Breakthrough Training for DeafBlind People in Utah is Like No Other



DeafBlind Utahns are increasing their ability to both experience and communicate their environments using an organic form of American Sign Language (ASL) called Protactile ASL.


“Oftentimes, when we see a DeafBlind individual we move out of the way; but, we take it for granted that we can see what is around us while a DeafBlind individual cannot,” observed Dan Mathis, assistant director of the Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. “DeafBlind people deserve to have access to communication and information about their surroundings. Protactile ASL is a wonderful approach for DeafBlind individuals  to be truly included in community.”



Dan Mathis (left) and John Lee Clark practice Protactile ASL.


Developed organically by DeafBlind Americans, Protactile ASL is an intuitive language that doesn’t involve sight or sound; rather, it is tactile — exclusively using touch to communicate. Breaking down the word protactile helps define the language: “pro” means “to support” and “tactile” means “touch,” which gives DeafBlind individuals supportive touch communication. For example, tapping repeatedly on the arm means “yes” and scratching on the upper arm means “laughing.” Through touch, DeafBlind individuals can express the tone of emotion and feeling. While it can be challenging to learn at first, Protactile ASL allows DeafBlind individuals become more connected with their community and sighted persons to better connect with their DeafBlind neighbors, friends and family.


Protactile ASL is based on seven guiding principles:

  1. Contact Space: Any time space is used, make sure it is contact space, not air space.
  2. Reciprocity: Regardless of how much you see, always communicate reciprocally through touch.
  3. Protactile Perspective: Internalize a protactile perspective by working together to co-create signs that are easy to feel and also describing things in ways that reflect protactile experience.
  4. Size and Shape Specifiers: When you describe qualities such as sizes and shapes, each description should be arranged in contact space in relation to the larger thing.
  5. Expectations: If the first principle is in conflict with cultural norms or is physically unsafe to apply, establish alternative conventions.
  6. Information Source: When sharing information, be sure to include the source of the information.
  7. Tactile Imagery: Protactile ASL should not be thought of as a way to communicate information to DeafBlind people. It is a means of sharing experiences.


Nationally-recognized DeafBlind Protactile ASL trainers, Jelica Nuccio and John Lee Clark, conducted a “train the trainer” session to expand the reach of this intuitive tactile communication with Utah’s DeafBlind community. The training, held Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 8-10, 2018, brought together individuals who are DeafBlind, DeafBlind instructors, intervenors, interpreters, and some Sanderson Center staff who are now able to share their expanded training and skills with Utah’s DeafBlind community.



Jelica Nuccio (right) demonstrates Protactile ASL.


  • To learn more about the Protactile Training:
    Utah center for deaf and blind takes part in new signing training | Deseret News


Sponsors of this one-of-a-kind training included:


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