Tactile Communications (TC) is the first of its kind: a training center run by DeafBlind people for DeafBlind people. TC is located in the heart of Seattle, one of the most socially and politically organized DeafBlind communities in the world. Firmly rooted in the knowledge, experience, and expertise of our community, we are committed to maximizing the autonomy of DeafBlind people, providing necessary training in a linguistically and culturally appropriate setting. Our aim is to give DeafBlind people the tools they need to become active, productive members of society, and in doing so, improve the quality of their lives.
We train DeafBlind clients and their allies in and outside of Washington State. We offer training in 5 main areas, which can be applied at home, in the work place, and elsewhere:
- Braille proficiency, including computer access via Braille display and/or BrailleNote;
- Language and communication skills;
- Proficiency in a range of adaptive strategies for daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and exercising;
- Orientation and Mobility Training; and
- Consulting with co-workers, educators, employers, family members, friends, agencies, and organizations that seek to include DeafBlind people in ways that preserve autonomy.
In each area, instructors take a “ProTactile” approach, emphasizing the importance of direct, tactile access to people, language, and the environment. The target consumer is a DeafBlind person who will benefit from direct communication with an instructor in a culturally appropriate environment, rather than relying on a sign language interpreter. Most of our instructors are DeafBlind and have a lifetime of experience working with DeafBlind people in a range of capacities. They are familiar with the socio-economic, linguistic, and educational diversity in this population and are uniquely qualified to develop customized training programs to address the needs of each individual.
Most DeafBlind people prefer un-contracted Braille. However most public services and businesses such as restaurants and banks provide documents in contracted Braille or via audio response. Therefore, although many DeafBlind people have basic Braille skills, they lack the proficiency needed to apply those skills in practical ways. In addition, paper documents are on the decline. Instead, information is being distributed via the internet. Most DeafBlind people do not know how to use a Braille display with their computer, therefore, their Braille skills are not being applied in maximally beneficial ways. At Tactile Communications, we work with our clients to develop skills that are readily applicable in today’s quickly changing world of high-speed communication. We believe that this is a necessary step toward achieving and maintaining autonomy. We provide training on different types of equipment including Focus Blue 40, Brilliant BI, and Edge and BrailleNote.
Language and Communication Skills
While Braille is useful for accessing information on the internet and in print, additional language and communication skills are required for being a successful employee, parent, teacher, and more generally, for participating in society. Tactile Communications introduces innovative communication strategies that have been developed by DeafBlind people (see protactile.org), including ways of providing and receiving paralinguistic feedback in conversation, strategies for learning and teaching through touch, self-advocacy skills, and language skills. Just as Visual American Sign Language (VASL) is the natural language of the American Deaf community, Tactile American Sign Language, or TASL, is the natural language of the American DeafBlind community.
When DeafBlind people lose their vision, VASL becomes difficult to use. Clear, effective communication requires special training in TASL. This language is new, and there are not very many people who are qualified to teach it. Tactile Communications will provide this training directly to clients, without the expensive and inconvenient use of interpreters. This combination of language and communication training will allow DeafBlind people to gain the social skills they need to become self-confident, active, participants in their local communities, in the workforce, and in their families and social networks.
What is TASL?
Educational resources are currently being produced and will be available shortly. We have provided a short, provisional summary of current knowledge about the linguistic structure of TASL below.
Tactile American Sign Language (TASL) is scaffolded on Visual American Sign Language (VASL), the language of the sighted, American Deaf Community. Since the inception of the protactile movement in 2007, the grammatical structure of TASL has been diverging from VASL. TASL has developed new linguistic mechanisms for pointing to things in the environment, keeping track of the topic of the conversation, and describing things and events in terms of their size, shape, texture, and positioning in space. The grammatical systems that have been most immediately affected by these changes are the phonological system, the deictic system, and the “classifier” system. Research is currently being conducted by linguists at Gallaudet University in order to understand these changes, as well as the social and interactional conditions that are giving rise to them. More information can be found on the linguistic status of TASL here:
The third focus of our training is adaptive strategies for completing daily tasks. Clients learn to draw on new resources for such things as cooking, doing laundry, and cleaning. Clients also learn how to use “Communication Facilitators” (CF) to access telecommunications services for the Deaf, as well as skills for working with “Support Service Providers” (SSP). Both of these services are provided by the DeafBlind Service Center, however, many DeafBlind people do not understand the role of the CF and the SSP, and often develop unnecessary dependence on these support strategies. Given adequate training, DeafBlind people can rely less on SSP services, which are expensive and in short supply. Instead, they will learn to conduct their daily business autonomously, by developing and strengthening their sense of touch.
Orientation and Mobility
We offer Orientation & Mobility training to ensure safe travel, which includes training in how to use public transportation. These services are provided in collaboration with the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind. Students also attend regular community activities as a part of their leadership and self advocacy training.
Coming to Stay with Tc
Students can come to Tc for different amounts of time. To really solidify your skills and learn to live the DeafBlind way of life we would encourage a 2-3 month stay if possible, however this can be negotiated. Rates vary depending on the services that will be provided to reach your goals so please ask us for more information.
While enrolled in the program, the student might have the opportunity to live a DeafBlind roommate in an apartment and together, learning to cook, do chorus, do laundry, and share responsibilities as tenants. However, most students will be housing in the community at an apartment in the city of Seattle. With average cost of renting in Seattle around $1,300/month (including utilities and water) we do attempt to find the best rates, close proximity to public transportation and grocery stores. The living situation varies highly depending on individuals needs and availability.
Tactile Communications is committed to maximizing the autonomy of DeafBlind people by providing necessary training in a linguistically and culturally appropriate setting. Our aim is to give DeafBlind people the tools they need to becomea active, productive members of society and in doing so, to improve the quality of their lives.