Tips for Communicating with Someone who has a Dual Sensory Loss

  • Always state your name and identify anyone else in the room before proceeding with communication so that the person knows who you are and who is in the room.
  • To get the person’s attention, gently touch their hand, shoulder or arm.
  • If there is a support person or family member in the room, please remember to communicate directly with the senior who has dual sensory loss, in order to ensure they know what everyone is saying and are actively engaged in the communication process. It’s often easier to just ignore the person and speak quickly with the support person or family member, but this takes away from the person’s ability to share what they think and feel and adds to the isolation that they are already experiencing.
  • Avoid having your back to a window, as this creates glare and makes it difficult for someone with vision loss to see your face. If there are blinds on the window you can close them and this will help reduce the amount of glare. Lighting is very important, so make sure there is adequate lighting and try sitting/standing in different locations and see what works best for the person.
  • Always tell the person you are leaving.   A wave good-bye in their hand works well.
  • Inform the person of their surroundings, including people and other activities in the area.
  • When guiding someone, never place the person ahead of you.  Let them hold your arm above the elbow and walk ahead of them.   Pause or stop to indicate a change in environment, i.e. stairs, doorway, chair. Indicate to the person why you have paused or stopped. For instance, let them feel the stair railing, or the door knob.   
  • Communicate clearly in plain language, clarifying as needed.
  • Treat a person with dual sensory loss as you would treat anyone else.  Be courteous, considerate, and use common sense.
  • Allow for extra time.  The communication process can take time.

Elderly man sitting with hands folded in front of his face.

“Don’t stop talking to me just because I cannot communicate in the same way I used to”

Methods of Communication

  • Two-hand manual
  • Voice overIndividuals who are hard-of-hearing often have trouble hearing people’s voices from far away, or in noisy areas. Some benefit from having a person beside them speaking directly in their ear, repeating every word to access the information.
  • Large PrintSome people with dual sensory loss communicate using large print notes. In these cases, written materials are rewritten, or printed in large letters with high-contrasting colours, for instance, black letters on a white background. If writing notes on paper, use white paper and a black permanent marker.
  • Print on Palm
  • Haptic Communication

  • Braille
  • Picture CuesFor people who have dual sensory loss with some vision and low literacy skills, it may be easiest to represent different items and events using pictures. These pictures should be on a high contrasting background, for instance, a yellow banana on a black piece of paper. If using these for communication, they need to be used consistently prior to the individual being presented with the associated item.
  • Tangible Object CuesFor people who have dual sensory loss, it may be easiest for them to feel objects that represent items and events. These object should be easily identified and have distinguishing features. Sometimes, the full object can be used or you can use a part of an object. Other times If using object cues, these objects should be used consistently prior to the individual being presented with the associated item.

Two-Hand Manual

Two-Hand manual is a system of communication where letters of the English alphabet are formed by a speaker’s hand positions which are placed upon a recipient’s open relaxed palm. The combination of the speaker and recipient’s hands form the alphabet. Each letter of each word is spelled. This is a tactual communication method also adapted for some visual use.This method of communication is commonly used with seniors who have dual sensory loss. For many English speakers, it is easy to learn and can be an effective way to communicate.

For instructions on how to use the 2-hand manual alphabet, please go to: