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Tactile signing is a common means of communication used by people with both a "sight and "hearing impairment (see "Deafblindness), which is based on a "sign language or other system of "manual communication.
"Tactile signing" refers to the mode or medium i.e. signing (using some form of signed language or code) using touch. It does not indicate whether the signer is using a tactile form of a natural language e.g. "American Sign Language (ASL) a modified form of such a visual sign language, a modified form of a manual code for English "Manually Coded English or something else. It has also been referred to as "hand over hand" referring to the position of the listener vis. the signer.
Several methods of "Deafblind communication may be referred to as tactile signing, including:
We all adapt to our imperfect body, using glasses, crutches and so on. Human beings also adapt to an environment, for example by modifying our diet to fit the local ecology. (See "adaptation.) Until the 1970s it was rare for a person to be both deaf and blind and most people who were deaf and blind lived lives of isolation. As professionals became aware of this population attempts were made to serve both adults and children who are deaf and blind by modifying the manual alphabet mentioned above, or the Sign Language used by deaf-sighted people. See, for example "Helen Keller National Center, "LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired and "Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind.
Professionals developed ways to communicate with their clients/students/patients who were deafblind. These are listed below.
Additionally, simple ways of responding such as a tap for 'yes' or a rubbing motion for 'no' may be included. In Japan, a system developed by a deafblind woman is in use to represent the five "vowels and five major "consonants of the "Japanese language on the fingers, where the signer 'types' onto a table and the receiver places their hands on top to 'listen' (see this page for more info).
What was especially challenging was communicating with children or babies born deaf and blind who had not had an opportunity to learn a natural (spoken or signed) language. Below are listed some of these attempts.
Fortunately, as the decades progressed, deafblind people began to form communities where a tactile language is being born. Just as deaf people brought together in community first used an invented form of the spoken language and then created/evolved their own natural language that suits the life of a deaf-sighted person (i.e. a visual language) so too, deafblind people in community have first used a modified form of a visual language and are now creating/evolving their own natural tactile/tactual language. For the development of visual sign languages see for example: "Deaf Education; "List of sign languages; "Nicaraguan Sign Language. One of the most active communities is in the Seattle area of Washington State. See Washington State DeafBlind Citizens .
Little data exists on the specifics of variation between visual and tactile sign language use. However, what studies there are suggest a significant degree of difference. In hand-over-hand signing, elements of deaf sign languages known as 'non-manual features' (such as facial expression) will not be received, and will need to be substituted with supplementary information produced manually. Common non-manual features used in Deaf Sign languages that are absent in tactile signing include raised eyebrows as a question marker and a shaking head as a negation.
Tactile signing is also contained within a smaller space than is typical in visual sign language. Signs that touch the body may be moved forward into a more neutral space. Other signs which are usually produced in an 'out of range' location (such as the leg) may be modified (either spelled or a variant sign used).
Different rules govern turn taking, greetings and goodbyes.
When interacting with deaf-blind people, a number of considerations can smooth the interaction.
Many deafblind people make the most of their remaining sight, so the right lighting is vital. Mostly bright, even light is best (avoid glare), but some prefer dim light, so it is best to ask.
Susie Morgan suggests the following guidelines for appearance and attire of interpreters working with deafblind clients:
Wear clothes that provide contrast for your hands. Consider the following when selecting clothing:
It is better to avoid jewelry which can be distracting, either tactually (e.g. rings and bracelets) or visually (e.g. sparkling drop earrings). Fingernails should also be short and smooth. A neutral color of nail polish may be worn, but bright reds and dark colors can be too strong. Working in close proximity to clients when using tactile sign, interpreters need to be aware of strong smells such as perfumes, cigarette smoke or onion breath.
Tactile signing can also be exhausting for both the interpreter and the deafblind client. Breaks are even more important than with regular interpreting, and should be taken more often. Correct seating can also reduce the risk of strain of injury; both communication partners should be comfortable and at an equal height. Specially designed cushioned tables for tactile signing can be employed.
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In 1648 in England, "John Bulwer wrote of a couple who were proficient in tactile sign communication:
"A pregnant example of the officious nature of the Touch in supplying the defect or temporall incapacity of the other senses we have in one Master Babington of Burntwood in the County of Essex, an ingenious gentleman, who through some sicknesse becoming deaf, doth notwithstanding feele words, and as if he had an eye in his finger, sees signes in the darke; whose Wife discourseth very perfectly with him by a strange way of Arthrologie or Alphabet contrived on the joynts of his Fingers; who taking him by the hand in the night, can so discourse with him very exactly; for he feeling the joynts which she toucheth for letters, by them collected into words, very readily conceives what shee would suggest unto him. By which examples [referring to this case and to that of an abbot who became deaf, dumb, and blind, who understood writing traced upon his naked arm] you may see how ready upon any invitation of Art, the Tact is, to supply the defect, and to officiate for any or all of the other senses, as being the most faithful sense to man, being both the Founder, and Vicar generall to all the rest."