Those who are deaf or hard of hearing, or those who have a speech or language disorder sometimes require assistive devices (sometimes called assistive technologies) in order to help them communicate in certain situations. Sometimes the fault doesn’t lie in the person with the supposed “disorder” so much as in the people whom they need to communicate with. A deaf person can often communicate just fine using sign language, for example, but people who can hear don’t often take the time to learn how to communicate back. Sadly, the burden falls on the minority, and so the assistive devices are for their benefit as much as everyone else’s. Other devices are more necessary–like alarms or flashing lights to alert someone of danger.
There are many different kinds of technologies available depending on the needs of the person using them.
Assistive listening devices (or ALDs) are for the hard of hearing, and they help drown out background noises while amplifying more prominent sounds like voices or the sound of a horn blasting. They can be coupled with other type of hearing aids to further benefit the user’s hearing.
Alerting devices are used to complement bells or alarms. Instead of the sound of a doorbell, a deaf person might utilize a device that connects to the doorbell but issues a blinking light in place of the bell.
An augmentative and alternative communication device (or AAC) is used by those who have speech or communication disorders. As technology advances, so too do they. For example, the most basic AAC devices are picture boards, while the more advanced computer programs can create sound out of text or the same in reverse.
A hearing loop is a type of ALD that is comprised of a sound source, an amplifier, a wire that encircles a given room, and a receiver. Electromagnetic energy flows through the wire in order to enhance sound. Receivers for this type of system are often built into hearing aids, but aren’t always used.
Other ALDs involve FM radio signals to transmit similar sounds or infrared light to do the same. Personal amplifiers can also be used in place of the aforementioned if they aren’t available in a given environment.
These options represent only a very small number of the avenues available for those who need assistive technologies, and new research is conducted on a regular basis by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) in order to consistently improve existing technology while searching for new and better technology in the future.