Author: Dolly Bhargava, M.Spec.Ed. 

In writing this section I consulted with and appreciated the input from Margaret Haenke, Manager of Deafness Resources Australia.

What are Devices for Environmental Sounds?

The telephone ringing, alarm clocks, smoke or fire alarms are sounds that alert people to daily life occurrences.  Many devices have been designed to assist students with hearing impairments become aware of the sounds in the environment that are needed for personal safety or convenience (Meier, 1999).  These devices help compensate for the student’s hearing impairment, allowing for a greater sense of confidence, independence and control of the environment.  Varying in their level of sophistication and complexity, there are many alerting products available on the market today to help students with hearing impairments.

Alarm clocks

  • Vibrating alarm clock: It is a clock that has a vibrating device, which can be clipped onto the pillowcase or a section of a bed or the entire bed.  At the chosen time, the clock activates the alarm signal, which in turn causes the vibrator to move the attached section, thus awakening the sleeper.
  • Flashing alarm clock: It is a clock that has a bright light, which will flash when the alarm goes off.
  • Combination alarm clock: It has a combination of both the vibrating and flashing light features. (Meier, 1999)

Alarm watches

  • Vibrating alarm watch: The wristwatch vibrates when the alarm goes off. These watches are generally used as reminder tools during the daytime, as they are usually not strong enough to wake someone from sleep.  Some alarm watches may have an automatic reload countdown timer, which gives reminders as often as needed.

School bells, Smoke or Fire Alarms

  • Schools should have a flashing light system linked to the smoke or fire alarms and other bells/sound systems to visually alert the student with hearing impairment.  These systems should be visible in classrooms and in general areas where the student maybe alone, such as rest rooms or study carrels (Gloucestershire Country Council, 2004).  It is important to note that if a flashing light alert system is used for both the school bell and smoke/evacuation alarms, it is critical that these flashing light alert systems be distinctly different to each other.  If the smoke/evacuation alert goes off, it is crucial that the student respond immediately and that there is no danger of ignoring the flashing light thinking that it’s ‘just the school bell’.


Telephones - Hearing the telephone ring

  • Ring Enhancers: A device that allows the student with hearing impairment to set the volume of the ring to much louder levels than ordinary telephones (Meier, 1999).
  • Telephone Light Flashers: A light is fitted into the telephone that flashes whenever the telephone rings. This is generally a fairly small light and the student would need to have the telephone in view for this to be effective. Alternatively, the telephone can be connected to an external system to make lights flash throughout the room or the building.

Telephones – Communicating using the telephone

  • T-switch – alternatively also known as a telecoil.  It is a coil of wire, which has the capacity to pick up sound directly from a magnetic field created when sound is fed into the coil.  Many telephones can output a magnetic signal which hearing aids with a telecoil can "hear."  If the hearing aid or cochlear implant has a T-switch, then it only responds to those sounds coming from the telephone so unwanted and distracting background noises are not picked up (SHHH, 2004).
  • In-built amplifier – a telephone that has an in-built amplifier and an adjustable volume control that the student can use to make the caller’s voice louder to compensate for the hearing loss (Downie, 2000).
  • Portable amplifier – a battery-powered amplifier which slips over the handset ear piece. The student can adjust the volume to suit individual needs.  It is convenient if using several different phones, however, it may not work on all telephones or make the volume as loud as some students may need it to be (Dugan, 2003).
  • TeleTypewriter (TTY) also known as a Textphone: If neither the T-switch nor the amplification allows the student to communicate well on the telephone, a TTY may be a better option (Dugan, 2003).  A TTY unit consists of a QWERTY keyboard, visual display screen and acoustic coupler. The acoustic coupler is two upward facing rubber cups – one for the mouthpiece and one for the earpiece of the telephone handset (Downie, 2000).  Some TTYs also have a ‘direct connect’ option whereby the TTY can be plugged directly into the telephone outlet, rather than using the acoustic coupling option.  When a TTY calls another TTY, the users send their message by typing what they want to say and the words appear on the digital display of the other person’s TTY.  Some TTYs also allow the user the option to print the conversation on a piece of paper (Meier, 1999). If someone who needs to use a TTY wishes to make a call to someone who doesn’t have a TTY (or vice versa), then the call can be made through the Telecommunication Relay Service, as known in USA, or the National Relay Service in Australia.
  • Telecommunication Relay Service – The Telecommunications Relay Service provides telephone access service to people who have a hearing impairment or severe speech impairment.  Relay Officers, who are specially trained communication assistants, serve as intermediaries, relaying conversations between the person using the TTY and the person without a TTY.  For example, students with hearing impairment use the TTY to type what they want to say to the person they are calling. The Relay Officer reads this text communication and simultaneously reads it aloud to the person at the other end of the call. The Relay officer listens to the response and types it back to the student to read and respond (Downie, 2000; Dugan, 2003).

Mobile Phones

There are many factors which impact on a Deaf person’s or person with hearing impairment’s ability to successfully use a mobile phone, so it is important to choose carefully in terms of the following features:

  • Mobile networks (e.g. CDMA or GSM).  People with a hearing aid may experience an interfering noise when using a mobile phone. It can be a buzzing sound that makes speech hard to understand. In severe cases, it can make the phone unusable. Possible solutions to this problem include:
  • Use a CDMA mobile phone
  • If using a GSM mobile phone, use it with a T-link attachment and switch the hearing aid to the 'T’ position.
  • Use an alerting system for incoming calls (e.g. flashing screen or vibrating alert)
  • Use the text messaging or short messaging service (SMS) feature, although there may be restrictions on the length of the message (number of characters) that can be sent
  • These use the built-in QWERTY keyboard or can be attached to the mobile. (Downie, 2000; Dugan, 2003)