technology

Amplifying the Home: A Technology Guide

By Neyeah Watson

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Living independently may seem challenging, or even daunting, to someone who has recently been diagnosed with a hearing loss. Fortunately, innovations in technology can vastly improve life and safety in the home. Functions like answering visitors at the door, waking up with an alarm clock, and responding to an emergency can be simplified with various tools. 

Below we review devices and applications that can help you or your loved one with hearing loss perform everyday tasks and live safely.

Waking Up
A specialized alarm clock with a round, vibrotactile device attached can be placed under one’s mattress or sheets. Instead of making sounds like beeps or music, the vibrotactile device wakes the sleeper through movement. A vibrating watch worn to sleep can be used instead of, or in addition to, an alarm clock with a shaker device. Like an alarm clock, these watches use vibrations and visual representations to wake sleepers.

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Responding to Danger
A multi-part device that includes a bed-shaker can be connected to a smoke detector to notify the resident of danger. One part is a flat, round, vibrotactile device placed under the mattress or other furniture that responds with movement when the smoke detector identifies a fire. The other part of the device mimics the design of an alarm clock. When activated by the smoke detector, strobe lights and/or the word “FIRE” display on the screen. Carbon monoxide devices for residents with hearing loss are designed similarly. If carbon monoxide is detected, the strobe lights and vibrating device are triggered.

Landline Phone Conversations
Captioned telephones help those who struggle to hear on a landline phone. These phones translate spoken conversation into visual text. The telephones look like standard phones with large screens attached. Most of these landlines transcribe what the other person on the other end saying, not the entire conversation. Captioned phones are available for free to individuals with hearing loss with documentation from a professional such as an audiologist or medical doctor. 

Smartphone Use
For those who use their smartphone as a means of communication at home, smartphone applications can make conversations easier by captioning the call in real time. Speech-to-text apps, the majority of which are free, use a computer voice recognition system to provide captions. Other apps transcribe in-person conversations picked up by smartphones’ microphones. 

Greeting Visitors
Door signalers notify residents of the arrival of visitors and can take different forms. Devices with screens—to show who is at the door or to indicate that someone is present—can be placed around the home. Other versions are connected to the doorbell; when the bell is detected, signal lights in front of the door will flash.

Acknowledging Natural Disasters
Weather alert machines come in the form of receivers that are connected to weather stations. When an emergency occurs, the receiver will turn on and issue a response, usually in the form of vibrations or an extremely loud alarm. Then the warning light will appear with a short message such as “TORNADO” on the display. External devices, such as strobe lights, sirens, and vibrating devices, will also be activated.

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Flying My Way

By Ryan Vlazny

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Airplanes and learning about their mechanisms have always made me feel alive. My longtime fascination with all things aerospace inspired my desire to work with computers for a living. But, at times, my hearing and vision loss caused some turbulence.

I was born profoundly deaf and later diagnosed with Usher syndrome―which combines deafness, retinitis pigmentosa (progressive vision loss), and problems with balance―at 8 years old.

Lucky for me, Usher lets me enjoy roller coaster rides with a perspective different than people with typical hearing and vision. I can more acutely feel the car’s ascent up the hill, the hang time at the top, the speed on the drops, the toggling back and forth on the track, and all the loops and twists in between. These sensations are most fun when I ride an inverted coaster―like my first “serious” ride in Oslo, Norway―with the track above me and my feet hanging in the air. I feel like I am flying.

My parents, heavily involved in the Deaf community, decided I’d learn Signing Exact English (SEE)―a manual communication system that, unlike ASL, matches English language and vocabulary―in place of spoken language. By the time I was in the eighth grade, I was fully emerged in mainstream classes, thanks to my parents’ commitment to my language development, and had undergone cochlear implantation. While I cannot understand spoken language with my cochlear implants (CIs), they allow me to hear laughter, birds, music, and the roar of a rollercoaster.

A few years after my CI surgery, airplanes replaced my passion for roller coasters. For my 17th birthday, I had the thrill of riding in an Pitts aerobatic airplane at the airport in Pompano Beach. The 20-minute charter ride felt like being on a roller coaster ride with 4,000 foot drops above the Everglades. The pilot, Jim, did a tricks that felt similar vertical loops on a roller coaster.

My mom and I took an (ordinary) airplane ride to Tallahassee when it was time for me to take the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), a requirement to graduate high school in the state. There we spoke with government officials about making the test optional for students with hearing loss, and we were successful. Still, after three tries, I passed the FCAT even though the requirement had been eliminated.

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For the remainder of high school I continued on track, taking advantage of computer-related courses like web design and engineering. I was accepted to the Pre-Baccalaureate Engineering Program at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where I enrolled with a major in mechanical engineering concentrating in aerospace. Some math classes, especially differential equations, were too difficult, and with the support of my advisor, I changed my major to information technology (IT). Unlike with engineering, I felt I was able to fully understand and apply the concepts of IT.

As an IT student, I created a greeting card in Adobe Flash, a multimedia software program, about greeting a new student on my make-believe RIT World Airlines. The greeting card was even commended by the university president, Dr. William Destler in a one-on-one meeting.

Few college experiences compare with my opportunity to build my own airplane game in an application development class, though. The game simulated landing a plane, which other students found fun to play. Even though I wasn’t an aerospace student, I still got to enjoy some exciting plane rides at RIT.

Today I work as a Java developer for a financial technology firm, where I couldn’t be happier. I’m proud to be the pilot of my own career.

BIO: Ryan W. Vlazny lives in Pennsylvania.

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