Glossary of Terms


DeafBlindness is a unique disability of comorbid hearing and vision losses that are severe enough to affect communication, access to information and the environment. Deafblind people may also have additional disabilities that are physical or cognitive. Only a small proportion of DeafBlind people are completely deaf and completely blind.

DeafBlind people are not a homogenous group. The common factor is dual sensory losses that result in negotiating socially and systemically imposed barriers when attempting to access information, communication and the community. In the service and medical fields, DeafBlind people are often categorized as either congenital or acquired.

Congenital deafblindness: people who are born with both hearing and vision losses or became deafblind before developing language. A large majority of this population also have diverse degrees of developmental delays.

Acquired deafblindness: people who developed language (e.g., English, American Sign Language) before the onset of the second or both sensory losses. For example, people who were:

  • Blind and later became hard of hearing or deaf

  • Deaf or hard of hearing and later developed a vision loss, or

  • Sighted and hearing and later developed both vision and hearing losses.

According to statistics gathered during a demographic study conducted in 2004 by the Canadian Deaf Blind Association and the Canadian National Society of the Deaf-Blind, it is estimated that deafblindness occurs in approximately 1 of every 10 000 Canadians. As such, deafblindness is considered a low-incidence disability.  A number of medical conditions, as well as accidents and aging can lead to deafblindness.

ASL summary of ASDB definition for DeafBlindness

Communication Facilitator

A communication facilitator (CF) is a fluent signer (usually a Deaf person) who “interprets” or “relays” the sign language source message of someone else directly to a DeafBlind person (typically one-to-one).

The services of a CF are used when the DeafBlind person is attending a meeting, an event, or engaged in a video call where the other speaker(s) or participant(s) are communicating in sign language (e.g., American Sign Language-ASL, Langue des signes québécoise – LSQ).  This includes when the Deaf-Blind person is attending an event, or making a VRS call, where the spoken English (or French) is being interpreted into ASL (or LSQ) by an interpreter.

The CF uses the DeafBlind person’s preferred language and communication techniques. The CF role is to relay the signer’s ASL vocabulary as well as the accompanying facial grammar, emotions, movements, gestures, etc., in a manner accessible to the DeafBlind person (e.g., tactile, limited frame). All this visual information must be transmitted from the original signer to the DeafBlind person, to ensure the full depth of the message and its intent are captured.

When the DeafBlind person wishes to contribute or respond, they will sign for themselves. 

The CF, like an interpreter, cannot offer opinions, comments, or participate in discussions. The CF focuses only on communicating the messages and environmental information present in the setting.

As well, the CF provides information about what is happening in the environment (e.g., who is speaking, where people are sitting, the set-up of the room, the dynamics and atmosphere of the setting). The CF role also includes assisting the DeafBlind person with physical navigation of the environment.  Ideally, in these settings, there would be a separate person working in the SSP role, enabling the CFs to concentrate on their complex communication responsibilities.

CFs can work in teams of two or three.  Ideally one team member is actively relaying the message, while the second team member is providing other tactile cues about the environment to the DeafBlind person (e.g., Pro-Tactile). When there is a third team member, that person would be resting, and monitoring the work of the others for accuracy. Like interpreters, these CF teams would work in fifteen – thirty minute intervals.

Note: The skills and training necessary to work as a professional Deaf interpreter correspond to the skill sets necessary to the work in the role of a communication facilitator.

ASL summary of ASDB definition for Communication Facilitator


The single term ‘intervenor’ – in Canada – is used to refer to a wide-range of services that support DeafBlind persons’ access to the community including: interpreting, support service providers, communication facilitators, as well as educational assistants.  To limit confusion, ASDB has defined these four service roles separately, in order to more clearly outline their purpose and to aid in effectively funding services DeafBlind people use for accessing information, education, communication and the community.

ASDB uses the term ‘intervenor’ (IV) to refer to those working in the K–12 educational system (and possibly early childhood programs) in a specialized educational assistant role.  The intervenor mediates the visual, intellectual, educational, and social environments as well as the auditory environment for DeafBlind children and students.  These students may have comorbid physical, medical, developmental and/or cognitive conditions requiring additional specialized training on the part of the intervenors, to enable them to adapt the environment to support the student’s individual needs.

The IV also acts as a sighted guide, assisting the student with physical navigation in and around the educational environment (including off-site environments such as field trips).

Essential to the intervenor’s effectiveness (core competency) when working with young DeafBlind / hard-of-hearing-blind children is the ability to fluently model language (e.g., ASL, LSQ) and various communication methods that are accessible to the child.  The IV supports the child’s overall development with an emphasis on meeting their individual developmental stages for language emergence and acquisition, leading to effective two-way communication, and successful educational outcomes.

ASDB promotes the hiring of qualified Deaf and DeafBlind persons to work with DeafBlind children in educational and community-based settings, as these Deaf and DeafBlind adults typically have language competencies necessary to model for DeafBlind children as they develop and acquire language skills.

ASL version of the ASDB definition for Intervenor


Pro-Tactile is an evolving augmentative language system directed toward conveying to DeafBlind people information (visible and auditory) such as nonverbal cues, facial expressions, sounds, and more, which are present in the environment. Pro-Tactile uses conventions for direct and reciprocal tactile communication, of which tactile backchanneling is a key element.

Pro-Tactile is a philosophy that guides communication and behaviour in the everyday life of DeafBlind people. It is a socio-cultural movement affecting personal, political, and linguistic dimensions of everyday living of DeafBlind people. It goes far beyond the rudimentary efforts of tactile cues and signals. 

ASL summary of the ASDB definition for Pro-Tactile


Canadian interpreters work with Deaf and DeafBlind persons who use American Sign Language (ASL), or Langue des signes québécoise  (LSQ). 

Interpreters have graduated from college or university interpreter education programs where students study interpreting and translation theory, ethical foundations, and cross-cultural awareness, among other important topics.

Interpreters augment their basic training and skills by studying specialty areas such as legal, medical, mental health, including studying the specialty area of communication variations when interpreting with DeafBlind individuals.

Interpreters working with DeafBlind persons (referred to as intervenors {IV} in some parts of Canada) provide the following principle functions at an assigned event or appointment:

  • Interpretation of spoken or signed information (using the DeafBlind individual’s communication preferences)

  • Describing the physical environment and the ‘atmosphere’ of the assignment

  • Physical guiding during the assigned event or appointment.

Typically an interpreter would be booked to interpret for appointments such as (but not limited to): medical, financial, political, educational, employment, legal, mental health, social services, conferences, training, emergencies, etc. Deaf interpreters may also work in these settings as part of the interpreting team.

Interpreters also work with hard-of-hearing-blind non-signing persons to facilitate communication in the aforementioned settings.

Key to the interpreter’s effectiveness (core competency) is using the DeafBlind / hard-of-hearing-blind person’s preferred language (e.g., ASL, LSQ, English, French) and communication methods (e.g., tactile methods, limited frame).

Interpreters in Canada are expected to have graduated from a college or university interpreter education program, or to have met other standards defined by Canada’s professional association – CASLI.

Ideally interpreters are members of CASLI, as this ensures a base-line level of training in the interpreting process, a thorough understanding of the interpreting role, and the obligation to adhere to the CASLI Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Professional Conduct.

ASL summary of the ASDB definition for Interpreter

The resources provided here were created using numerous valuable sources; all references are provided in the English documents. We invite you to use these materials to support your own advocacy and educational efforts. Please ensure you cite our organization as appropriate.