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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

how pro-tactile changed my life

Blurb: Pro-Tactile Communication isn't a new signing method. It's
more like a movement, a philosophy or, more simply put, the
DeafBlind Way. Now I'm learning how it can change my life.

I first learned about Pro-Tactile during a few workshops I took
at the 2013 Deaf-Blind Camp of Maryland. It seemed interesting. I
put "research Pro-Tactile" on my to-do list... and then pretty
much forgot about it. What I didn't realize was that I was
ignoring something that had the power to make a huge, positive
impact on my life.

What is Pro-Tactile? Those who understand and use PT call it, the
"DeafBlind way." Here's some history to help you figure out what
that means.

It has been well noted that standard forms of sign language, and
even tactile sign language, do not fully meet the needs of people
who are DeafBlind. With little or no usable vision/hearing,
DeafBlind individuals miss important parts of communication.
Examples include environmental information, non-verbal or
non-manual cues, noises, facial expressions and emotions.
Pro-Tactile Communication is a philosophy to broaden the spectrum
and make communication accessible to all.

PT began in Seattle in 2000. AJ Granda and Jelica Nuccio, who are
both DeafBlind, are credited with creating this wonderful
socio-cultural movement. In the year 2013, Pro-Tactile is
spreading to more and more communities around the nation.

Pro-Tactile means "touch communication." It is not the same as
tactile sign language. People who use close-range ASL also
benefit from PT. It can be used with two DeafBlind individuals,
one person who is DeafBlind and one person who is Deaf or with a
DeafBlind individual and someone who is hearing-sighted. When an
individual who is DeafBlind is giving a presentation, an
interpreter might stand behind him/her and use Pro-Tactile
Communication to give feedback about the audience.

Pro-Tactile signals can be shown on the DeafBlind individual's
hand, fore-arm, shoulder, back or leg. It's best to ask the other
person for his/her individual preference.

What does all that mean? Basically, touch is used to fill in gaps
that people who are DeafBlind can't see or her. You have no idea
how important vision and auditory cues are to communication until
you no longer have access to them. Even with the perfect
interpreter, individuals who are DeafBlind will miss out on a
great deal of communication. Pro-Tactile fills in those gaps and
provides information to make communication completely accessible.
Here are a few examples of how you use PT when communication with
someone who is DeafBlind.

- Tap the person's wrist to show that you are focused and
understand. This replaces eye contact and nodding.

- The intensity and speed of the tapping will show the person's
level of interest.

- Lack of tapping indicates the other person is not following

- Draw a smile face to show you are smiling.

- Draw a sad face to show you are frowning.

- Let the person touch your neck to "feel" laughter.

- Or use your hand against the person's body to show a "belly
chuckle." This allows you to control intensity and length of
laughter. (Similar to the two-handed sign for "laughter."

- Many DeafBlind people do not like the "ha ha ha" sign for
laughing. Without the ability to see the person's facial
expression, the hand sign has a "fake" feel to it.

- Draw a question mark to indicate that you are asking a

- Trace a large letter X on the DeafBlind individual's back in an
emergency situation.

- When moving from the person's right to their left, trail your
hand along their right shoulder and across their back. In this
way, they can follow your movement.

- When you are doing an activity, let the DeafBlind person keep
his/her hands on yours. That way the person will know what you
are doing the whole time.

What does this all have to do with me? On Saturday, October 26th,
the Northeast Ohio DeafBlind Association taught a workshop about
interpreting for individuals who are DeafBlind. I wanted to
discuss Pro-Tactile communication. The workshop was only three
hours long, and I knew we wouldn't have time. So, instead, I
created a handout about PT.

Our SSP Coordinator, who was my main interpreter at the workshop,
put together all handouts in a neat packet for the students. She
read about PT while working on the packet and asked if I wanted
to give it a try. I did... And that is how my life was changed.

During my presentation, Kara stood behind me and used PT to give
me feedback on how the audience was reacting. I told my students
what she was doing and warned them that I would know if they
stuck their tongue out at me. That led to a lot of laughing. Kara
"showed" me that laughter -- not just that people were laughing,
but the intensity and length of the laughter. For the first time,
I felt like I was part of that laughter.

Throughout my lecture, she let me know that people were smiling.
They did a lot of that. Every once in a while, she'd indicate
frowning. I would stop imitatively and give the students the
chance to ask questions. I knew they were asking question,
instead of making statements, because Kara would draw a question
mark on my back. When the students understood, she would sign
"yes" against my arm. She also did this when students nodded to
show agreement. PT, allowed me to "see" those nods.

I've taught many workshops over the years. I never had a clue
about how the audience was responding until after the workshop
was over, and I could question my interpreter. That's not a
pleasant way to participate in public speaking.

This time, I didn't need to ask. I already knew. Thanks to
Pro-Tactile, I was a part of it all from start to finish. To the
growing number of people who follow the DeafBlind Way, you can
count me in!


  1. I LOVE this! Yess!!! I've "heard" of PT until I got a personal "workshop" from aj. I'm working on using it whenever I talk with a DB person but I'm not 100% confident and totally open to feedback. aj is patient and a great teacher. Anyway, can I share your blog post on my blog? (

  2. I still feel clumsy using it, too. But I plan to keep on
    practicing. Yes, you can share this blog.