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Persons with deafblindness are often excluded from services, support, and social life because of their disability. “Discrimination on the basis of disability means any distinction, exclusion or restriction on the basis of disability which has the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal basis with others, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural civil, or any other field”[i]. Therefore, the exclusion of persons with deafblindness is largely due to discrimination and stigma – i.e., the stereotypes, misperceptions, and assumptions about persons with disabilities which often derive from a lack of understanding about persons with deafblindness.


A common misperception is that persons with deafblindness cannot be helped, supported, or reached because they will not understand the situation or because there is a presumption of inability. These misperceptions only lead to further exclusion and marginalisation. The table below sets out some common misperceptions and facts about persons with deafblindness:


Common misperceptions


Cannot communicate

Can communicate in a variety of ways.

Cannot learn

There is no single profile of a learner with deafblindness. Persons with deafblindness can learn in a variety of ways with the appropriate supports and accommodations.

Incapable of understanding

There is no reason to assume reduced cognitive functioning unless this has been identified in an individual assessment.

Cannot be independent or autonomous

Levels of support depend on the individual, their environment, and how effectively they have been rehabilitated. Many live independently.

Cannot work

While there are some persons with deafblindness with very high support needs who may not work, most can work. There is no single profile of a worker with deafblindness.

Cannot participate

With reasonable adjustments and access to interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters and/or assistive devices and technology, persons with deafblindness can participate.

Deafblindness is a curse

Deafblindness is caused by a range of factors, such as illness, genetic factors, and accidents. Persons with deafblindness and their family members should not be blamed for this. Persons with deafblindness are valuable members of society that deserve respect and dignity[ii].

Persons with deafblindness are patients

When discussing the inclusion and rights of persons with deafblindness, the social and human rights models should be adopted, instead of the medical model. The focus should be put on the barriers posed by society, not the impairment or medical condition. Persons with deafblindness should only be perceived as patients when they are seeking medical care.


In addition to misperceptions about deafblindness, some forms of stigma apply the medical model, viewing deafblindness as a problem that belongs to the individual, rather than recognising the systemic attitudinal and environmental barriers that impede the participation of persons with deafblindness. This often leads to unresponsive or inappropriate responses due to the bias of focusing on the condition of deafblindness rather than the barriers faced by the individual, particularly among frontline professionals[iii].


Persons with deafblindness experience vertical discrimination – i.e., discrimination between impairment groups of persons with disabilities. Persons with deafblindness are often referred to as one of the most marginalised and underrepresented groups of persons with disabilities. This is largely due to the communication barriers that persons with deafblindness face (e.g., lack of access to interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters, information, and support to keep abreast of developments). Moreover, persons with deafblindness are often excluded because of the diverse needs and requirements, resulting in a lack of recognition or support by the other groups of persons with disabilities. Although there is some recognition of persons with deafblindness as an underrepresented group within the wider disability movement, persons with deafblindness are often not represented in OPDs, and thus, are forgotten or excluded because they are perceived to be too difficult to include. This impacts programmes and policies because persons with deafblindness are excluded from the outset.


Among persons with deafblindness, those with higher support needs, such as persons with pre-lingual deafblindness, are likely to experience even greater marginalisation and exclusion. It is, therefore, essential to consider the requirements of the most marginalised and hardest-to-reach persons with deafblindness and to recognise the diversity of requirements. For example, a young person with pre-lingual deafblindness may require an interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreter and some additional rehabilitation to transition into a new job, whereas a young person with post-lingual deafblindness may require access to magnifiers, a special computer monitor, and access to captioning services during meetings. The costs between these two examples can be significant, and it should not be assumed that persons with high support needs are incapable of working simply because their support needs cost more or may take more time to implement.


Governments often do not invest in the supports and services for persons with deafblindness because the prevalence is lower than other disabilities. It is, therefore perceived as being too insignificant of a number of people to warrant the development of specialised or tailored supports or services. This is another form of vertical discrimination that places too much value on prevalence as a justification for allocating funding.


Persons with deafblindness also experience horizontal discrimination – i.e., discrimination between groups with clearly defined identities or characteristics (e.g., race, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality, ethnicity, indigenous or social origin, property, birth, age, or other status). This leads to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination – i.e., where a person experiences discrimination on two or more identities or characteristics, leading to discrimination that is compounded or aggravated[iv]. There is very little research on intersectional or multiple discrimination of persons with deafblindness. Because persons with deafblindness experience high levels of social exclusion, it may be difficult to recognise the intersecting nature of multiple discrimination.


Stigma and discrimination can come from all levels of society, including families, local communities, elected officials, civil servants, schools, health centres, pharmacies, shops, employers, etc. Persons with deafblindness often rely on family members for support, and families can sometimes act as a filter or barrier to social inclusion. In addition, persons with deafblindness often do not have the communication support to coordinate and deliver awareness-raising activities to combat stigma and discrimination among these groups.

[i] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, A/RES/61/106, 13 December 2006, Article 2.

[ii] Enabled.in, Deafblindness – Facts, Myths, and Truth, https://enabled.in/wp/deafblindness-facts-myths-and-truth/, 24 June 2014.

[iii] National Centre on Combined Vision and Hearing Impairment / Deafblindness, Eikholt Annual Report, October 2021, p. 6.

[iv] Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, General Comment No. 3 on women and girls with disabilities, CRPD/C/GC/3, 25 November 2016, para. 4c.

Good Practices

According to the CRPD, reasonable accommodation is one of the most effective tools for ensuring equality and non-discrimination. Reasonable accommodations are the “necessary and appropriate modification and adjustments not imposing a disproportionate or undue burden, where needed in a particular case, to ensure to persons with disabilities the enjoyment or exercise on an equal basis with others of all human rights and fundamental freedoms”[i]. Reasonable accommodation requirements for persons with deafblindness vary for each individual, but common adjustments include:

  • Access to interpreter-guides/Deafblind interpreters or other live assistance
  • Access to information in accessible formats (e.g., Braille, large print, captioning, audio description, etc.)
  • Assistive devices or technology (e.g., magnifiers, Braille display, etc.)
  • Adjustments to procedures (e.g., adapted emergency procedures, changes to schedules, changes to standard communication methods, advance access to information, extra time to enable interpretation, etc.)


Respondents of WFDB’s survey indicated that awareness-raising activities are a good practice for addressing stigma and discrimination. The CRPD requires governments to undertake awareness-raising to foster respect for persons with disabilities, combat stigma and discrimination, and promote the capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities[ii]. Awareness- raising is a necessary tool for tackling stigma and discrimination because it attempts to inform, provide facts, correct misperceptions, and compensate for the fact that most persons with deafblindness have been socially excluded, thus leading to misperceptions in the community.


Awareness- raising should be tailored to the target group, using a variety of methods (e.g., awareness campaigns; media, such as radio, TV, social media, news, articles, etc.; training and courses; research; and forums, such as peer support groups for family members). Target groups should include family members, teachers, and school staff, health and rehabilitation workers, government officials and civil servants at national and local levels, journalists, and employers. Moreover, persons with deafblindness should be provided with practical support, such as interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services, support with coordination, and funding to enable them to drive awareness-raising activities.


These awareness-raising initiatives should consider:

  • Who is leading the awareness-raising and whether the voices of persons with deafblindness are meaningfully included. It is important to distinguish between organisations for persons with deafblindness (i.e., parents’ groups and NGOs) and organisations of persons with deafblindness (i.e., OPDs of persons with deafblindness)
  • Whether a human rights-based approach and the CRPD have formed the basis of the awareness-raising
  • Whether positive images and role models of persons with deafblindness have been used
  • How awareness will be raised across all regions of the country
  • How to reach the whole targeted group
  • How to continuously raise awareness among professional groups that constantly change (e.g., government officials, frontline staff of service providers, civil servants, etc.). For example, Sense International includes awareness raising in most of its programmes but notes that it is difficult to secure lasting awareness in transient environments (e.g., with civil servants who change jobs and departments frequently).
  • How these initiatives can advance towards sustainable, systemic institutional learning.


It can be very empowering for persons with deafblindness to share their individual stories as part of awareness-raising activities. This encourages the target audience to listen to persons with deafblindness directly, and it exposes them to the experience of engaging with deafblind communication.

[i] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, A/RES/61/106, 13 December 2006, Article 2.

[ii] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, A/RES/61/106, 13 December 2006, Article 8.



  • Incorporate awareness- raising on persons with deafblindness into initiatives aimed at raising awareness on disability more broadly and ensure that these initiatives seek to address common misperceptions and promote positive portrayals of persons with deafblindness



  • Legally recognise deafblindness as a distinct disability
  • Ensure laws and policies to address discrimination and promote equality include persons with disabilities as a protected group, and ensure laws and policies to protect persons with disabilities recognise deafblindness and draw attention to the particular needs of persons with deafblindness
  • Ensure reasonable accommodation is protected in law for persons with deafblindness
  • Adopt an awareness- raising strategy that includes raising awareness specifically about persons with deafblindness and map the strategic targets that are most likely to support persons with deafblindness in accessing services and in the community
  • Stop using low prevalence levels as a way to devalue and deprioritise the needs of persons with deafblindness and prioritise funding for tailored services and supports based on need


OPDs and NGOs

  •  Tackle horizontal discrimination (i.e., marginalisation of persons with deafblindness among persons with disabilities) and take steps to ensure persons with deafblindness are represented and ensure their voices are heard
  • Raise awareness within the disability movement on the definition of deafblindness to facilitate greater understanding and to avoid misrepresenting persons with deafblindness
  • Provide more practical support to OPDs of persons with deafblindness, including funding and interpreter-guide/Deafblind interpreting services, to drive and coordinate awareness raising- initiatives of persons with deafblindness


Donors and Research Institutes

  • Include persons with deafblindness in all programmes and research aimed at persons with disabilities
  • Conduct research on the nature and impact of intersectional and multiple forms of discrimination experienced by persons with deafblindness and explore interventions that adequately address multiple discrimination.
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