Ten Sensory Assistive Technologies for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Have you ever received a gift that you knew you couldn’t use? 

A while back, someone gifted me an earpods (not the hearing aid kind) after giving a speech about my experience with hearing loss. Of course, I had to accept the gift in this awkward moment, faking a smile in front of many eyes. In my mind, I was constantly telling myself, “Be gracious. Be thankful, now.” Luckily, the only thing that came out of my mouth was, “Oh, Thank you. I can’t wait to use these…[low in audible tone] somehow.” They must have known that I had a hearing loss and wore hearing aids, right?! 

Anyhow, I figured out a new home for these earpods. It’s one less Christmas gift to add to my list. What’s more, it’s a gift that keeps giving.

I think people who have the opportunity to use their five senses day in and day out often can’t imagine a world otherwise. It’s tough for them to change viewpoints when all they know is one way. There are some people you can repeat and repeat that you have a hearing loss and nothing seems to grasp or change with their behaviour or, like in my case, the gift you receive.

One of the fascinating things about us people with hearing loss is how adaptive we can be and how quickly we can change our behaviour. How our brain fights like it’s the world boxing championship, looking for the best punch to knock down any obstacles in our way. It shows in brain scans and how we live our day-to-day lives. We know that having five senses isn’t the end all. We’ve proven that four can work just as well.

Technology gives us a fast track to adaptation, or the best punch when our environment isn’t exactly built for us but mainly for people using all the five senses. For example, we know using other senses allows us to adapt to any environment with hearing loss. So today, I thought I should give a rundown of all the sensory ways we adapt. 

Visual

“Signs are to eyes what words are to ears. “- Ken Glickman. Whether signs as in sign language or signs as symbols, meaning and intent, having full visual access can provide other ways of awareness and communication.

Eye tracking

Eye tracking is an advanced technology that can sense where the focus is, or it can control our attention on where we need to focus. Most commonly, eye tracking devices help the safety of drivers who may have their eyes distracted from the road or help marketers see what people see and scan on the website’s pages. 

See also  Deaf and Hard of Hearing Technology For Home

In our case, those who sign have a “prominence” feature available on iPhone FaceTime to track the person signing during a video call to give them a complete view for others to see. We see this in many video chats; when someone speaks, their profile gets high by highlighting their video frame.

Closed captioning

Being able to follow along with a conversation doesn’t always have to be spoken. Closed captioning is an excellent way to provide real-time speech-to-text translation to movies, news, or public speaking presentations. Captioning has been around for a while and is still here to stay.

Flashing light

Most of us are distracted often. We are distracted by checking our emails, Facebook posts while we are waiting for the bus, or distracted by anything that knows how to get our attention first. Our heads are bobbing and moving like we are watching a tennis match. 

Flashing light has a way of getting us to stop and focus. It’s a way of breaking out of regular patterns and making us notice. Flashing lights can be ways to alert us to wake up, to know that someone is at the door or to a fire alarm.

Sensory Enhancer

Some of us are unprepared or can’t part away from hearing altogether. Yet, sometimes the boost of sound is all that is needed to listen to our surroundings.

Hearing aids

Hearing aids have been the oldest assistive technology and have undergone the most change. But, oh gosh, have they changed! Now we can get them as tiny as in the ear to bigger types over the ear. 

Hearing aids started as ways to make things a lot louder, but now they filter almost everything to the point that you can get startled at any noise that moves in front of you. But that’s another story for another day.

Listening devices

Listening devices help us hear in noisy restaurants or listen to our favourite music without sacrificing our quality of life. Connecting to other devices that make it clearer to hear allows you to enjoy things a lot more.

Amplified speakers

Notice that some devices, like hearing aids, require that our body needs the fixing? Sometimes it should be the other way around. Amplified speakers, like those for TV, can support us while we choose to skip heading to the movie theatre. In the comfort of our own homes, we can entertain ourselves without having to pretend we are following along.

See also  New Technology for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing (2023)

Haptic

The sense of touch is such an essential part of survival. Babies are known to need touch to stay alive, and we need to use our sense of touch to be in the know.

Bed shaker

Anyone who uses a bed shaker knows that this assistive technology knows how to wake us up. No doubt. Okay, not all bed shakers operate like an earthquake, but they know how to get our attention, especially when we are deep in sleep.

Smartwatch

The vibration sensors were on smartphones, followed up on smartwatches. Nowadays, you can’t find a smartwatch without any vibration sensation to be used as a notification instead of the notification bell or ring tone. 

Vests

If you love gaming, you would love the whole immersive experience. Vests worn are a great way to capture the emotions and intensity of the game. These custom design vests vibrate to communicate what you need to know. They are also an excellent tool at music concerts to watch your favourite artist on stage and shake to the beat. Sometimes it’s not what they say but how they make you feel that counts.

And one more

This last one is not common but an exciting way to communicate when all fails, and this is using our sense of smell. I once spoke to a person who works in the mining industry. As part of their evacuation procedure, they release this chemical that smells like rotten eggs, which works in favour of employees with hearing loss. Installing emergency devices with visual or noise alerts in the deepest part of the ground surrounded by nature is challenging. Sometimes stink bomb is one helluva way to get your attention. 

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