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Technology Comes Home.

When Rachel Dubin walks into her condo after dealing with the hubbub of Washington, DC, she immediately feels secure. In her controlled home environment, Dubin, who has bilateral cochlear implants, uses technology to her advantage.

The 35-year-old relies on a variety of assistive devices to alert her to what’s happening in the house. Whether it’s a phone, doorbell, alarm clock or smoke detector, technology keeps Dubin in touch with her surroundings. In fact, Dubin’s smoke detector with strobe light is so effective that it recently galvanized the woman, as well as all of her neighbors, into action.

“Not only can it detect a smoking pan (I’d burned the risotto and was trying to cool off the pot under cold running water), the act apparently sent smoke all over the condo,” recalls Dubin. “It also has a super-loud alarm that sent my neighbors running out into the hallway to look in on me.”

Although her apartment may have looked like a smoke-filled disco complete with flashing strobe light, and Dubin felt a little sheepish about disrupting her neighbors, the technology worked just as designed.

Visual Alerts

Indeed, as Dubin’s experience illustrates, a flasher (or one combined with audio) can be very effective. This kind of assistive device can also be used with the phone, doorbell, alarm clock and baby monitor, providing visual or loud audio cues when some kind of action is taking place.

An alerting system that vibrates may be the right option for you or, if you’d like your alerting system to work with more than one thing—such as the doorbell and the telephone—you can buy a combination signaler. Combo signalers can flash, produce a loud sound, or shake the bed to get your attention.

For parents with hearing loss, portable video monitors provide visual information about a child’s activities, detecting whether a baby is napping or a toddler is attempting to climb out of the crib. There are also options for connecting a cry sensor in your baby’s room to the bedroom lights or your alarm clock.

Phones

While the Internet may quickly be replacing the need for Teletypewriters (TTYs), and Telecommunication Devices for the Deaf (TDD), those with broadband access issues still rely on these older communication solutions. Both TTY and TDD require the caller and receiver to have the same device in order to facilitate phone communication. Those who don’t, use a system called a “relay,” which allows the person with the TTY/TDD to call into a center that houses the same kind of device. There, an operator makes the outgoing call to the third party, and acts as intermediary.

Advancing technology has expanded the number of electronic and digital gadgets now available on the market.

In contrast, if you have an Internet connection, you can now make phone calls via Internet relay. Think TTY for the modern age. Here, the Internet and a computer are used in place of the old technology, with a call center liaison facilitating communication. If the caller signs, or simply wants to see the communication assistant in the relay center, video relay is the answer.

For those who can speak clearly, Voice Carry Over relay may be a good option. Using VCO relay and a specially designed telephone with text display, the caller speaks directly to the other person on the call. The relay center’s communication assistant then types the receiver’s responses for the caller to read. Relay calls can also be conducted over Instant Messenger (IM). In addition, there are several user-to-user, video-calling options like Skype, iChat, and Google video chat.

Captioned telephones function similarly to a standard phone, but caption all incoming and outgoing phone calls. Most units have amplification, and some even have neat features like the ability to program speaker volume based on your audiogram, or answering machine message retrieval.

Today’s smartphones, of course, have incredible communication options and are often customizable to your particular needs. Email, IM or even text messaging can all help you reach out and communicate. The iPhone’s FaceTime feature – which works on WiFi with the iPhone 4 or 4s, and even over cellular on some networks – is a real-time video chat with remarkably clear video quality.

Clocks

For those who travel, alarm clocks designed specifically for the deaf and hard of hearing are essential to avoiding late arrivals and missed appointments. These alarm clocks wake the user with a flashing strobe, a vibration, a loud ringer, or a combination of these options. If you’re sensitive to light, look for a clock that can be dimmed or lit up with the push of a button.

Electronics

Flat screen TVs may be the norm, but the set up can be complicated depending on the connection and additional gadgets you introduce to your entertainment system. For example, if you have a DVD player and a DVR, you’ll have to ensure that captioning still works. Watch out for HDMI connections from devices that don’t have channel tuners—HDMI doesn’t always transmit captioning data. Testing captions in person before any TV or DVR purchase is essential; each model renders captioning differently, and your personal preferences are a key ingredient in the decision-making process.

Chances are that you prefer the TV volume higher than your family or friends, but that doesn’t have to become a bone of contention. Wireless TV amplification devices can enable you to hear through a headset, so that you can set your own volume. If you wear hearing aids or cochlear implants, you can choose from a few different coupling options, including looped systems, direct audio cables, or digital induction via Bluetooth technology. It’s best to discuss these options with your hearing professional to determine which will best meet your particular needs.

The Bottom Line

Advancing technology has expanded the number of electronic and digital gadgets now available on the market. Margaret Winter, coordinator of clinical services in the Children’s Auditory Research and Evaluation Center at L.A.’s House Ear Institute, says that has changed the landscape for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

“In many cases, hearing aids can now be paired to smart phones and music players alike,” says Winter. “This is great because… so many people go everywhere with these devices, it’s already a part of their lives.”

While technology’s bells and whistles are impressive, it’s how that technology serves your needs that really counts: Connecting you to music, helping you keep track of a toddler, and yes, preventing a burning risotto from starting a fire. After all, home is a place where you should be able to relax and fully participate.

“I’m glad we live in an age where this kind of technology… is available,” says Dubin. “Having alerting devices in my home makes me feel more secure.”

Editorial Staff

I work at Phonak and write for HearingLikeMe.com.


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