It is our goal to present information in this document that will be helpful to persons who are looking for information on assistive technology. While it is impossible for us in a document such as this to keep abreast of the very latest "breaking news" in terms of technological advancements, we will make every effort to keep our information as current as possible. If you cannot find what you are looking for, or if you do not know what you are looking for after reading this page, please contact us. The staff of the Communication Access, Training and Technology Services at MCDHH is knowledgeable about all current technology used by Deaf, hard of hearing and late - deafened individuals and may be able to answer specific questions or direct you to the appropriate source for vendor-specific information.
There are many ways to classify communication aids and technology. To better enable our readers to find the appropriate source for their specific need, we have separated resources into several different categories. Some vendors/resources may appear in more than one category, so if you are looking for a specific vendor please look at the entire page before contacting us if you cannot find them.
Resources, Manufacturers and Vendors: If your listing is incorrect or you wish to be added/deleted from this page, please send us an e-mail with the relevant information.
This category covers a broad range of products that alert Deaf, hard of hearing or late deafened individuals to sounds in their environment, such as doorbells, telephones, alarm clocks, kitchen timers, smoke detectors, a barking dog or a crying baby. The devices may use visual, amplified audible or tactile (vibrating) alerts or a combination of all three to alert the user to any of these sounds. Some devices are suitable for installation in multi-unit dwellings and will generally require the assistance of a qualified electrician - or the building's maintenance personnel where applicable - to install, while others are wireless and can be set up by most anyone without specific technical knowledge simply by plugging them in.
It is important to realize that there is no real one-size-fits-all solution. Different systems have different idiosyncrasies, and preferences vary from individual to individual. It is important that the system you select match your lifestyle. For example, if you live in your own home, love gardening and work in your backyard frequently, a system that features a tactile pager is a must. If, on the other hand, you live in an apartment building or are quite sedentary and frequently wear nothing but a bathrobe or a housecoat when you are at home, a tactile pager system may not make sense because it typically requires wearing it on a belt so it is close enough to your body for you to actually feel the alert. Carrying it in your pocket may render it relatively useless, in which case a visual alerting system is to be preferred.
Make sure that you are easily able to differentiate between the different triggers or alerts, since a system that is not clear to you will soon have you frustrated and ignoring it. Likewise, if you are considering a wireless system, you may want to be sure that it is user-adjustable so you can change the transmitting and receiving frequencies if there should be an excessive amount of interference with the factory settings given the very large number of consumer wireless devices in use today. If you live in an area with frequent power outages, you may also want to consider a system that offers at least some degree of battery back-up capability for tactile alerting. There is no system currently on the market that will activate a strobe or flash a light without electricity.
If you have any kind of seizure disorder, we very strongly recommend you do not purchase any system featuring strobe lights as the only alerting option, as these are known to trigger seizures in affected individuals.
Assistive Listening Devices and -Systems (ALD and ALS)
ALD are generally used by individuals in smaller settings, while ALS are often encountered in large conference, meeting and entertainment venues and are capable of greater range and of supporting multiple receivers. Both are primarily used by hard of hearing individuals who have usable residual hearing and who can benefit from amplification. ALD(S) have been very much overlooked as an excellent alternative - or addition to - hearing aids in situations that will render the most sophisticated hearing aid by itself virtually useless. Background noise, coupled with poor room acoustics and distance from the sound source, can make it impossible for a person to clearly receive the intended "signal" (the sound source a person wants to hear) because of interference from the "noise" ( the sounds a person does NOT want to hear but which intrude on what they DO want to hear). An ALD(S) can avoid this conundrum by picking up the desired sound at the source and transmitting it directly to the listener's ear ( or hearing aid) by a variety of transmission standards. Please see our Assistive Listening Devices page for more information.
Please note that quite a few hearing aid manufacturers have incorporated FM systems into their hearing aids by adding a modular "boot", a very small receiver that generally attaches to the hearing aid's direct audio input socket. If you have a late model hearing aid, and are considering purchasing an ALD(S), you might want to inquire about the availability of such an add-on option to your hearing aid.
There are various types of equipment that are designed to allow the Deaf, hard of hearing or late deafened user to effectively access the telephone system. Amplifiers help to boost the volume of either incoming or outgoing calls. TDD's are designed to facilitate nonverbal conversations on the telephone by allowing users to type messages back and forth. Please see our Using A TTY page. Wireless telecommunications allow users to stay in touch via sophisticated alphanumeric devices that can send and receive wireless text messages, as well as featuring direct communication with TDD's and other, more advanced, options.
Visual Communications: Interpreting, Communication Access Real-time Translation (CART), Speech Recognition, Notetaking, Closed Captioning, Captioned Movies, Text Displays
Interpreting refers to the translation of spoken English into American Sign Language (ASL) and vice versa, preferably by a certified and screened American Sign Language Interpreter. In Massachusetts, MCDHH is the entity responsible for screening and certifying interpreters. Please see our What Is An Interpreter page for more information.
Communication Access Real-time Translation is a technology whereby a professional CART provider transcribes dialogue as it is happening, using stenotype machines and specialized software. The resulting text can be viewed "live" on a notebook screen, be projected for multiple users to view on a large screen, or be inserted into a video feed for instant captioning. CART providers do, in fact, provide much of the captioning seen in movies and/or broadcast television.
Speech recognition is a process whereby a computer with specialized software "hears" spoken text and displays it in printed form for the person with hearing loss to read. While the technology is promising and has come very far, it is important to note than no program or software currently available approximates the speed and accuracy rate of a professional CART provider.
Notetaking or C-Print is a form of non-verbatim "live" summation in which a specially trained individual with excellent typing ability attempts to summarize what is being said, usually by typing onto the keyboard of a laptop computer. This system does not provide verbatim output; however, it is being used where CART service is not available or where CART would be prohibitively expensive. It is worth noting that opinions diverge greatly as to the viability of this service. Few if any end-users would prefer Notetaking or C-Print over CART given the choice, while educational institutions and others who are unable to find sufficient CART providers and/or claim to be unable to afford to provide them are the main proponents of this service.
Captions display spoken dialogue as printed words on the bottom of the television screen of a captioned TV program or a video. There are three forms of captioning: open, closed and real-time. Open captions can be viewed on all television sets, even those that do not have closed caption decoder circuitry. Closed captioning is present in almost all current televisions, since the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated that all television sets sold in the U.S. after 1993, with screens 13 inches or larger, include a built-in decoder chip. This applies only to television sets with tuners, not to computer monitors or specialized display devices such as stadium viewscreens. For those devices, there are a number of manufacturers still making closed caption decoders, devices which decode the captioned signal before it is sent to the screen for display.
Text Displays are special displays that show text output.
This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.