ASSISTIVE TECHNOLOGY FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE
DEAF AND HARD OF HEARING
by Jeanette Dodds
I recently had the opportunity to visit the New Jersey Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s (DDHH) Assistive Device Demonstration Center in New Brunswick. Since I am deaf in my left ear and my brother is deaf, I had a personal interest in learning about available technology tools, and as a teacher of the deaf at Shawnee High School in Medford, NJ, I was eager to gather information for my students.
The Assistive Device Demonstration Center is located at the Joseph Kohn Rehabilitation Center in New Brunswick. It opened one year ago to serve as a non-commercial place at which people can try out a variety of devices to determine which will meet their needs and which they prefer to use. Decisions about assistive devices are very personal; they depend on the type of hearing loss a person has, the environments in which that person operates, and his/her personal preferences. The only way to know what will work well is to try it out for yourself. An advantage to this center is that it does not sell any equipment, so there is no pressure to buy anything, just an opportunity to gather information on the many tools available.
For a person who cannot hear, common household gadgets that rely on sound are useless. Consider the many devices you encounter each day that communicate to you through a ring or a sound - alarm clocks, doorbells, smoke detectors, telephones and fax machines. And although not a device, babies also use sound (crying) to get an adult’s attention. People who are deaf need an alternative method for being awakened in the morning, realizing someone is at the door, being alerted to the possibility of a fire, knowing the phone (or TTY) needs to be answered, and being alerted to their baby’s crying.
The term "alerting devices" is used to describe gadgets that can signal your attention and/or indicate the presence of sounds in the environment through one of three ways: providing a louder sound (for people who are hard of hearing), providing a light flash, or causing a tactile vibration. I experimented with the following alerting devices on my visit to the Assistive Device Demonstration Center:
Alarm Clock With Flasher: When the alarm goes off, a light flashes.
Alarm Clock With Strobe: Emits a strong powerful flash when the alarm goes off.
Alarm Clock With Flash and Vibrator: Can be used with flashing light or vibrator or both simultaneously.
Shake Awake Travel Alarm Clock: Placed under your pillow, this vibrates and/or sounds to wake you up.
Door Beacon: When someone knocks at the door, the beacon flashes. You can choose a small strobe light or a stronger one.
Wireless Strobe Door Chime: The door chime sets off a strobe light.
Smoke Detector with Strobe Light Smoke Detector that can be hooked to a bed vibrator.
Super Phone Ringer:This rings the phone really loud, for people who are hard of hearing.
Phone Flasher: A light flashes when the phone rings.
Baby Cry Signaler: When the baby cries it emits a strobe light, or it will vibrate your bed, whichever you prefer.
Blink Receiver: A strobe light that flashes when hooked to a unit of your choice.
Silent Call Wireless Alerting System: This is an integrated system that can alert a person to the activation of any one of a number of common household devices. A typical system consists of one or more transmitters and one or more receivers. The system can be connected to a strobe light, vibrator, or a regular household lamp, and can be used in various locations of a house. The advantage of this kind of elaborate system is that it can indicate the presence of a sound at places other than where the sound occurred and it can be set to use different patterns to differentiate types of sounds. For example, if the lamp goes "FLASH FLASH pause," that might indicate the door bell as opposed to the telephone ringing.
Wireless Pager: Just like pagers used in noisy restaurants, this pager can be set to vibrate. It works well as an intercom when two people are in different parts of the house. Vibrating pagers are also being used in hospitals and other public places in which people who are deaf need to be notified that it is their turn.
Resource for Alerting Devices
The New Jersey Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHHH) operates a financial assistance program for people who meet their income guidelines. Under this program smoke detectors, baby cry signalers, and TTY’s are provided to qualified individuals.
Adaptations for Telecommunications
Since many people who are deaf and hard of hearing cannot hear well enough to use a standard phone, adaptations or alternatives are needed for communicating with people over distances.
Allow the user to adjust the volume and control the tone, like boosting the bass on your stereo.
Amplified Phone with Flasher: Offers volume control, tone enhancer, and extra large buttons for older people and people with visual impairments, as well as a built-in alerting light.
Amplified Cordless Phone with Flasher Portable Phone Amplifier: This small gadget fits over the telephone handset. It can be taken and used anywhere.
TTY (also known as a TDD – Telecommunication Device for the Deaf): Equipped with a keyboard and small visual display, this device enables users to type their messages and send them over the phone lines. Two deaf people using TTY’s can communication with each other directly.
Relay Service: If the person on one end of a phone call uses a TTY and the person on the other end uses a regular (speaking) telephone, the services of a relay operator are needed. To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, all telephone companies now provide this service free of charge.
Pocket Speak-and-Read Portable VCO (Voice Carry Over): For people who cannot hear on the phone but have use of their voice and prefer to use their voice (late onset deafness, oral deaf), this device slides on the telephone handset and provides a screen readout like a TTY. The call must be placed through a relay service.
Assistive Listening Devices
Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) are amplification systems designed to help people hear better in a variety of difficult listening situations. They help overcome background noise and distance from a sound source. The basic function of an ALD is to improve the signal-to-noise ratio for the listener. This means that desired sounds (signals) are amplified, and undesirable sounds (noise) are minimized. ALDs can be used with a personal hearing aid or by themselves. There are several types of ALDs. The one you choose is based on the listening situation, your listening needs, and your personal preferences.
FM Systems use radio frequencies to send sound from a transmitter to a receiver. The speaker, such as a teacher or presenter, wears a microphone which is connected to the transmitter. The hard-of hearing person wears the receiver which can be connected to a variety of listening devices such as headphones, a neck loop, or sometimes directly to a hearing aid. For hearing aids that are equipped with a T-switch, a neck loop creates an electronic magnetic field between the receiver and the hearing aid, and the FM system can be used without headphones.
On some models an environmental microphone can be added to an FM system. This allows the user to hear other people in the environment besides the speaker who is equipped with the main microphone. For example, if you are listening to a lecture and someone in the audience asks a question, the environmental mike will enable you to hear the person in the audience and then you can switch back to hear the speaker.
An option for small group discussions is a device called a Conference Mate. A transmitter for an FM system is placed in the bottom of the Conference Mate, and the top of the device is a microphone. Listeners wearing an FM receiver with headphones (or a neck loop) can then hear everyone sitting around the Conference Mate.
Being radio waves, FM systems will travel through barriers. This makes them unusable in courtrooms and other situations in which confidentiality is essential. For these circumstances, the preferred assistive listening device is an infrared system. Infrared systems use light waves to transmit sounds. Light cannot travel through a wall, so the speaker and listener must be within sight of each other for the system to work. Theaters use infrared systems, since playwrights and producers do not want people to have access to their creative work standing outside a theater (i.e., without paying). Infrared systems have a better track record in terms of static, but a drawback to their use is that bright sunny days can interfere with the transmission of the infrared light.
Digital assistive listening systems are the newest products on the market. They are completely wireless so they are unobtrusive. They connect directly to digital hearing aids, and their quality is considered superior. Hearing aid users who want to use a digital system need to see their audiologist to be fitted for the correct "boot" which attaches to the hearing aid.
Single Purpose Assistive Listening Systems
A Pocket Talker is a personal listening system that can be helpful in one-on-one situations. A wire connects the transmitter to the receiver so the speaker must be positioned close to the listener and neither can move around. A Hearing Aid Telephone Interconnect System (HATIS) is an assistive listening device for a telephone. One part plugs into the audio jack of the phone, and the other part is placed over a hearing aid.
Assistive Listening System Loan Program
For people who want to try out an assistive listening system, or for organizations that need to use one for a specific event, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Awareness Program at the New Jersey Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped recently launched a program to lend assistive listening systems for up to one month. The devices are available at the following New Jersey public libraries:
Gloucester County Library
389 Wolfert Station Road
Mullica Hill, NJ
Montclair Public Library
50 South Fullerton Avenue
Morris County Library
30 East Hanover Avenue
NJ Library for the Blind & Handicapped
2300 Stuyvesant Avenue
Ocean County Library
101 Washington Street
Toms River, NJ
Piscataway Public Library
400 Hoes Lane
For Additional Information:
New Jersey Division of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHHH)
(800)792-8339 V/TTY or (609)984-7281
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Assistive Device Demonstration Center
at the Joseph Kohn Rehabilitation Center
130 Livingston Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Jeanette Dodds is an alumna of the Department of Special Education at The College of New Jersey.
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