Advice when deaf in the business world

Living with any disability is challenging, but with the proper support and living aids you can live a full and independent life. One of the great things about living in this era is the rapid pace at which technology advances. Gone are the clunky hearing aids of the 80s, 90s, and even 2000s. Now you can get digital hearing aids with Bluetooth and wi-fi and a range of settings to suit different locations and activities, and they fit snugly in your ear canal.

Hearing aids aren’t the only assistance tools for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, not by a long shot. Let’s take a look at what else you can pack in your toolbox.

A furry friend

Assistance dogs aren’t just for the blind and visually impaired. Their primary job is to alert deaf people to sounds; the doorbell, alarm clock, and smoke detectors. Timely warnings can save lives (smoke), save jobs (get to work on time), and ensure you don’t miss a delivery.

Hearing dogs are also great companions and can give purpose to life. This is especially important in times of despair – when you feel like all the challenges, the obstacles, the discrimination, and the lack of support and understanding are too much to bear.

Rest assured that dogs from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People are trained using force-free reward-based positive reinforcement methods only. They are also carefully assessed and paired with suitable people so they complement each other.

The tech tools

Digital hearing aids for a digital world

Some hearing aids need to be adjusted manually to filter out unnecessary noise and pinpoint what is relevant for your situation; for example, watching a movie at a cinema and chatting to a friend at a crowded restaurant.

Other hearing aids automatically adjust as conditions change; for example, talking to a friend in a theatre foyer and then sitting in the theatre.

If you’re moderately hard of hearing you can use an ITE (in the ear) or ITC (in the canal) hearing aid. It depends on the size of your ear canals.

For more severe hearing loss there are BTE (behind the ear) hearing aids. A portion of the aid sits inside your ear but the main part is behind your ear, like an older model but much smaller and far more advanced. Instead of simply making everything louder, they work with frequencies to aid clarity.

If you only need a general kind of aid, you can try disposable hearing aids, which last about 10 weeks. They’re of the one-size-fits-all type so don’t expect too much from them.

There’s an app for that

There are apps available that enable you to control some of your hearing aid’s settings. We’ll look at apps in more detail below.

Hearing Loops

Domestic induction hearing loops can be used in two very different conditions. In large public spaces (theatres) and in much smaller spaces; your car, for example.

Independent Living, a great resource for those living with a disability, describes how hearing loops work:

“A cable encircles the room, and is fed by a loop amplifier, which picks up the sound signal either by means of a microphone or by being directly connected to the sound source. A magnetic field is produced which corresponds to the sound produced, without the impact of the room’s acoustic quirks or any other noise.

Within the loop, a person can pick up this sound with their hearing aid switched to the ‘T’ setting. Domestic-scale induction loops are also available for use in cars.”

Independent Living refers specifically to Comfort Contego hearing loops, which are easily portable and can be adjusted for single source and omni-directional sources.

Assistive listening and alerts for landlines and mobile phones

Even though mobile phones are ubiquitous, many people still have landline telephones in their homes. In some cases, landline phones can be adapted so that they are easier to use than mobile phones, so it’s worth a look at how you can tweak your phone to suit your level of hearing loss.

  • Built-in amplification for those with moderate hearing loss
  • Extra-loud ringer for those with moderate hearing loss
  • Flashing light alert with lights installed in several rooms in the home
  • Vibrating alert used in conjunction with a pager-type device
  • Neckloops (hearing loops) are compatible with landlines and mobile phones and are suitable for people with moderate to severe hearing loss

Mobile phones

Mobile phones can be augmented with Bluetooth neckloops and ear hooks, with the hooks as close to hearing aids as possible. They not only amplify the volume; they also improve clarity so you can clearly hear what the other person is saying.

Note: Your phone must have a telecoil (hearing loop) to work with your hearing aids. Your audiologist might need to activate the loop on your hearing aid and you will need to consult your phone’s manual to activate the loop on your phone.

Streamers are an unobtrusive wireless way for you to answer your phone and listen to audio on your laptop, mobile phone, and MP3 player. You can even use it with your TV adaptor. Sound is transmitted directly to your hearing aid. Streamers work with specific hearing aids so you need to talk to your audiologist about what devices can be linked to your hearing aids.

There’s an app for that

There are apps available that enable you to control the assistive functions on your mobile, as well your PC. We’ll look at apps in more detail below.


Alert aids

If you don’t have a hearing dog to let you know when alarms go off or bells ring you need conspicuousalerts that will attract your attention no matter where you are at home or out and about.


Doorbell alerts

Doorbell alerts have gone wireless and can be set to use several methods at once; loud chimes, flashing lights, and vibration. Receivers have sufficient range for you to receive your alert anywhere on your property. You can also use apps to link doorbell alerts to your mobile phone, even including a camera so you can see who is popping by.


Smoke alarms and security alarms

Smoke alarms and security alarms also use a combination of strident sound, vibration, and flashing lights. Make sure you get the right smoke alarms. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms for the deaf and hard of hearing need to meet certain requirements. British Standard has more information on the criteria.

Look for the BSI Kitemark™ symbol.


Alarm clocks

Alarm clocks can be placed on a night stand or under your pillow. They use the same mix as other alarms – extra loud sound, bright lights and screens, and vibration.


Baby monitors

Baby monitors also use vibration and bright visual displays to get your attention both day and night. At the upper-end of the market you can get monitors with built-in TV cameras so you can keep an eye on your baby all the time.

There’s an app for that

We will now look at some examples of different apps designed to make life easier for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Speech-to-text apps

These are ideal for people with severe hearing loss:

  • Relay UK can be used on landlines and smart phones, both Apple and Android
  • RogerVoice relies on an internet connection and is free between users – think of it as Whatsapp for the hard of hearing
  • Live Transcribe comes to us thanks to a partnership between Google and Gallaudet University. It has an array of features but is only available on Android devices.
  • TextHear – Personal works on Android and Apple devices but favours Android with free service
  • Hearing Helper is available on Apple devices only and is free to use
  • Ava, another Whatsapp-type app that can transcribe group conversations. Ava is a paid-for service.
  • Otter Voice works in a public setting (business meeting) and one-to-one conversations. Conversations are saved so you will need to delete as and when necessary.

Volume control apps

Chatable provides enhanced sound and clarity and reduces background noise so you can focus on the matter at hand. It’s compatible with Apple and Android devices. You need headphones. There is a free version and a paid-for version, depending on how much adjustability you want.

Video conferencing

The popularity of video conferencing software has rocketed thanks to the coronavirus. Not all apps are user-friendly for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

RNID’s Head of Technology has written a comprehensive review on the accessibility of eight video conferencing apps.

  1. Blue Jeans
  2. Google Hangouts
  3. Hangouts Meet by Google
  4. Microsoft Teams
  5. Skype
  6. Skype for Business
  7. WebEx Meetings
  8. Zoom

You can read the full review here.