Unless you’ve lost your hearing, you may not fully appreciate the impact that hearing loss can have on your day-to-day. Without sound, it’s easy to miss things like public announcements, travel instructions, job interviews or traditional school instruction.
It also makes it more difficult to enjoy recreational activities such as the movies or a nightclub, or even to stay safe on a dark street at night when you can’t hear the telltale signs of a predator or night drivers. The arrival of COVID-19 has only made things more difficult, with face masks rendering lip reading generally impossible. The combined effect poses an even greater challenge for the deaf and hard of hearing (HoH), who are already twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
However, advancements in technology and new developments are shifting and shaping the lives of those with hearing difficulties, even having an impact on the cost of home insurance. Legislative support, in the form of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), helps to ensure proper accommodations throughout daily life.
But what about provisions in your home? Is it a safe place that supports those who have suffered from hearing loss?
Today, the modern world has caught up to many of these challenges. “Deafness and hearing difficulties are common among seniors, and home modifications are necessary to keep them safe and improve the quality of their life,” explains Ian Wright, CEO of Bequests, a retirement and end of life planning information portal.
Rafael E. Salazar, II is the CEO & President of ProActive Rehabilitation & Wellness, where he is an occupational therapist and healthcare consultant. He also worked on a large-scale effort in Georgia to develop state home modification guidelines, operational productions and assessment templates. He tells us,
“When an individual experiences an auditory impairment, safety must be the priority.”
As the founder of Colony Roofers in Atlanta, Zach Reece knows a thing or two about how home modifications can help the deaf and HoH. “Being in the construction industry, we’ve had cases where we had to make special home modifications for the deaf,” he says.
First, Reece says, it begins with visuals. “It’s important to help the deaf see things more to supplement the lack of hearing,” he explains. “For example, have more open spaces and less tall furniture to facilitate easier lip-reading.”
“People who have hearing problems can adapt their life by receiving information from visual and vibratory alerts,” agrees Cherry Yang. As the Chief Editor of Mobility with Love, she holds a Master of Science degree in Adapted Physical Activity.
Here are some items that can help:
Wake-Up Alarm or Timer –It’s important to have a solid alarm clock when you are hard of hearing, especially because this is a time when you are without your hearing aids. There are many new models that either project extremely loud sound or forego sound altogether in favor of a vibrating mechanism.
Doorbell – Reece recommends visual signalers like a specialized doorbell. “Visual signalers are great installations that can help the deaf respond to certain alerts. Signals could be flashing lights when the phone rings or when the doorbell rings. Some houses even go for strobe lights.”
Baby Monitor – As a parent, access to a reliable baby monitor is critical, which is why there are special models designed exclusively for deaf parents. Today, baby monitors for the HoH community are available in three main forms: video, vibration and light flashes, so you can choose the one that is best for you.
Security Alarm – “Update the house’s security alarm system,” says Wright at Bequests. “Deaf and hard of hearing would not easily know if there’s an intruder, so contact your home security vendor to update the system. They can add strobe lights and smart security features.”
Emergency Safety – “We live in a time where safety in the home is leaping forward with technological advancements,” says Dr. Giuseppe Aragona, the General Practitioner at Prescription Doctor. “What is especially important for deaf people will be looking for a system that provides visual security, but also differences between alerts.”
“For example, it is easy to get a fire alarm that flashes red when there is a fire, but if you also have a similar set-up for a doorbell or intrusion, this could cause quite a lot of panic and confusion if a red light starts to flash – is the house on fire? Is somebody breaking in? Or is it just a friend at the door? It would be ideal to get a system that matches up and is easily color-coded for the simple benefit of being able to enjoy your home without worrying every time a light flashes.”
Dr. Giuseppe Aragona
Smoke Alarm – Smoke alarms are infamous for their piercing shrill of an alarm, but for those who are hard of hearing, other options exist, like models that emit a low-pitched sound. This will work for those with mild-to-severe hearing loss, but you will also find smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors equipped with strobe lights, which are sure to disrupt your slumber in an emergency.
Phones – Naturally, talking on the phone is made difficult when you cannot hear the person on the other end of the line, but there are special kinds of amplified phones made for those who are hard of hearing, as well as some that come with captioning services.
Landline – These phones feature extra loud sound settings, so you can hear more clearly on the telephone.
Captioned Phones –“It’s also really important to be able to consistently communicate, so a captioned, amplified phone is a must and is often free in most states!” says Brandy Archie, Founding Director of AccessAble Living, a company that adapts environments to fit the needs of older adults in their homes.
Video Calls –Video calls are another way to leverage your phone to reduce the dependency on sound, allowing for lip reading and other forms of communication.
Any mixture of these tools can help you live a more safe, comfortable and social life while living with limited or complete hearing loss.
One of the best things you can do when you or a loved one is hard of hearing is use assistive technology.
“Thanks to the modernity of technologies, there are various apps and devices that can aid our deaf and hard of hearing loved ones,” says Wright. “One useful app is Braci Sound Alert, which can alert when the doorbell rings or when the alarm goes off.”
Salazar also embraces newer technologies; “things like Google Nest and the like can send alerts to an individual’s phone. If the phone is set with light/vibration alerts, then this increases the odds that the individual will receive the alert and avoid harm,” says Salazar.
“Google Live Transcribe is a great app that can help people communicate with others,” adds Reece. “It’s an app that transcribes any audio input and converts into text that appears on the mobile screen. Family and friends should learn basic sign language to communicate. It could come in handy.”
“Purchasing a good hearing amplifier could make life easier,” says Yang. “Two apps I recommend Chatable and TapSOS. Chatable can remove the background noise and make the voice of people talking to you louder.” She adds that TapSOS helps you contact emergency services.
Here are a few of the apps that can help you when you are deaf or hard of hearing.
Provides instant transcription (similar to Live Transcribe). Multiple people can install it on their smartphone and with the microphone, the conversations are transcribed. This way those who are Deaf or HoH can easily follow a group conversation without having to lip-read.
Allows you to contact emergency services for help without the need for verbal communication. The app provides real-time tracking for emergency responders, while your profile includes crucial medical details.
Google and Gallaudet University helped create this free app that uses a Bluetooth microphone or headset to help you communicate. It gives real-time transcription with a display on your phone.
Tips for Friends and Family
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders offers these tips when adjusting to hearing loss or deafness in a family member or friend.
Be upfront – It can be a little confusing when approaching conversation with a deaf person for the first time, but the easiest way to know how to communicate is to simply ask. Your loved one will let you know what method of communication works best for them so you can adapt accordingly.
Gather in well-lit areas – “It is also recommended that the curtains are opened during the daytime,” says Yang. With a brighter, well-lit environment, your loved one is better able to read lips and take nonverbal cues.
Be patient – You may not understand things on the first try or even the second or third. Remain patient, and be sure to ask if you are understood because a nod doesn’t always mean comprehension.
Be an ally – It’s not easy navigating certain public situations, like family get-togethers and other big social events. You can support your loved one by contacting the host ahead of time to make special arrangements, sitting together during the event and advocating for accessible services.
Learn sign language – Traditional language may not work effectively as their hearing loss becomes more advanced. Instead, you can learn to communicate in a new way using American Sign Language.