Forty-eight million Americans have some degree of hearing loss and increasingly public services and institutions have become aware of it. As a result, research is being performed, programs enacted, services deployed, and products developed to improve the quality of life for the hearing impaired.
Here are some of the recent developments that indicated increased awareness and sensitivity to the hearing impaired and deaf community:
San Francisco’s public transit system: The BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) realized that hearing platform announcements through the noisy environment near trains is difficult for everyone, and especially for those wearing hearing aids. As a result, the transit system is working with the hearing-loss community to pilot new technology in its Fremont Station, the result of collaboration with the BART Accessibility Task Force (BATF).
The technology is named a hearing loop and according to an article in Metro magazine, “Riders who use most typical modern hearing aids, which employ T-coils, will be able to toggle a switch on their hearing aids to get a much clearer, isolated sound of announcements made over the public address system, or interactions with the station agent.”
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Piloting the program took significant commitment from the Bart system. According to Metro magazine, “To set up the loop, grooves were cut into the platform surface; wire was laid in the grooves and sealed over to transmit the electromagnetic signal that is picked up by the T-coil in the hearing aid.”
Once the pilot system is installed, the Bart will ask hearing impaired riders to use the system and then provide feedback.
Improving health literacy: Ohio State University is piloting a program to address the health needs of the hearing impaired and deaf community who, they say, tend to suffer more from chronic illnesses. The pilot program is designed to improve communication of important health issues. Researchers are working with small groups of deaf Ohio citizens to adapt chronic disease self-management programs and interpret the text appropriately for American Sign Language.
Some recent product developments have also taken place to improve communication for the hearing impaired as well:
CaptionCall Phone*: This phone uses a premise similar to closed captioning on television. A screen on the telephone provides captions as the caller speaks. According to the AARP and the CaptionCall website, the phone is “part of a free service funded by the federal government.” Log onto the website, CaptionCall.com, and download the form that needs to be completed by your physician to certify that you have hearing loss. Once the company receives the documentation they will send you a phone and connect with your local phone provider to arrange installation, at no charge.
ClearCaptions App: This does the same thing as the CaptionCall phone, but is used with mobile devices including phones and tablets. When phone calls are received, the app adds captions to a mobile screen. It works with iPhones, iPad and iPod Touch.
These are just some of the latest advances that have been made in adapting important services, products and information for the hearing impaired and deaf community. It is encouraging to see that momentum in this regard is increasing. The more education and awareness there is about the needs of the hearing impaired and deaf, the more the public and private sector will pay attention, and hopefully respond, to those needs.
*These are not product endorsements. As a consumer, conduct research to find the best product options for you.