Multi-sensory Impairment

The term multi-sensory impairment applies where a child or young person has combined vision and hearing impairments, which may include a functional loss in one or both of these senses, that create difficulty in accessing the curriculum and engaging in daily life experiences.

The Policy Statement Pupil Level Annual School Census Definitions (PLASC) published by the DfES (2005), states that:

[Pupils with multi-sensory impairment] have a combination of visual and hearing difficulties. They are sometimes referred to as deafblind but may have some residual sight and or hearing. Many also have additional disabilities but their complex needs mean that it may be difficult to ascertain their intellectual abilities

A unilateral (or one sided) loss has significant implications for CYP with MSI (i.e. they are unable to rely on the other distance sense to compensate for/support access to information as would be the case for a child with a single sensory impairment).

Mild multi-sensory impairment: Dual impairment with a mild loss in both modalities.

Moderate multi-sensory impairment: Dual impairment with a moderate loss in both or the most affected modality.

Severe multi-sensory impairment: Dual impairment with a severe loss in both or the most affected modality.

Profound multi-sensory impairment: Dual impairment with a profound loss in one modality and a mild/moderate loss in the other / Educationally blind and severe/profound hearing loss

In functional terms deafblind/multi-sensory impaired children and young people may include those with:

   Mild to profound auditory impairment and visual impairment

   Mild to profound auditory and visual impairments and other significant disabilities

   Central processing problems of vision and hearing

   Progressive sensory impairments

   Visual impairments and a possible loss of auditory processing mechanisms - associated with a physical disability or cognitive disability and communication  delay


Key facts:

Deafblindness is a unique disability in its own right. The two impairments of vision and hearing loss together increase the effects of each Deafblind CYP will experience difficulty in;

Finding out information

Communicating with others

Moving around the environment Independently

About 80% of children and young people with MSI have additional complex and physical needs.

They need specialist support and approaches to teaching, learning and developing independence.

There are over 4,000 Deafblind/MSI children and young people aged 0‐19 years (Emerson & Robertson 2010), expected to rise to 5,000 by the year 2030

The prevalence is 0.04 per 1000 population (4 per 100,000)

In 2010, Sense commissioned Lancaster University to produce a report estimating the prevalence of deafblind people in the UK. As part of the report, the researchers developed a tool whereby population projections from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) can be combined with the estimated prevalence of deafblindness to give the projected number of deafblind people in the UK.

In 2017, these figures were updated with the most recent census results. The following estimates are for 2020;

Cumulative for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland





0-19 Years




0-69 Years




England Only





0-19 Years




20-69 Years





Your local Sensory Service should be able to provide accurate numbers of CYP with sensory loss including level of need, level of loss and placement.