Touch is my connection to the world. It is a natural way of being when you are both deaf and blind. You need no lessons or have no choice but to use the more dominant sense of what is left for effective communication. Smell and taste provide added clues toward information, but only touch can let you reach out to the world, and let you feel its beat and know its way. From that touch, communication can be obtained by language on the hands or through the use of technology such as Braille. Life can be accessed through touch. Life can be lived through touch.
By living life and meeting others like ourselves, a new way of life based on this touch is developing. When a few people notice that development, new and better ways can be created. It isn’t fantasy. It is happening. A way of being for the deaf and blind. A way to be DeafBlind with a culture and a community that gathers together to learn, grow, and live. The lifestyle is being called Pro-tactile because at its very heart is touch.
What is this lifestyle called Pro-tactile exactly? How do you live it? The simplest answer is just touch. The focus is literally on the touch. Most people do things that communicate by sight. People nod their head to say, “yes,” or shake their head to say, “no.” Gestures are used to visually tell someone to go away or stop. Facial expressions convey yes and no, anger, confusion, sarcasm, laughter, surprise. Hearing blind express and understand those same communication nuances through tone and inflection. They literally hear an eye roll or tears shed through voice tone and inflection or body movements. The DeafBlind can see or hear those communication clues or not well enough to ensure full understanding.
How can they get that vital information? Touch. We have developed natural touch techniques through our interactions with other people, but most importantly, our interactions with each other where we feel the most comfortable to explore for ourselves instead of just being communicated with and how we have been taught by hearing and sighted people who thought they knew better. What it did in reality was limit conversation and slow that conversation down to a crawl where it actually impedes comprehension. You know how when people spell a word very slowly for you to ask you what that word is, but you just can’t get the picture in your head because the individual letters are just swimming in your mind. ” P…. i…… c……, uh, t…. u… r…, uh, e” Then suddenly, that word you thought was so foreign or high level vocabulary is actually picture. Slow Tactile ASL isn’t much better. TASL without natural tactile communication clues for transferring all the feelings, expressions, and directional clues is just as mind boggling. The key word to focus on here, in addition to tactile, is NATURAL. The flow of conversation opens up and information flows and, along with that information, relationships develop and flourish.
With Pro-tactile, we add more natural touches to enhance communication and help the speed and flow of conversation to be more natural. We find ways to add those communication clues to our tactile conversations to let our participants know we are listening, understanding, and provide feedback without interrupting the flow of conversations. Head nods become hand taps on the forearm or leg. Signing yes, no, stop, right as in yes, right I agree, as the person is talking to you lets them know you are there, listening, and understanding or not understanding. In addition, descriptions of rooms, to places, and even the parts of a good story can all be done tactually on the person you are talking with to better help explain things that become abstract when painted in the air like a finger pointing or a child climbing a tree.
This part of our natural lives is developing into our customs and culture. The explanations are growing into workshops for everyone from hearing people to interpreters to DeafBlind people. These natural movements are being analyzed and labeled with terms like backchanneling which is for those tactile head nods and subtle tones of “I’m listening, I’m understanding, and I agree or disagree,” and mapping which identifies our use of each other’s backs, arms, and legs to draw miniature maps to describe the action on a stage at the play to the way to the restroom in a restaurant to describing to that person you are telling a story to show the boy climbing a tree to look across the valley. It is how we connect with each other and the world around us.
Are you wondering about those touches on the leg? Are you wondering if it is appropriate? As we meet and learn each other, we develop that rapport naturally and use techniques that are appropriate for the relationship, but all the touches are used in an appropriate manner and convenient for the conversation and its surroundings. Everyone must learn boundaries with touch in relationships, but hearing also use touch on a shoulder, hand, or even a knee to show compassion, show support or a gentle grab of the elbow or gentle guidance on the back to guide. Any of these touches can be inappropriate if in an inappropriate context, but we learn in which contexts those touches are appropriate and even beneficial. Those appropriate touches and those appropriate contexts are the same with Pro-tactile. Individuals must know what is comfortable and know how to inform when something isn’t comfortable. Pro-tactile isn’t about going beyond what is beneficial for conversational enhancement. Used properly, Pro-tactile brings us together, not push us apart.
Pro-tactile is just how DeafBlind people live their lives to communicate and understand their world. It is based on touch in the same way that sight and hearing is for most people. When you communicate with us, think about touch first to let us know you are there by a gentle touch on the shoulder or arm, touch our back or knee as you listen to an interpreter explain what we are saying or read what we type to you, and tap that hand, so we know you are listening. Close the fingers into a fist and tap like you would nod your head to say yes, or do a very gentle swipe with the index and middle finger and your thumb to answer (ASL for no), no, as we talk. When you laugh, let us touch your neck to feel your laughter rather than sign the ASL sign for laughter or type, “I’m laughing,” so we experience that laughter with you and can join in at the same time rather than after the fact. Draw a sad or happy face to show us your emotions. If you move, trail our shoulders and backs as you move around, so we always know where you are at the moment. As you do a task, let us keep our hand on yours as you complete it, so we always know what you are doing, and we can feel present and involved. Let your focus be touch, and you can reach us and we will be able to reach you through the Pro-tactile way – the DeafBlind way.