Hearing Loss and technology

Tools to assist with access to a PC for people with a hearing loss

People who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can configure Windows to use visual cues in place of sounds, or increase the volume level of program and system sounds. This article discusses the accessibility tools that are available for deaf or hard-of-hearing users, and also describes how to use standard Windows XP features to assist these users.

The accessibility tools that are included with Windows are intended to provide a minimum level of functionality for users with disabilities. Most users with disabilities need utility programs with more advanced functionality for daily use. For information about accessibility products and aids for Windows operating systems, refer to the Microsoft Web site, and then search for the word, "accessibility":

To Use Accessibilities Sound Features

The Accessibilities program in Control Panel offers two features for deaf or hard-of-hearing users: SoundSentry, and ShowSounds.

To open the Control Panel program:
1. Click Start.
2. Click Control Panel.
3. Click Accessibility Options.
4. Click the Sound tab.
SoundSentry is designed for people who have difficulty hearing system sounds that are generated by the computer. With SoundSentry, you can change settings to generate visual warnings, such as a blinking title bar or a flashing border, whenever the computer generates a sound. To turn on SoundSentry, select the Use SoundSentry check box, and then select the visual warning you prefer from the drop-down list.
ShowSounds instructs programs that convey information by sound to also provide information visually, such as through text captions or informative icons. To turn on ShowSounds, select the Use ShowSounds check box.

To Use Windows XP Sounds Features

You can configure the standard Windows XP sounds features to assist deaf or hard-of-hearing users. These features are available in the Sounds and Audio Devices program in Control Panel.

To open Sounds and Audio Devices:
1. Click Start.
2. Click Control Panel.
3. Click Sounds, Speech, and Audio Devices.
4. Click Sounds and Audio Devices.
To give users a quick way to control the volume of sounds, display the volume control icon in the notification area. To do so, on the Volume tab, under Device volume, select the Place volume icon in the taskbar notification area check box.
To make sure that users get the full effect of system sounds, create a sound scheme that uses sounds in the appropriate frequency. To do so, on the Sounds tab, in the Program events list, assign a sound for each event. Under Sound scheme, click Save As. In the Save Scheme As dialog box, type a name for the new sound scheme. The new scheme can be selected from the Sound scheme box.

Videos of Access Technology to assist people with a hearing loss


Using a telephone with hearing aids

If you want to know how to put captions (flowing text) onto a video, check out 'Accessible Videos'.

Communicating Technology

DeafBlind Mobile Communicator (DBC) from Humanware

A new portable device for deaf-blind people allows them to have face-to-face conversations, make phone calls using a text relay service and communicate by SMS.

The DeafBlind Communicator (DBC) consists of a Braille note-taker linked by Bluetooth to a mobile phone. The main unit is the DB BrailleNote which is aBrailleNote mPower with special deafblind software installed in it. The companion unit is the DB-Phone, which is a special cell phone with a visual display and a QWERTY keyboard that also has unique deaf-blind software installed in it. These two components communicate wirelessly with each other using Bluetooth.

Face-to-face Communication Wherever You Go DBC users can now communicate with bus drivers, waiters, shop clerks, sighted friends and family, etc. by simply activating a face-to-face chat. By following a simple menu on the DB-BrailleNote, the DB-Phone can be activated and handed to a sighted person. It's easy to keep track of the DB-Phone as it has a retractable security tether. A message is both spoken and displayed on the DB-Phone stating, “Hi, I'm blind and I can't hear. To communicate with me, type a message on this keyboard and press (the return arrow).” Whatever the sighted person types on the DB-Phone in text is sent to the DB-BrailleNote user and displayed in Braille. The DBC user can then type a response on the DB-BrailleNote and send it to the DB-Phone and so the conversation continues.

BBC review of the DBC . . .

Image of person using the Humanware deafblind communicator

Image: Humanware

Text Telephone (TTY)

Image of person using a teletype phone A TTY is a device that enables people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech-disabled to use the telephone by typing messages back and forth to one another instead of talking back and forth. In order to communicate, a TTY is required at both ends of the conversation, unless the call is placed through a Typetalk Relay Service, like the one offered by the RNID.

TTYs are traditionally used in one of two ways: either by placing a telephone handset in to the TTY's acoustic couplers or by directly connecting the TTY to an analog telephone line. Both methods have advantages. In noisy environments, Direct Connect eliminates distracting outside noises and allows the TTY to notify you of incoming calls (with a ring flasher or indication on the text display). It also allows for auto-answer and keyboard dialing capabilities. Acoustic use is convenient when an extra telephone jack is not handy or in environments that do not support an analog phone connection. TTY [teletypewriter], TDD [telecommunication device for the deaf], and text telephone all refer to the same device. (Source: Ultratec)

RNID Typetalk provides a link between the textphone user and the hearing person through a trained RNID Typetalk Operator who relays the conversation. The textphone user will type their part of the conversation and the operator will read exactly what is typed to the hearing person. The hearing person replies and the operator types exactly what is said so the textphone user can read the response on their textphone display panel. This is a service, where a person receives a teletyped message and then relays it verbally to the intended recipient. (Source: RNID)

Video relay Service

A Video Relay Service (VRS) is a telecommunication service that allows deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired individuals to communicate over the phone with hearing people in real-time, using a sign language interpreter (Source: Wikipedia).

How it works (Source: Wikipedia)

  1. An individual who communicates by sign language, uses a videophone or other video device, such as a webcam, to connect via broadband Internet to a Video Relay Service.
  2. The caller is routed to a sign language interpreter, known as a Video Interpreter (VI). The VI is in front of a camera or videophone.
  3. The video user gives the VI a voice number to dial, as well as any special dialing instructions.
  4. The VI places the call and interprets as a neutral, non-participating third party. Anything that the audio user says is signed to the video user, and anything signed by the video user is spoken to the audio user.
  5. Once the call is over, the caller can make another call(s) or hang up with the interpreter.

Resources and Suppliers of Hearing AT

  • Hearing Aid Forums (this one is for emergency services equipment)

  • RNID forums

  • Connevans - specialists in equipment for the hearing impaired

  • AZhearing.com. US specialist is Hearing related assistive technology. This is a very useful FAQ about hearing AT: http://www.azhearing.com/ald-primer.htm

  • CapTel telephoneCapTel. The Captioned Telephone works like any other telephone with one important addition: It displays every word the caller says throughout the conversation. CapTel users can listen to the caller, and can also read the written captions in the CapTel's bright display window. Learn More . . .

  • WebCapTel. It lets you have telephone conversations with the convenience of online captions. You make or receive phone calls using any phone you want, while viewing captions of the call in the Internet browser window on your computer. It's just like a traditional CapTel phone call, only you use your own phone (any phone!) and watch the captions online instead of in the CapTel display screen.

  • Captioned telephony - Ofcom's research into telephone relay services