Pro-Tactile: The DeafBlind Way!!!

Good day, folks!

Today I am so excited! Something has gone VIRAL around the world about an innovative way that will transform the Deafblind community worldwide as they adapt to the new but tried philosophy! This “way” is called Pro-Tactile and it is a project headed by Seattle Deafblind women, aj Granda and Jelica Nuccio. Nuccio, the former Director of Seattle’s Deafblind Service Center and co-creator of the National Support Service Providers Pilor Project (NSSPPP) and Granda, a longtime Seattle Deafblind community advocate and Deafblind Community Class instructor, has come up with a formula which broadens the spectrum of communication of the Deafblind outside of the standard Tactile with (American or any other international) Sign Language and several other manual methods. This new idea has just now been making the rounds in North America but it has been in the making since early 2000, when Granda and Nuccio noticed that the Deafblind were being left out in important aspects such as environmental information (example: head nodding of the other person, person entering/leaving, nonverbal cues) and noises/facial expressons since many Deafblind people cannot hear or see, or have very limited access to information easily seen/heard/understood by Deaf and hearing sighted people.

I interned at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind in Seattle in 2005 and became fast friends with Granda, who introduced me to the yet-unnamed Pro-Tactile (PT) method. I was taken aback and confused when she would start touching my body more, but then I started to understand that they were ‘added’ social cues to inform me if her head was nodding (tapping on my lap or shoulder), her hand travelling down from my left to right shoulder (she was moving from my left side to my right side), and there was that ‘aha’ PT moment one night when we sat outside on the porch and I wondered the perennial question: how do we let Deafblind people know we were truly laughing? I hated the usual sign of “ha ha” in my hands when I tactiled with the person I was sharing my joke to. “ha ha” in my hand is akin to a hearing person bellowing out nothing but a fake laugh; a Deaf person slapping a hand on their lap and their expression shows they’re faking their jest. I experimented this PT move by placing aj’s hand on my throat and I laughed out loud, a true to heart Coco laugh and aj was shocked, still, then she tried it again. It was a true PT action, which included Deafblind in the ever-elusive world of pure joy.

It then dawned to me that there was a special part of the Deafblind community that was still in its seedling stage, and the world only knew about a method which could be easily compared to, sometimes similar, but different, the Haptic Communication Method which is used in Scandinavia. Now that Granda and Nuccio have watered the seedling, built around it a strong foundation and a better understanding of its logic, the philosophy grew. Seven years later, the Pro-Tactile Way has been revealed and I could not be more happier. The world most assuredly needs to adopt this way – be more inclusive, be more tolerant, be more communicative with their Deafblind peers, with themselves and even if Deafblind people aren’t around – PT should be used between sighted people. Because it is that special.

I want to touch up a bit on Haptic Communication before I share with you the pearl of the Deafblind way, the Pro-Tactile.

Having already learned the basics of yet-unnamed PT prior to visiting Scandinavia in 2012 during my European lecture series, I had no idea or understanding about their ages-old Deafblind communication method, the Haptic. The Haptic Handbook was published by the Danish Deafblind Association (FDDB) – now available in English – and widely used with Deafblind people in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. When I gave my lecture at the Copenhagen Association of the Deaf, a Deafblind Dane came up to me and mentioned that they use the Haptic. I thought it was some nautical move but he quickly corrected me and showed me how. He drew a ‘smile’ on my face, then a frown, a question mark, and the last part perplexed me. He drew a X on my back and I said “fire?” The audience laughed. He said “no, that is Haptic for going to the toilet”. While I got the hang of Haptic (I did not use these codes in Seattle, more social cues than codes) I learned the X while at the Canadian Helen Keller Center as an adult student learning independent skills for my life as  a Deafblind person. CHKC taught me that X, while positioned and drawn on my arm or back, meant ‘fire’ or ’emergency – and that I should not protest, be whisked away by my guide without any questions, until I arrived at my safe desginated place. In Scandinavia, X meant my communication partner needed a bathroom break. It was only coincidence, that three months after my initial lesson in Haptic, I was introduced to the newly-named Pro-Tactile method. Now there was a name to what I was doing all along with aj and my Deafblind peers in Seattle. 

Granda and Nuccio provided a very insightful series of workshops at the Seabeck Deafblind Retreat in Washington State in August of 2012 and I was immediately taken with the concept. I shouted, I screamed, I applauded Pro Tactile. There were also complexities behind the philosophy of Pro-Tactile, such as “back-channeling”, the linguistics behind PT that I have yet to understand – and am very much looking forward to more and more lessons in PT. It is in my personal opinion, that PT provides so much more background, action, information and inclusion than Haptic, however, some aspects of Haptic could be integrated into PT to create an even more extensive tool for the Deafblind. 

You know, when I use PT, I feel more aware of my environment, of my communicating partner, of myself as a Deafblind person and feel as if my Deafblind community is more into sync. I can only hope, with the creation of a new Facebook group “Pro-Tactile: The Deafblind Way”  and videos by Granda and Nuccio teaching the value of utilizing PT in the Deafblind community with everyone taking notes (I mean the sighted people as well!) that one day the distant communities of Deafblind, Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Hearing and the Sighted will integrate and communicate with ease using PT. Not only that, but through the usage of PT, more and more Deafblind people will come out of their shell (like I did in 2005 – it was a big revelation and personal revolution) and they will be more inclusive in their own – or any other – community. The more Deafblind stand up strong, the more their voices will be heard, then more access to the world will come to them.

Right now the Pro Tactile is becoming widespread in the American Sign Language (ASL) communities of US and Canada, one day it will be formatted for the international Deafblind/Deaf/hearing communities, I just know it. PT should be used around the world. Just right now it is growing – and in the video like Granda and Nuccio say – it is taking steps. They will crank out more videos and resources for PT. Keep your eyes peeled! I have been doing a little translating for some international Deafblind who don’t read English nor understand ASL, so hopefully one day it’ll all be accessible in IS as well. This is how the concept of Deafhood started – local, national, then international. It takes time, but we need your help by spreading the word!

Before closing off and sharing with you the pearl of the Deafblind way, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to my longtime and personal friends, aj and Jelica, for inspiring me in the first place when I was a baby chick waking up my eyes to a new Deafblind world back in 2005 and realizing my potential as a person and as a communicator. Because of your influence, I am the person I am today and I will most certainly be your solider and march on and spread the Deafblind Way: the Pro-Tactile gem. 

I look forward to more videos and lessons in “back-channeling”.

Tactile love,


Facebook Pro-Tactile: The Deafblind Way link:

Youtube video of Jelica Nuccio and aj Granda introducing the Pro-Tactile Way (subtitles to come soon and transcript below for the ASL-illiterate!)

Transcript for the Youtube Video:

Welcome to Pro-Tactile: The Deafblind Way

English Transcription of aj and Jelica’s vlog: Welcome to Pro-Tactile: The DeafBlind Way February 14, 2013

Jelica Nuccio: Hello! Welcome to our very first vlog [aj taps Jelica vigorously on the knee and smiles. Both are receiving signs tactually, and their legs are touching] Called…

aj granda: Pro-tactile! We abbreviate that, “P-T”.

Jelica Nuccio: PT! My name is Jelica, and my sign name is a Y across the chest [from shoulder to waist.] [both aj and Jelica are smiling at one another. When aj signs, Jelica listens with one hand and has her other hand on aj’s knee, tapping often to let aj know she is listening, sometimes with more force to signal strong agreement, for example. Both presenters are wearing all black and are signing in front of a blue background.].

aj granda: I am aj granda and my name sign is “aj”. Jelica Nuccio: Our goal today is to introduce something that has been drawing a lot of attention

lately, and that is “PT” [Jelica extends her arms toward aj to invite her to continue].

aj granda: Indeed, PT has been drawing a lot of attention lately. And I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has been so supportive, so curious, and so enthusiastic about it. And thank you also for your patience. Jelica and I started developing PT several years ago, and things have been moving fairly slowly. We both have jobs and families, and in general, we have busy lives. But PT has spread across the country and there is a clear demand for more information, so we have finally decided to make this vlog a priority. We plan to post regularly from here on out. [aj is signing with two hands at the same time. For example, In Visual ASL, the sign CURIOUS would be a one-handed sign. aj signs this sign with two hands—one copy for each hand].

Jelica Nuccio: That’s right, aj. And I wanted to add—I am Deaf-Blind and Ushers. Aj is also Deaf-Blind and Ushers. We both live in Seattle, and most of the people who have contributed to the development of these practices also live in Seattle. Some come from outside of Seattle as well. We want to thank those people. You might notice that aj and I are taking turns and tapping each other’s knees as we communicate [aj pats Jelica’s knee emphatically]. That is part of PT. Now, aj, can you explain why we call these things “pro-tactile”?

aj granda: Yes, absolutely. Many people have asked me why we call it “pro-tactile”. Well, when we put pro- before another word, we usually mean that we support whatever that second word stands for. Tactile, you might think means tactile reception of signs. So many people assume that what “pro-tactile” means is essentially “support tactile reception”.

Jelica Nuccio: But that’s not it! [aj taps Jelica’s knee hard, two times, in agreement].

aj granda: Right. It doesn’t mean that at all. In the Deaf-Blind world, people do not all use tactile reception. Many people do, but we are not saying that people have to do that. That’s your decision. Remember what tactile really means is “touch”. “Pro-tactile” really means that wevalue touch for purposes of communication. During this presentation, Jelica and I have been giving each other tactile feedback the whole time, tapping on each other’s legs, and hands, and shoulders, and arms. That is pro-tactile.

Jelica Nuccio: Yes, and when you start from there—from a place of valuing touch for communication, this leads you to the Deaf-Blind way. So for example, Deaf people communicate a lot using facial expressions and the particular ways that they do that is part of their culture [aj taps emphatically on Jelica’s knee]. Even if one Deaf person uses Visual ASL, and the other one does not, they are still both visual people, who respond to visual cues as communications. We know there is a lot of diversity in our community in terms of communication, and that is fine. The only thing that matters is touch. Without a mutual understanding of the value of touch, there can be no communication. [Jelica points to aj’s hand, where it is tapping excitedly on her knee]. What aj is doing right now is a perfect example. That is how I know that she is listening and how she feels about what I am saying. When Deaf, sighted people communicate with each other, they know that the other person is listening because they nod their heads, their jaw might go slack in amazement, their eyes might widen. Deaf-Blind people miss out on that kind of information [aj continues to tap on Jelica’s knee enthusiastically, and also signs YES repeatedly on Jelica’s knee]. Hearing people say “hmmmmmm…” when they are listening to one another and this accomplishes the same function as facial expressions for Deaf people. But when Deaf people are talking to hearing people, they don’t attend to those sorts of noises. They focus on the hearing person’s facial expressions and body language and that is how they establish a connection with them. That is how they get a sense of who that person is and how they can relate to them. Deaf people have visible ways of doing that. Hearing people have audible ways of doing that. Being pro-tactile means recognizing that Deaf-Blind people have tactile ways of doing the same things. When aj taps my leg in certain ways at certain times, it tells me something about what kind of person she is and I have a sense of how we are relating to one another. Touch is our way of being present with one another. It’s about touch. It’s that simple!

aj granda: Yes, although, its simplicity can be deceiving. To reiterate what Jelica has just said— you can see that I am nodding my head right now. Does Jelica know that I am nodding my head? How do you know?

Jelica Nuccio: Head nodding is not natural. [aj taps Jelica’s knee rapidly several times]. That [pointing to aj’s hand] is natural.

aj granda: [nods head and taps Jelica’s knee in the same rhythm]. The head nodding and knee- tapping match. They serve the same function [Jelica nods and smiles at the camera]. If you’re going to nod your head, you have to tap on the knee of the person you are nodding at the same time. Otherwise, they don’t know you are agreeing with them. That is the kind of thing that allows us to share information with one another, and that is being pro-tactile is all about.

One way I like to explain PT is to compare it to using a TTY. You might remember what that was like—when the person you were talking with would type and type and type, and you already knew what they were saying, you already had that information. In person, you would just tell them, “Yeah, I know that already,” but the way the TTY was set up, you couldn’t interrupt, so

you just had to sit there and wait until they were done. Finally, after what seemed like an unbearably long time, you would see the letters, “G-A” at which point you would tell the person, “Yeah, I already knew that. You didn’t have to tell me.” So the constraints of the technology made for some really frustrating and inefficient interactions.

Well, before PT, Deaf-Blind communication was like that. Interactions were limited and we didn’t have access to all of the cues that make things smoother and more efficient. Pro-tactile communication is immediate. Turn-taking is seamless. There are no awkward time lags or frustrating constraints. Information is received when it is produced, and there is a constant stream of information coming from the person you are talking to—like now, how Jelica is touching my knee and giving me constant feedback. It’s fantastic!

Jelica Nuccio: And these ways of communicating feel natural very quickly. So you might be asking yourself why PT didn’t happen sooner. Well, the reason is that hearing and Deaf people have been dominant in our community until now. They thought that they were the ones with all of the knowledge and expertise about us, and we thought that was true. But that meant that we had to try to do things the sighted way. That is why we were under so much stress, why we felt that we were slow in learning things, and why we were always the last to know what was going on. For example, if a sighted person was doing something and a Deaf-Blind person was waiting to talk to them, the sighted person would say, “Hold on.” Then they would drop the Deaf-Blind person’s hand and leave them standing there, not knowing what was going on. They might say, “I’ll explain later.” That is not natural for us. If those two people were pro-tactile, then the Deaf- Blind person would be able to leave their hand on the hand of the sighted person while they did whatever they needed to do, and the Deaf-Blind person would know what was going on the whole time. Pro-tactile is inclusive—it allows us to be involved in what is going on when it is going on. For example, if a person is having a conversation with their friend, they don’t have to tell you, “I’m talking to my friend, I’ll tell you about it later.” They can just invite you to observe the conversation tactually. So one of the basic ideas behind the pro-tactile movement is that we can be involved in our environments without interpreters describing everything to us after the fact. We can feel things for ourselves. Everyone likes to watch what other people are doing and what other people are saying to each other. Human beings are eavesdroppers, and Deaf-Blind people are no exception.

aj granda: I agree with everything you’ve said, Jelica. And I want to emphasize: Pro-Tactile is a philosophy that guides action in everyday life. It is a socio-cultural movement that is affecting personal, political, and one more thing—what was it?

Jelica Nuccio: And linguistic!

aj granda: Yes! And Linguistic dimensions of our everyday lives.

Jelica Nuccio: Yes, that is just a very brief introduction to the meaning of “pro-tactile”. From here, we will have a series of vlog posts. The first one will be an in-depth discussion of “backchanneling”. Following that, we will talk about TASL (not TSL). And those are just our first topics. We plan to post many more vlogs in the near future. We will be talking about all of the different aspects of pro-tactile philosophy—its personal, political, and linguistic implications.

We will talk about how pro-tactile practices can affect your work environment, your relationships with other people, and more.

aj granda: For now, we’re going to have to end the vlog. But in our next appearance, we will explain backchanneling. We will be giving you some examples, and show you how to do it yourselves. After that, we’ll be talking about TASL, and we will go from there. We are glad to have this opportunity to introduce ourselves to you, and give you a brief introduction to pro- tactile philosophy. Thank you to you all, and we are so excited to share this with you.

Jelica Nuccio: Wait! There is one last thing. Pro-tactile practices are for everyone. Deaf people can be pro-tactile if they communicate the Deaf-Blind way. Hearing people can be pro-tactile if they communicate the Deaf-Blind way. Hard of hearing people can too! Pro-tactile is the Deaf- Blind way, and it is creating a world that is natural for us. That is it. Thank you very much for watching.

aj granda: Thank you everyone for joining us in our new world! Go pro-tactile!!! Jelica Nuccio: This is aj [name sign: aj], and I am Jelica [name sign: Y across chest from

shoulder to hip].

aj granda: Thank you [to Jelica] Bye everyone! [Jelica leans over and rests head on aj’s shoulder. They both smile, and squeeze each other’s hands].

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6 Responses to Pro-Tactile: The DeafBlind Way!!!

  1. Dear sir/madam,
    Welcome to kenya.l am disabled at kabarnet sch.for Deaf/blind children,but we have not support for deafblind highly appreciated.Greetings to you all.
    best regards,

  2. Pingback: Back-Channelling With Deafblind. | Splash Of Paprika

  3. Pingback: Communicating With Deafblind. | carla willard

  4. Samuel says:

    very nice information. Idk if you remember me AJ we met in Albuquerque. I was recently diagnosed with US so I’m trying to catch up in the deaf blind world 🙂

  5. matterstosam says:

    Hi. I would really like to learn more about how to learn to sign as a blind person. I’m totally blind and hearing and have a totally deaf sighted friend. I’m not sure how to explain tactile sign to her will it be hard for her to adapt to if she’s used to regular signing? We do text but can’t fully communicate this way due to her prefering sign. My sighted friend can write back and forth with pen and paper but I really want a private way to communicate with her in person.

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