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How deaf people can benefit from wearables

Technology is innovative, always improving and making a difference to anyone open to technological change. And if you take a closer look at some of these technologies you can see the benefits – especially for those of us with hearing loss. 

A big technological change in the last few years is wearable devices, in particular, smart watches – a watch that has a greater use then just telling the time. For example, a smart watch can be linked to your mobile for phone calls, used to turn lights on and off, or track your heart rate. There are some incredible things that can be done.

I have never had a smart watch before, and I rarely even wore a watch. However, I was given a FitBit Surge as a present recently –  not a bad present for someone who is interested in sport and fitness. The watch monitors my heart rate, step count, how far I have moved in the day and how many calories I have burned.

It’s been a great gift for me, but not just because it’s simple and new technology. Unknown to the person buying me the watch, they have given me a life changing gift. Why? Because I am Deaf.

That’s odd, you may think, how is a fitness watch helping improve the life of a Deaf person?

Wearable Vibrations Assist Deaf People

Vibrations, or as the Beach Boys sang in 1966, “Good Vibrations.”

Smart watches can link to your mobile phone, allowing you to set up vibrating alerts for everything including phone calls, text or WhatsApp messaging and alarms.

Vibrating Alarm Clock 

For example, the last 15 years I have had a vibrating alarm clock. It has served its purpose, but I could never have a quality night’s sleep if I was on my own relying on the alarm clock. I would constantly wake up in the night to make sure that I hadn’t caused the alarm clock to fall off the bed.  Waking every few hours just to ensure that the clock was still clipped onto the pillow was not ideal when I had a rugby game the next day. I am sure it has affected my performance on occasion.

My wife is also a good alarm clock, as living with someone who hears the alarm and then wakes me up is less stress for me. However, as I often need to be up 1.5 hours before my wife, she curses me every morning for ruining her own sleep patterns. 

So this is why I am finding the vibrating alarm clock on the watch a ‘life changer’ for me. 

I appreciate this is not new technology, and I have previously seen marketing for vibrating wrist watches aimed at deaf people, I have never used one before.  However, once I received the FitBit watch, I set the alarm for 5:57 a.m., three minutes prior to the human wakeup call from my wife, which we left in place for safety. A perfect night sleep ensured and then “buzz buzz” on the wrist and I was awake first time on the first vibration; a success! One week into being woken every morning by the watch, I just need to master getting out of bed quietly and not waking everybody else at 6 a.m.

Phone Calls and Text Notifications 

As someone who is Deaf, I don’t actually have the sound turned up on my mobile for text and call notifications, mainly because I can’t hear them, especially when I am out and about. It also saves me the embarrassment of someone saying to me, “excuse me, your phone is ringing.” So, I just rely on the phone’s vibrate option and checking the phone frequently. However this isn’t 100 percent fool proof, as anyone with a smart phone will know an accidental touch of the volume buttons can change the phone from vibrate to silent and to loud. Not only that, but the phones vibrate isn’t that powerful and has to get your attention by vibrating through the jeans pocket and onto the outside of my thigh, which I guess isn’t the most sensitive part of the body. So, here is when the smart watch comes into play. As with the vibrating alarm clock, the watch is set up notify me of incoming calls as well as text or WhatApp notifications.

It made me wonder… what else can technology do? What else could the smart watch’s vibrations let me know about when something has happened?

Wearables at Home

Around my home I have a vibrating fire/smoke alarm, which was fitted by the local fire service for free. This is essentially a pad that I put under my pillow, however, I am not convinced about the product, as I have woken up a number of times in the morning and I have knocked the pad onto the floor. Luckily, I don’t live alone, so if the fire alarm was to go off I wouldn’t be left sleeping.

I then thought about the doorbell. I brought my house from an old lady and she left the doorbell system behind. It is brilliant, very loud and also has a flashing light on it. However, there are times when I am outside and I hear the doorbell. I am sure this would be the same for people without a hearing loss.

Wouldn’t it be great if both the doorbell and the alarms were linked to a smart watch and vibrated when it was alerted? A quick Google search tells me there is such thing. Brilliant, I thought.  However, the product I found is just a wrist receiver that links to the doorbell, telephone and smoke alarm. However, oddly, it doesn’t even tell the time! 

So, we patiently wait for the next smart watch generation to have all the above.

Has anyone else with hearing loss tried a FitBit, Apple Watch or another technology that provides such beneficial vibrating alerts to deaf people? I’d love to read about your experiences in the comments! 

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Mat Gilbert
Mathew Gilbert is a professional rugby player. He has played in England, Wales and Italy. As a sporting role model for children he hopes to inspire more deaf children and into playing sport and having "No Barriers".
Mathew has bilateral sensorineural hearing lost and has worn hearing aids since the age of 5 and is currently wearing Phonak Naida V UPs.

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