Technology Center can be an excellent resource, offering both one-on-one assistance and the chance to try out costly equipment before committing to a purchase.



A Famous Deaf-Blind Person (Aside from Helen Keller)

Haben Girma is an Eritrean-American woman who was the first deaf-blind person to graduate Harvard Law School. As an attorney, she has been an outspoken disability advocate for inclusion, accessibility, and Universal Design. Haben recently with current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, all of whom have praised her important work as a disability advocate and self-advocate.



Usher Syndrome

The most common form of deaf-blindness is a condition called Usher syndrome. Usher syndrome is characterized by hearing loss, combined with a loss of vision over time and deficiencies in balance, as the condition starts in the inner ear. There are three types of Usher syndrome, which are characterized by the severity of the symptoms. Usher syndrome is genetically inherited.



Did You Know?

  • Nearly 10,000 children and young adults are deaf-blind.
  • Some 2.4 million people in the U.S. have combined vision and hearing loss.



Further Resources

Project Sparkle Family’s Guide

Deaf-Blind Education

Eye on the Cure Blog 

Deaf-Blind International

National Coalition on Deaf-Blindness

European Deaf-Blind Network


Wheelchair with built-in desk allowing for work and inclusion

This clever wheelchair, with a desk and umbrella, was advertised in an 1886 catalog by George F. Sargent. It is a notable early example of including people with disabilities in the community.

At Advancing Opportunities, we excel in providing residential and respite services to people of with all disabilities, along with advocacy and education services for parents and guardians and assistive technology support. As a leader in the field, we are pleased to share our experience, knowledge, and expertise with the disability community through our social media outlets: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, and Pinterest. In our Disability and Ability Highlights of the Week column, we will select the best of what we found and shared and present them. Please click on the titles with embedded links to find the full article.


Please stop by our website,, and find out all we have to offer.  In addition, we are specialists in the area of assistive technology and offer a huge array of services; the Assistive Technology Center is New Jersey’s premier source of information and equipment.



Advancing Opportunities job announcement of the week:

Our northeastern office, in Little Falls, which serves individuals with disabilities and their families throughout Passaic and Essex counties, has opportunities for community support specialists to work one on one with adults at home and in the community. These part-time positions are for as many as 20 hours per week.


Please contact Monique Calixte, or 973-237-0983. For other career opportunities, please visit us online, at: .



Advancing Opportunities news:

Mark your calendars for Saturday, April 22, 2017! It’s only a month away. Come and plan to join us for the best barn dance this side of the Mississippi! Very popular last year, we have brought our Hoedown back! Each year, the agency holds several fundraising events. We consider them “friendraising” events as well. Join us and learn more about how you can help provide vital services and supports to children and adults with all types of disabilities.



Disability in the news (mostly in New Jersey, the population we serve):

The Golden Door International Film Festival holds its 5th Annual Award Ceremony, to the benefit of Jersey City students and promoting Autism awareness.

For the 12th consecutive year, Rutgers University student athletes volunteered at Saturdays in Motion, a free program for children with autism and their families offered at the YMCA in Basking Ridge, NJ.

The month-long, statewide Stages Festival features plays written and performed by artists with disabilities in an effort to showcase new talents. Many of these people cannot speak but are delighted at having the chance to express themselves.

A new report discovers that the media normalizes the murders of people with disabilities.



For parents of a child with a disability (parenting):

This very thoughtful post on a blog we just discovered expresses how we, parents with a disability, need to meet the challenges and advocate not only ourselves, but now for our children as well. Most important, our most important role as a parent or teacher is that of mentor.



Special Education:

This article explores the strong positive effects of music for children with ADHD.



Advocacy and self-advocacy:

A fifth-grade girl advocates for herself with a message for her teacher. She acknowledges she has dyslexia and has trouble reading and spelling. She also states she is smart. Very smart. She continues: “I want to go to college and help people with disabilities. I need your help to get there.”

Two Harvard disability advocates speak out by putting their message to song.



Assistive technology:

Three very important developments in assistive technology were presented at the IEEE Assistive Technology Conference.

This piece of assistive technology from MIT could be very valuable innovation for the autism community: a wearable device that detects emotion in conversation.

RE-vibe: Anti-distraction wristband: assistive technology for people with ADHD.



College for students with a disability:

More and more students with disabilities are going to college, especially in New Jersey.

IBM’s Watson applies its prodigious computing ability to making life easier for people on the autism spectrum.



Employment for people with disabilities:

Microsoft hiring programs offer opportunities for talented individuals with autism.



Civil rights and accessibility:

Accessibility standards receive a much-needed refreshing.


Informative, positive, noteworthy (or all three!):

When this mom gave birth to a daughter with Down syndrome, she was determined to do the best for her. She then embarked on a mission to help families of children with the condition.

 “Spectrum: A Story of the Mind” goes beyond autism awareness… to autism acceptance.



The Arts and People with Disabilities

A New Jersey artist with autism showcases his work at a special exhibition.

Music transformed this young man with autism. Now he is out to unlock talent in others.



People with a disability in the community (disability rights and acceptance; inclusion):

Like anyone else, people with Down syndrome need love, understanding, and the dignity that comes from a decent job. Are these really special needs?



Disability awareness and appreciation:

The actress Gillian Anderson reveals her struggle with depression.



Medical news – research:

Researchers have gained new insight into the genetic and neuronal circuit mechanisms that may contribute to impaired sociability in some cases of autism.

A new method uses biochemistry to accurately predict whether a child will develop autism spectrum disorder by measuring the products of metabolic processes.



Animals and animal therapy:

Shelter dogs battle helped this woman battle bulimia. Now, she is repaying their kindness.

Meet Edward V. Roberts, Disability Advocate


This is the wonderful doodle that appeared on the Google search page on January 23, in honor of the birthday of Edward V. Roberts.

Born on this day, Edward Verne Roberts was an American activist. The first student with multiple severe disabilities to attend the University of California, Berkeley, Edward was a pioneering disability advocate. A campus at the prestigious university has been named in his honor. In 2010, he was recognized in a state day in California. In addition, his wheelchair has been preserved at the Smithsonian, “in recognition of obstacles overcome.”

Google featured this little known but important figure in today’s doodle. They also provide an online video and exposition dedicated to Roberts and the history of the disability rights movement.

“So I decided to be an artichoke—
prickly on the outside but with a
big heart.”


In addition to the informative links above that tell of the life of Edward Roberts, UC Berkeley has archived his oral history.