ASL Classes Experience a Deaf Blind Workshop

The theme for this year’s ASL Classes is “Accessibility,” which led ASL Instructor Sarah Hauser to develop a wide variety of experiences in her curriculum. In multi-part Workshop Ms. Hauser taught over the past few weeks, students got an opportunity to experience a simulation of what it would be like to be DeafBlind, and how they, as students, could help someone they encounter who has these physical challenges.

Part 1 of Workshop

Having taken a semester of DeafBlind interpreting, Ms. Hauser decided to provide her students with a DeafBlind Workshop.  In the first part of the workshop, the students wore goggles that were treated to simulate aspects of low vision and blindness, including:

  • cataracts
  • glaucoma
  • tunnel vision, associated with Usher’s Syndrome, a very common DeafBlind illness
  • low vision

She then set up five work stations around the room so the students could experience what it would be like to try to perform everyday actions with vision loss. The students found it quite challenging to do such activities as unlocking combination locks, sorting buttons by color and size, finding images within another image, measuring water, and determining what was in a box when their vision was obstructed.

Part 2 of Workshop

The next phase of the workshop was to experience what it would be like to be a person who was Deaf and Blind, and to be the guide for such an individual.

Before starting the Workshop, they discussed the need to follow COVID protocols. They also talked about how important it was to take the experience seriously so no one got hurt, and to trust and rely on their classmate guide. The classmates then paired up, each taking a blindfold and a pair of ear plugs. The students alternated being the guide.

Becoming the Guide

They learned that the proper etiquette to notify someone who is deaf and blind that they are willing to help is to tap the person gently on the shoulder. Next, they allowed that person to determine whether s/he preferred to put a hand on the guide’s shoulder and follow behind the guide, to hold the guide’s upper arm, or to wrap their arm through the guide’s arm and walk alongside.

When guiding the person, the guide should walk at an even, normal pace, giving the person enough space so they won’t bump into obstacles.

To help a DeafBlind person sit down, the guide puts the person’s hand on the back of the chair, so they can find where the chair is and seat him or herself.

The students alternated guiding each other around the room until they felt comfortable, before they attempted going down the stairs, or out onto the playground.

Going Down the Stairs

Some of the students found relying on another to go down the stairs very challenging.

To help a DeafBlind person descend the stairs, you take them to the edge of the stairs, stop, and take their hand to put it on the railing. Then, the guide descends one step and stops, until the person they are guiding goes down that step. The guide then steps down one more stair, and so on.

If these steps are followed, both the guide and the DeafBlind person can both get down a set of stairs safely.

Every class took their assignment very seriously, and they all felt they got a lot out of the Deaf Blind Workshop.

Excerpts from students’ post-workshop essays:

  • “It can also be hard not to hear when people are talking because it makes you feel like they are talking about you.” ~Lexi Gagner
  • “A daily problem that DeafBlind people face that I got from this workshop is having to use more of their senses instead of their eyesight. A DeafBlind person would also need a professional guide.” ~ Lamar Bennett
  • “The word thing of all was trying to walk outside, trying to step over the barrier. I had Mi’Year as my guide. He was a good guide because he didn’t lead me into a door or fall down the stairs.” ~Derrick Crawford
  • “During the water station I had mixed emotions. I was nervous I might spill the water. I was curious to see what would happen. I was proud of myself because I got really close to how much water should be in the container. I was uncomfortable because I got wet. At the end I realized how hard it was to be blind.” ~ Julian
  • “The most challenging activity in the workshop was when we had to solve locks while half blind. It was very difficult to do, it was so hard to the point where we didn’t even finish. After doing the activity it make me think, “This is how hard [it is for] DeafBlind people [to] live in the world,” and I was grateful to know the fact that I can hear and see.”  ~ Caleb Hall

Ms. Hauser wishes to thank Ms. Eaker, Ms. Fouchie and Ms. Hamilton for pushing into the workshop classes to make sure everyone remained safe throughout the class.

For more about Hope Hall’s ASL Program, CLICK HERE to view a video from the ASL class’ “Around Town” Unit.