Deaf people often communicate through sign language, while blind people use their hands to gain a clearer understanding of sizes, shapes and feelings. But the deafblind, those with both impaired vision and hearing, use tactile signing to communicate.
Tactile signing is a combination of the sign language of the deaf and the interaction of the blind, and involves many forms of deaf and blind communication. Tactile signing's most common and most illustrative method is hand-over-hand signing, which is based on the standard manual sign system. In this method, the hands of the receiver (the deafblind) are placed on the hands of the signer to perceive the sign acted out. In this way, the receiver is feeling and reading the signs and communicating through the hands of the signer.
Tactile signing has many subtle differences from standard sign language to make communication easier for the impaired person. Signs normally made in the air, for example, are made on the body to allow the receiver to feel them. Signs made with small movements of the fingers are sometimes exaggerated or extended to the whole hand to allow them to be more easily read.
Co-active signing is an offspring of this hand-over-hand method of tactile signing. It is practiced by a sender moving the hands of a receiver, often a child, to teach them signs. Another common method is print-on-palm, which allows the receiver to read the letters being signed onto their hand.
Tactile signing has many forms and varying levels of difficulty and practice, depending on the situation of the impaired person. It is often used to make the language of manual signs accessible to children who are deaf and vision impaired. A person born only deaf, who lost vision later in life, would likely have a knowledge of signing and therefore could outwardly communicate their thoughts, but would still rely on touch when communicating with other people.
Tactile sign language, which can be traced as far back as 1648 in Britain, has allowed the deaf or blind and many with varying degrees of either disability to communicate in an atmosphere most reliant on communication. Whether it be teaching children or the cognitively disabled, tactile signing is an exercise of both the singer's and receiver's patience and memory, and, with methods like on-body signing, makes communication a whole body experience for those unable to do so through traditional methods.