Assistive Technologies for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Hearing assistive technologies (HATs) are used to assist people with hearing disabilities in their day-to-day tasks and needs. HATs vary greatly and can fulfill many functions, depending on the situation and the needs of the individual person. For example, some HATs may help a person with a hearing aid focus on a specific sound to the exclusion of other auditory stimuli, whereas others might provide captions, or visual alerts for events signaled by sound (such as doorbells).
What Are Assistive Technologies?
Hearing assistive technologies are devices that amplify, augment, or replace the need for sound in order to improve the day-to-day lives of people with hearing disabilities. The indispensable value of these devices in terms of allowing people to function fully and comfortably is recognized by the federal government. The Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 provides grants to U.S. states and territories in order to fund assistive technology initiatives.
Furthermore, the Americans with Disabilities Act not only requires that appropriate services be offered for people with disabilities in the public sphere, but also enforces requirements regarding “accessible design.” In a 2010 revision of the ADA, the latter feature was updated to stipulate that audio enhancement technology used for the public assistance of people with hearing disabilities must be updated and renovated to allow people with hearing aids or cochlear devices to use them without removing their personal devices. This is a large scale infrastructural change in the United States; and as such, this update only requires that at least 25% of publicly available audio augmentation receive these updates within the allotted time frame.
This appears to imply that further long-term updates will be regularly enacted. Much of these updates will involve the installation of hearing loops, which have long been a required hearing assistive technology in public spaces in the U.K. Hearing loops transmit sound directly to a hearing device using a magnetic field. This not only eliminates the need to remove hearing aids and cochlear implants for use, but works along with them in order to amplify the target sound to the exclusion of background noise.
Other legislation updating accessibility regulations, such as the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), have also been implemented to reflect the improved scope of modern assistive technology.
Assisted Listening Systems and Devices
As stated, ALDs can vary greatly depending on the needs of the user. For example, one may be used to listen to a specific source of sound in large, loud areas, while another may be used to amplify a one-on-one conversation. The following list will detail many popular assistive listening devices and their uses.
Communication Access Realtime Translation
Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is a speech-to-text system, also known as “real-time captioning.” This is a computer-translation system which captions audio as it occurs, rather than being pre-transcribed. In addition to the obvious benefits for people with hearing disabilities, CART can supplement assistive listening devices by providing redundancy in the user’s input. If they miss something through one channel, they can receive clarification through the other. CART may be performed on location or remotely by specially-trained providers.
Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices
Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices are devices that replace speech and audio queues with other forms of communication. These are especially helpful for people who have complete or profound hearing loss, as they do not benefit much, if at all, from assisted listening devices. AAC devices may range from picture boards to eye-tracking devices to speech-to-text software.
Telecommunication devices are devices that transmit information over a substantial distance, such as telephones, televisions, and computers. Such devices are becoming more and more prevalent in day-to-day life, and therefore assistive technology that augments these devices is essential for people with hearing disabilities. Many of these accessibility augmentations have to do with smartphones.
However, while accessibility options for smartphones are increasing all the time, both as part of their default settings and as apps, the specific options will depend on factors such as the specific phone or phone provider. For example, Android and Apple phones will not always offer the same apps, and a larger wireless provider will often have more resources at their disposal than a smaller provider.
Alerts and Alerting Devices
Whereas ALDs and AAC devices amplify or provide an alternative means of communication, alerting devices alert the user to important audio stimuli in their environment. These audio stimuli include things such as alarms, doorbells, barking, or important news alerts. Many of these alerts are available as smartphone apps. The alerting device may employ many methods to get the user’s attention, including an especially loud noise, a tactile sensation, or a flashing light. The following are a few common examples of alerting devices: