How Technology Can Help Advance Accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People

Fri Mar 04 2022

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, around 13% of people age 12 or older in the United States have hearing loss in both ears. That's one in eight people who may experience added difficulty navigating the world on a daily basis due to being deaf or hard of hearing. For people who are affected by hearing loss, even simple activities like riding the bus, going grocery shopping, or trying to schedule an appointment can be arduous.

For people who experience accessibility barriers like these due to being deaf or hard of hearing, technology can be an important lifeline that enables them to connect more easily and fully with hearing individuals.

What Is Assistive Technology?

The Assistive Technology Industry Association defines assistive technology as "any item, piece of equipment, software program, or product system that is used to increase, maintain or improve the functional capabilities of persons with disabilities." Assistive technology comes in a variety of forms: it can be high-tech or low-tech, digital or physical, or somewhere in between. It can be used in any area of a person's life, from personal to professional or elsewhere.

Who Uses Assistive Technology?

Deaf and hard of hearing individuals aren't the only ones who benefit from assistive technology. People who live with any sort of disability (such as blindness, speech disorders, or physical disabilities) may also use assistive technology.

Examples of Assistive Technology for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People

Assistive technologies can perform a variety of different functions. Some technologies enhance listening for people who are hard of hearing, whereas other technologies translate sound to visual information for people who are deaf. Still others enable deaf or hard of hearing individuals to communicate more easily with hearing individuals who don't know sign language.

Advancements in technology have led to an increase in the number and types of Deaf communication technology; listed below are a few examples:

  • Hearing aids enhance hearing by increasing the volume or modifying the frequency of sounds for the wearer.
  • Some Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals may choose cochlear implants to enhance their hearing. Cochlear implants are a form of assistive technology which involve surgically implanted devices that allow the wearer to hear by stimulating the auditory nerve with electrical signals.
  • Alerting systems notify the user of something by means of lights, vibrations, or some other visual/physical stimulus. Alerting systems can be incorporated in alarm systems like doorbells, smoke alarms, phone calls, and more.
  • Captioning technologies allow individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to read a transcript of a phone call or video. Some captioning technologies are advanced enough to allow for real-time transcription of audio from a phone conversation or videochat. When it comes to captioning, accuracy is important. Inaccurate captions can create headaches for the person trying to read them.
  • Video and text relay services allow hearing and non-hearing persons to communicate with one another by means of an interpreter or speech-to-text/text-to-speech software.

The list above represents just a few of the assistive technologies specifically designed to help deaf or hard of hearing people. However, it's important to note that other widely available, non-specific forms of technology can be instrumental in helping Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals. For example, most smartphones come equipped with a "Notes" feature that allows deaf or hard of hearing individuals to type out messages to show to people. Text messaging and instant messaging also make it much easier for these individuals to communicate with one another and with people who don't speak sign language.

Why Assistive Technology Matters

Lack of accessibility for hard of hearing and deaf people effectively means that these individuals are prevented from being able to fully participate in society. In turn, this impedes their ability to work, socialize, and have their basic needs met. This isn't just a matter of convenience or preference—for people in this position, not having access to assistive technology (or a lack of integration of that technology into society) is an inequity that directly impacts their quality of life. Additionally, the exclusion of deaf and hard of hearing people means that the rest of society is then deprived of the contributions those individuals might have made.

The mission of Sign-Speak is to partner with Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities in creating tools that will enhance interaction between Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and hearing individuals. Our innovative machine learning software is able to recognize sign language and translate it into the spoken word, thereby improving accessibility for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community in the workplace and beyond. For employers, Sign-Speak's assistive technology allows them to uphold the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and show their commitment to equity. If you or someone you know could benefit from using Sign-Speak, don't hesitate to contact us today!