Latest & Greatest Assistive Technology for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Students

July 22, 2021By: Jamie Bozarth, Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

There is an ever-expanding array of assistive technology available to help those who are deaf or hard of hearing. These tools can help students in both traditional and virtual school and therapy services better access, understand, and succeed in the classroom. Learn more in our article.

Deaf vs hard of hearing – what’s the difference?

Assistive technology can help students with a hearing loss access auditory information in a variety of ways. Hearing loss is defined as not being able to hear as well as a person with normal hearing.  Any hearing threshold of 20 decibels or greater is considered a hearing loss. Hearing loss can range from mild to profound.  The term hearing impaired refers to anyone with a hearing loss from 20 decibels or greater that has some ability to use their residual hearing.  A person who is deaf has a severe to profound hearing loss and is not able to use their residual hearing to access auditory information.

What is assistive technology for the deaf / hard of hearing?

Many students with hearing loss use amplification devices such as hearing aids, Cochlear Implants and bone anchored hearing aids (BAHA) to help them access auditory information. There are many options for assistive technology for deaf people and hard of hearing people that can be paired with amplification devices that allow students with a hearing loss even better auditory access.  These advanced hearing technologies can range from a classroom FM system in school to a personal streaming device to be used at home or in the community.  Advanced digital hearing assistive technology has opened the door to many new resources for DHH students.

Types of Assistive Technology

There are a variety of assistive technology devices for deaf and hard of hearing students.  Some options can be used with personal amplification systems and other options can be used to support communication and daily life tasks using visual or touch technology.  Schools can use Fm systems, visual aids, interpreters, closed captioning etc to support DHH students in the classroom.  DHH students can also use personal Fm systems, loop systems, streaming devices, apps and other devices to help them communicate at home and in the community.  Here are five different types of assistive listening devices and links to view a variety of the products available for each type.

Loop Systems:  A loop system is also known as an audio induction loop.  It consists of a microphone to pick up the auditory information and an amplifier that processes the signal that is then sent through the loop cable.  A loop cable is a wire placed around the perimeter of a specific area such as a church, meeting room, service counter, etc that transmits a magnetic signal to the hearing aid.  A DHH student uses the T coil function on their amplification device to pick up the magnetic wireless signal that is being sent from the loop.

FM systems: FM systems are wireless devices that enhance the use of personal amplification devices such as hearing aids, BAHA and cochlear implants.  They can also assist those who don’t wear a personal amplification device but are hard of hearing access auditory information better in a noisy environment or across large distances.  An FM system has two parts: the transmitter worn by the speaker and the receiver worn by the DHH student.  The receiver can attach directly to the hearing aid or CI or be attached to a neck loop device such as a Compilot.  The transmitter picks up the audio signal via a microphone and sends the signal directly to the receiver.  FM systems are used to reduce background noise and effects of distance on hearing.

Streaming devices: A streamer is a small device worn around the neck on a cord.  It connects sound wirelessly from a mobile phone, laptop, tv, mp3 player or any other device directly to the amplification device worn by the DHH student.

Alerting Devices: An alerting device is used to keep people connected and safe in everyday situations.  Alerting devices use visual, vibrotactile or auditory signals to alert the DHH student.

Deaf/Hard of Hearing Services: Many services are available to DHH students that help support communication.  These can include the following:

  • Cart Services: An on demand closed captioning service.
  • Closed Captioning Options: Closed Captioning allows for DHH students to read the words of the conversation that is happening.  Real time CC is when a person is typing in the conversation as it happens.  There are CC companies like CART that do this, apps that can be downloaded onto a phone or computer, software that is pre-programmed into applications such as zoom, google meets, etc.  There are many movies or web-based materials that have had CC added to them as a way for DHH individuals to access cc for those particular materials. There are also newer web-based sites such as Streamer that allow real time cc options.  A DHH student can also purchase a CC device that can be used to provide cc options in other environments.
  • ASL interpreting services:  These services provide an interpreter for a variety of settings.  They can be provided virtually or in person depending on the situation, location and availability of the interpreter.  
  • Relay Services: These services are free and can be used by DHH students as well as hearing people contacting a DHH person. You can contact your state ADA office to find a local relay service number and to help determine which relay service type works best for the DHH individual requiring the service.

Assistive technology for the deaf in the classroom

Assistive technology for deaf students is very important to ensure that each child with a hearing loss has access to an optimal listening environment.  Teachers of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing are an integral part of ensuring that each students assistive technology needs are identified and met, which is why it is so important to us to ensure that Teacher of the Deaf jobs are filled at districts that need them.  DHH teachers can recommend specific devices, educate students/parents about personal assistive technology device options and help train school staff to use any assistive technology devices that are used within the school setting. Using an FM system in the classroom can mean the difference between adequate auditory access to be successful in the school learning environment or inadequate auditory access and significant learning breakdowns. 

Getting access to assistive technology for the deaf and hard of hearing

Individuals that are Deaf/Hard of Hearing may qualify for financial support or free access to many of these personal devices.  Each state has their own program to help alleviate the cost of some of these products and parents/individuals can contact their local state disability support groups or local fire department to determine what benefits they may qualify for.  Personal audiologists can also help determine which assistive listening devices may be compatible with personal amplification devices and how to order each assistive deice.

School districts can contact companies such as Phonak, Cochlear, and Oticon to inquire about classroom FM options and to purchase equipment.  Educational audiologists or teachers of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing can also help recommend certain FM systems and help order, hook up and maintain the school Fm systems.

There are many deaf and hard of hearing services for students today that provide additional hearing technologies compatible with personal amplification devices.  There are many state and federal programs that offer free resources or financial assistance to enable DHH students to access these ALD’s.  Audiologists and teachers of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing are great resources to help individuals find, source and maintain these assistive listening devices. 

Resources:

Loop Systems: https://www.hearinglink.org/living/loops-equipment/hearing-loops/what-is-a-hearing-loop/

FM system options: https://www.phonak.com/us/en/support/product-support/accessories/further-accessories-fm-systems.html

Streaming device options : https://hearwi.org/

Apps for DHH: https://handsandvoices.org/resources/apps.htm

Relay Services: https://www.nad.org/resources/technology/telephone-and-relay-services/relay-services/

Closed Captioning Services: https://www.core77.com/projects/55969/A-Wearable-Captioning-Device-for-the-Hearing-Impaired

Cart Services: https://deafservicesunlimited.com/capabilities/captioning/?gclid=CjwKCAjwoZWHBhBgEiwAiMN66Q2mLjjzKTWJtTR7R66Y-3tiFYEEhBUQDELbGGb2JxlE_5Yl7DBvDRoC8voQAvD_BwE

Alerting device options: https://www.chchearing.org/assistive-listening-and-alerting-devices

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