Assistive Technology (AT) for Individuals Who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

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by Ability tools staff
looks like a small headphone set with mic and headset

Pocket Talker from:

Assistive Technology (AT) helps everyone.  Here at Ability Tools, we define AT as  any object, device or tool used to make life easier. Specifically, Assistive Technology is any device, gadget, hardware or software used by a person with a disability to do things for themselves that might otherwise be difficult or impossible to do because of their disability.

Assistive Technology helps people with disabilities live, work, learn and play as independently as possible. AT includes low-tech items like a reacher or a magnifying glass or high-tech equipment like tablet apps, or systems that allow you to control your computer with your eyes. For communication, learning, playing, to get around, working, chances are there is an AT solution for everybody.

Well, what about individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing? It has been a while since we posted anything about assistive listening devices, so we decided to put a list out there for our readers.

This list is not exhaustive by any means, and please feel free to add to it by writing in our comments section below!

Alerting Devices:  Alerting devices use a loud tone, flashing lights or vibrations to alert people with a hearing loss to various important environmental sounds.  Examples of these include:

  • Carbon Monoxide Detectors – hardwired or plug-ins.
  • Smoke Alarm Signaler with strobe lights.
  • Doorbell Signalers can work with or without an existing doorbell system to signify that someone is at the door.
  • Telephone Signaler can be plugged directly into the telephone line and electrical outlet or attached to the side of a telephone to pick up the sound of the bell.
  • Wake-up Alarm Signaler with built-in strobe lights or with a built-in outlet to which a lamp or vibrating alert can be plugged in.
  • Baby Cry Signalers with a adjustable sensitivity dial to pick up any sound your baby might make.
  • Weather Alerts give notice of upcoming storms or dangerous weather conditions.

Telecommunication Devices:

  • Amplified Ringers (many different options including lights and different sounds) can be attached to a telephone line to inform a person who is hard of hearing that the telephone is ringing.
  • Amplified Telephones that have built-in amplifiers ranging from 25 to 55 decibels. Many of these telephones have different tone selectors and loud ringers too.
  • Portable Phone Amplifier are lightweight, battery-operated and have an adjustable volume control that fits over the listening end of the handset.  They have these for mobile cell phones now too.
  • TTY / TDD have a keyboard with a visual display  that allows people to communicate with each other over the telephone lines by typing and reading their conversations. With appropriate software and equipment, computers can function as TTYs. Portable and wireless TTYs are also available.
  • Video Phones with a screen is very useful for those who use sign language to communicate. Using video phones, two people who know sign language can communicate directly with each other, or a person who is deaf and knows sign language can call a non-signing person through the video relay service. An interpreter at VRS facilitates communication between the person who uses sign language and the person who does not use sign language. Many people now use video phone technology rather than a TTY machine.
  • Voice Carry Over (VCO) Telephone: For people who are unable to hear over the telephone but prefer to use their voice to communicate. VCO telephone calls must be made through a relay service. This connection allows the person with the hearing loss to speak to the other party and read their incoming message on the telephone’s display screen. There is also a portable VCO device, which can be attached to cell phones, pay phones, or cordless phones.
  • CapTel: Also for people who are unable to hear over the telephone but prefer to use their voice to communicate, CapTel calls also must be made through a relay service. This connection allows the person with the hearing loss to speak to the other party and read their incoming message on the telephone’s display screen..

Assistive Listening Devices:

  • Audio Induction Loop is a microphone, an amplifier, and a length of properly sized wire or cable which encircles a seating area. To pick up the signals, listeners who are deaf and/or hard of hearing must have their hearing aids turned to the “T” (telecoil) switch and sit within or near the loop or encircled seating area. Audio induction loops are quickly gaining popularity in the United States.
  • FM Systems are  wireless system that transmit sound via radio waves. The speaker wears a compact transmitter and microphone and the listener wears a portable receiver which may be a headphone, neck-loop or other accessory. This system is commonly used indoors or outdoors for group meetings and classes.
  • Infrared Systems transmit sound via invisible light beams. The receiver must be in direct line of sight of the light beam from the transmitter. These systems can only be used indoors and are generally located in churches, theaters and auditoriums. There are infrared devices made for home television listening also The transmitter is placed on the TV and plugs into an electrical outlet. The user wears a headset (receiver) operated by batteries. The volume is controlled from the headset rather than from the TV; the volume of the TV can then be set at a comfortable volume for other listeners.
  • Personal Amplified System: A personal amplification system that is portable and can be used indoors or outdoors. It is used for one-on-one conversations or TV listening.  These are also called “pocket talkers”. We have some of these for loan for free to try in our Device Lending Libraries!  If you are in CA, go to:

large CC for closed captioning symbol Closed Captioning vs. Open Captioning vs. Real Time Captioning

Closed captioning is commonly seen on most TV shows and movies available now.  Captions appear with the use of a closed-caption decoder or decoder chip built into the TV.

Open Captions are a permanent part of the picture. It is not necessary to use a decoder or have the decoder chip activated to see the captions.

Real Time Captioning is a method of captioning where captions are simultaneously prepared and transmitted at time of origination by trained real-time captioners using a stenotype machine. This is usually  done for online training and meetings.

For more information about California’s Relay Service (Call 7-1-1) or visit:  The Relay Service is for everyone.  In addition, CTAP provides assistive phones free of charge for all Californians with disabilities.

Questions?  Email or call us at / 1-800-390-2699

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