If you are deaf or hard-of-hearing, you know how frustrating it can be to participate in meetings and phone calls. There are options that can make your office life more productive.
Struggles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Five percent of Americans have a hearing impairment or are functionally deaf. More than half of those people become deaf in their adult years, typically after age 65. Less than 1 percent is deaf before age 18.
Folks who are functionally deaf rely on their ability to read lips or communicate with sign language. If they learned to speak properly before they lost their hearing, you will not be able to tell that they're deaf by their speech. Many people don't even recognize that they are speaking to someone who is hard-of-hearing.
Have no fear, assistive technology is here
Hearing assistance devices
There are many devices that the deaf or hard-of-hearing can use, however you must have the right type of hearing aids, or have a supported video phone device or laptop.
If you wear hearing aids that have a telephone switch (T-coil, T-switch), you might consider purchasing a neckloop, or audio loop. The cost of these devices is reasonable, and they work very well. The lightweight neckloop routes the sound directly to your hearing aids. It connects to any 3.5 mm audio output, such as the headphone port on your computer, MP3 player, or cell phone.
With the neckloop, you can tune into live meetings over the Internet, listen to voice messages, view training videos without having to struggle to read lips, and participate in conference calls. You can also plug a special receiver into the television set so you can watch and actually hear programs by transmitting sound to the neckloop.
Video relay / interpreter services
Video Relay Service (VRS) is a text messaging service that translates conversation to a text message that you can read on any video cell phone. VRS is offered by AT&T and Sorenson.
A related service is called Video Relay Interpreter (VRI). This service offers an interpreter who translates what is being said into sign language. To use VRI, all you need is a video-supported device that connects to the Internet. For example, if you attend a meeting, and you bring your laptop or video phone, you can arrange to have an interpreter call in to the meeting through a conference line, and then interpret the conversations to you using sign language. You can also use this service for phone conversations.
In most cases, you can obtain a video phone for free through various organizations, such as Snap!VRS and Sorenson. To apply, you must meet the following requirements:
- You are a new Snap!VRS customer
- You are a U.S. citizen
- You are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or speech impaired
- You use sign language to communicate
- You have a valid telephone number (or one can be provided for you)
- You have access to high-speed Internet, such as cable or DSL. (Note: Snap!VRS recommends a minimum connection speed of 256 kbps)
- You have a valid address for receiving 9-1-1 emergency services and package deliveries (P.O. boxes are not accepted)
- You are at least 18 years old or have the approval of a parent or guardian
Visual notifications are very helpful when you receive new e-mail messages, or an event occurs that needs your attention. By default, the computer plays a sound when such events occur, however, you can configure your system to notify you with a visual image that displays on the lower-right corner of your computer screen.
To turn on visual notifications for Windows 7, visit: Use text or visual alternatives to sounds.
To turn on visual notifications for Windows Vista, visit: Vista Sound Notifications.
To learn how to turn on visual notifications for Windows XP, visit: XP Sound Notifications.
If you are using a cell phone, you may also turn vibration mode on for all message notifications.
Closed captioning in videos viewed over the Internet is made possible with special captioning software. Closed captioning for online videos became an American Disabilities Act (ADA) requirement in 2010, and tools for creating them are becoming more readily available.
If you would like to find out what other tools are available for the hearing impaired, visit: The Resource Guide for Individuals with Hearing Difficulties and Impairments.
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