Accessible Technologies for People With Hearing Loss

People who are deaf or hard of hearing need access to audible information.  This may be:

  • part of a computer interface (such as alerting tones)
  • a movie sound track
  • a voice conversation on the phone

This article covers some of the accessibility solutions for both groups of users.

Computers

Computers usually have error and alerting tones, and both Windows and Macintosh have a setting that flashes the screen whenever the sound is played.

Try It Yourself

  • Windows XP: Accessibility Options control panel→Sound tab→"Use SoundSentry" check box
  • Windows Vista and 7: Ease of Access control panel→Use text or visual alternatives for sounds→"Turn on visual notifications for sounds (Sound Sentry)" checkbox
  • Macintosh: Universal Access control panel→Hearing→"Flash the screen when an alert sound occurs" checkbox

Windows also has a setting for turning on text captions in those few application programs that have captions:

  • Windows XP: Accessibility Options control panel→Sound tab→"Use ShowSounds" check box
  • Windows Vista and 7: Ease of Access control panel→Use text or visual alternatives for sounds→"Turn on text captions for spoken dialogue (when available)" checkbox

In addition to the volume controls on external speakers, both systems have volume controls to make audio louder or softer:

  • Windows: Sound control panel
  • Macintosh: Universal Access control panel→Hearing→'Adjust Volume" button

Websites

Some audible web content (e.g., podcasts, videos) is available with either captions or transcripts.

Communication

Text

TTYs are small text terminals that can communicate over a regular phone line. Relay service adds an operator to translate between a TTY user and someone without a TTY.

Many of the mainstream, real-time text communication options (SMS, chat, etc.) have been enthusiastically adopted by deaf and hard of hearing users. No adaptations or relay operators are needed when the communication is direct.

Some libraries and other organizations are providing services, such as answering reference questions, via text messaging.

Video phones

Both direct video calls and video relay service (VRS) are now widely used by people to communicate in American Sign Language (ASL). Some libraries have installed VRS-capable devices that use the existing broadband Internet connection. Videophone applications on camera-equipped computers, mobile phones, and tablets are also popular.

Other Technologies

Other high tech products likely to be of interest to deaf and hard of hearing individuals include the following:

  • Sound monitors  use a visible display to alert parents when their baby is crying in another room, but can be used for other purposes, including letting someone know when a teakettle is whistling in the kitchen or there are suspicious noises near the front door.
  • Alarm clocks are available that flash, vibrate, or can be set to do both.

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