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Access Board Information Meeting on Communication Access – Part 1

Access Board Information Meeting on Communication Access – Part 1

Editor: There seems to be a growing awareness of the issues faced by people with hearing loss in life-threatening and emergency situations. I think it’s a long ways from emerging awareness to the implementation of effective systems, but awareness is certainly a start! Here’s a report on Lise Hamlin’s recent presentation to the Access Board.

This report is presented courtesy of NVRC. You are welcome to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC. (See full credit at the end of this article.)

This is part one of four parts.



On July 25, 2006, the U.S. Access Board held a public meeting on Communication Access in Washington, DC.

Lise Hamlin, NVRC’s Emergency Preparedness Specialist, gave a presentation on behalf of NVRC. Her presentation started with this statement:

“In March of 2005, two friends of mine, Blair and Anita Mazin, died in New York City because they were deaf. They came home late one night, and like many people with hearing loss have done, myself included, walked away from their car without realizing they had not turned the engine off. When I walk away from my car, it’s parked outside, so it’s little more than an embarrassing inconvenience, certainly not fatal. Blair and Anita’s car was in a garage underneath their bedroom.

“People who can hear the low rumble of their car’s engine at a distance have a hard time understanding how someone could unintentionally leave it running. They also rarely consider the impact of building a garage under a sleeping area that holds people with hearing loss. Blair and Anita’s home was equipped with a carbon monoxide detector, but that detector gave only an audible alert. The next door neighbor heard it, but too late. Blair and Anita had already died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

“NVRC applauds the Access Board’s efforts to look beyond the Code as it now exists to ensure safety of all our citizens. We support these efforts and wish to do everything possible to ensure that we never again hear that people died because they were deaf.”

Here is a summary of some of Lise’s other prepared remarks:

Alerts While Sleeping

– The experiences at the Boston and last year’s Washington convention of HLAA illustrate the need to better safeguard people who are deaf or hard of hearing while sleeping.

-A study by Jacqueline DuBois from Combustion Science & Engineering which found that detectors with strobe lights are actually 53% less effective than the standard audible smoke detector for deaf and hard of hearing populations. A ranking of devices tested in that study is as follows: 100% for intermittent bed shaker, 91% for continuous bed shaker, 90% for low frequency audible alarm, 83% for standard audible alarm, and 33% for the strobe. It was also found that the only devices functionally equivalent to the audible detector for both deaf and hard of hearing people were the intermittent bed shakers.

– A stand-alone, plug-in-the-wall visual smoke detector will range in cost from $145 to $170; audible alerts are available for as little as $8.

– Visual alerts can only be counted on to wake people with hearing loss in the same room, unlike audible alarms that will alert hearing people in adjacent rooms. That means a hotel must consider installing alerts in each room or, better, installing an interconnected system, both of which increase the cost significantly.

– Hotel owners have been reluctant to re-wire the systems they have to accommodate people with a hearing loss, instead providing them with stand-alone devices that are hugely ineffective should a fire occur, unless the fire starts in the same room as the device.

– Combustion Science & Engineering developed a tactile alert that linked to a traditional audible alert. A prototype for that device was on display at the SHHH Washington DC convention in 2005. Combustion Science hoped to have that product ready for sale in early 2006 at a cost of approximately $50. They apparently were unable to locate funding for further development of the product.

– The Hearing Loss Association of American (HLAA, formerly SHHH) provided comments at the Access Board’s ADA 15th Anniversary Forum on July 26, 2005. Commenting on audible alarms, they noted that “the majority of people with a hearing loss have much better hearing in the low frequencies than in the middle or high frequencies…Existing research regarding the waking effectiveness of smoke alarms demonstrates that many people, including people who are hard of hearing, wake up much more reliably and quickly to low frequency sounds….[HLAA] believes there should be an upper limit placed on the frequency of audible alarms.”

– NVRC urges the Access Board to set standards for safety in sleeping areas that include alternate alerts such as tactile alerts and pagers integrated into the building’s fire alarm system as well as low frequency audible alerts.


(c)2006 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org Items in this newsletter are provided for information purposes only; NVRC does not endorse products or services. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC.