HLAA Convention: Making Your Home Accessible and Safe
By Bonnie O’Leary
Editor: Here’s Bonnie’s coverage of Joa Duarte’s presentation on how to install and use assistive and alerting devices in your home. My experience is that many folks with hearing loss don’t take advantage of much of this wonderful technology, so hopefully Joe’s workshop got people thinking about it.
This workshop was presented by NVRC’s dear friend and go-to expert, Joe Duarte, President/Co. Principal of Duartek, Inc., in Fairfax, VA. Joe shared with us some details about his life. He is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island with a degree in Biomedical Electronics Engineering. He was a systems engineer at IBM for 10 years.
Joe has a profound hearing loss, and received his first hearing aid at the age of four. In October, 2008, Joe’s Med-El cochlear implant was activated, and it has made an enormous difference in his life. Born in Portugal, Joe moved to the states when he was 14. His wife Meg is also hard of hearing, and they have four hearing children. In fact, Joe met Meg when SHHH started a chapter in Northern Virginia, and they were among the first SHHH “couples” to get married!
Joe’s workshop focused mainly on the needs of individuals who are late-deafened and hard of hearing. He started by asking if hearing aids are enough, but we all agreed that, for the most part, they are not. They don’t fix the problem the way eyeglasses correct sight, they amplify background noise, and the more profound the hearing loss is, the harder it is to listen in noise. So what we need is more direct sound to our ears, a way to reduce background noise, and make speech sounds more clear.
To begin with, Joe stressed how important it is to get properly fitted hearing aids, and that they should have telecoils (t-coils, t-switches), and if possible, direct audio input (DAI). Bluetooth hearing aids are now on the market – Oticon has the Epoq Streamer, Phonak has the Smartlink, and Starkey has Eli. Benefits of having the DAI and telecoil include quiet listening in an airplane, use of FM “boots” with wireless microphones, their compatibility with Bluetooth devices, telephones and cell phones, iPods and other listening systems.
Once you have a good hearing aid that works well for your hearing loss, consider assistive devices to either eliminate or reduce communication barriers. Some possibilities are FM, infrared, and audio loop listening systems, Others are amplified phones and phone amplifiers, captioned telephone and two-line voice carryover, and sound amplification for notification systems. If it is not possible to have enhanced or accessible sound, then other options include use ofvisual alerting and vibratactile devices, and captioning
Amplified phones with an audio jack can be used with neckloops, DAI, and various headsets. There are also phone amplifiers with volume and tone control. If amplification on the telephone is not enough, there is the captioned phone, or CapTel, as well as voice carry over (VCO), two line VCO, and video phones which enable one to listen and speech read at the same time because it’s synchronized. Joe can use a video phone to talk to his family in Portugal. Skype, on the other hand, is not synchronized with the audio.
When we talk about a safe and accessible home, we want to be sure we have the right things in place. Options include smoke and fire detectors, carbon monoxide and gas detectors, burglary systems, NOAA weather emergency alerts, water leak detection, distress signaling, and medical alerts. One of the attendees mentioned that he has the ADT alarm system and they gave him all the accessibility options at no extra cost, but he assumes it was because he told them he would use a different security company if they did not.
Smoke detectors with built-in strobes are popular; some local fire departments sometimes provide free smoke detectors with strobe. You could also use a stand-alone strobe. The strobes can often be tied in to NOAA and community alerts. Security systems include those for burglary, weather emergency, water leak detection, panic button, door entry, and proximity sensors.
Specialized design for accessibility is critical. The carbon monoxide detector, gas detector and visual strobe are all important security components. And there are every day alerts to be considered too: the doorbell, telephone, video phone, baby crying, alarm clocks, apartment building intercom, and even timers.
The newest trend in what are called “Smart Homes” is home automation. The systems can be programmed to monitor and control just about anything in the home and can be programmed for accessibility purposes. They can be set so that all the lights in the house will blink to alert occupants to an emergency condition, and they can even shut down all audio and video (TV etc.) to alert the user to a possible fire or other warning. Leviton and Lutron wireless controls are two examples but they require some specialized planning. These can be integrated with security systems, too.
If you would like to chat with Joe about more details, you can email him at email@example.com.
(c)2010 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org; 703-352-9055 V, 703-352-9056 TTY, 703-352-9058 Fax. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC.