Assistive equipment and technology

Assistive technology helps people who are deaf and hard of hearing to live more independently. Technology is continuously improving and changing. Below are a few samples of what is currently available. As with all technology, prices range from low to high – depending on the sophistication of the technology being used. It is important to look at benefits versus cost. Most devices can only be purchased through mail order companies. You may find some devices like doorbells with volume control and personal listening devices at local chain stores.

Alerting Devices

Alerting devices use a loud tone, flashing lights or vibrations to alert people with a hearing loss to various environmental sounds. Some devices respond to one specific signal, such as a doorbell. Other devices respond to a variety of signals: the ring of a doorbell or telephone, the cry of a baby, and the sound of alarm clocks, fire/smoke alarms. Many of these systems transmit signals to receivers located throughout a home or office, activating a light to flash or a device to vibrate. Some systems even allow people to use their existing alarms and doorbells making additional electrical wiring unnecessary.

Baby Cry Signaler: Enables people to be alerted to baby sounds. It has an adjustable sensitivity dial to pick up the softest sound and send a signal.

Carbon Monoxide Detector: Detects carbon monoxide before it reaches dangerous levels. There are two kinds of detectors: hardwired and plug-in.

Doorbell Signaler: Works with or without an existing doorbell system to let people know that someone is at the door.

Smoke Alarm Signaler: Alerts people who are deaf or hard of hearing that the smoke alarm has been activated. Some alarms have built in strobe lights.

Telephone Signaler: One type of signaler plugs directly into the telephone line and electrical outlet. Another type can be attached to the side of the telephone to pick up the sound of the bell.

Wake-up Alarm Signaler: Signalers vary from portable alarm clocks with built-in strobe lights to alarm clocks with a built-in outlet where a lamp or vibrating alert can be plugged in.

Weather Alert: Gives notice of upcoming storms or dangerous weather conditions. The Weather Alert Radio can be used alone or in conjunction with optional alerting accessories.

Telecommunication Devices

Amplified Ringers: Various types of ringers can be attached to a telephone line to inform a person who is hard of hearing that the telephone is ringing.

Amplified Telephone: Numerous telephones have built-in amplifiers that vary in range from 25 to 55 decibels. Many of these telephones have variable tone selectors and loud ringers.

Portable Phone Amplifier: A lightweight battery operated device with an adjustable volume control that fits over the listening end of the handset.

TTY (sometimes referred to as TDD): Has a keyboard with a visual display screen that allows people to communicate with each other over the telephone lines by typing and reading their conversations. With appropriate software and equipment, computers can function as TTYs. Portable and wireless TTYs are also available.

Video Phone: A telephone with a video screen which is very useful for those who use sign language to communicate. Using video phones, two people who know sign language can communicate directly with each other, or a person who is deaf and knows sign language can call a non-signing person through the video relay service (VRS). An interpreter at VRS facilitates communication between the person who uses sign language and the person who does not use sign language. Many people are using video phone technology rather than a TTY.

Voice Carry Over (VCO) Telephone: For people who are unable to hear over the telephone but prefer to use their voice to communicate. VCO telephone calls must be made through a relay service. This connection allows the person with the hearing loss to speak to the other party and read their incoming message on the telephone’s display screen. There is also a portable VCO device, which can be attached to cell phones, pay phones, or cordless phones.

CapTel: For people who are unable to hear over the telephone but prefer to use their voice to communicate. CapTel calls also must be made through a relay service. This connection allows the person with the hearing loss to speak to the other party and read their incoming message on the telephone’s display screen. Today, many people are using CapTel rather than VCO telephones.

Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs)

Audio Induction Loop: Consists of a microphone, an amplifier, and a length of properly sized wire or cable which encircles the seating area. To pick up the signals, listeners who are deaf and/or hard of hearing must have their hearing aids turned to the “T” (telecoil) switch and sit within or near the loop or encircled seating area. Audio induction loops are very popular in Europe and Canada – they are gaining popularity in the United States.

FM System: A wireless system that transmits sound via radio waves. The speaker wears a compact transmitter and microphone while the listener wears a portable receiver. This receiver may have a headphone, neckloop or other accessories attached to it. This system is commonly used indoors or outdoors for group meetings, church settings and classes.

Infrared System: This wireless system transmits sound via invisible light beams. The receiver must be in direct line of sight of the light beam from the transmitter. These systems can only be used indoors and are generally located in churches, theaters and auditoriums. There are infrared devices made for home television listening. The transmitter is placed on the TV and plugs into an electrical outlet. The user wears a headset (receiver) operated by batteries. The volume is controlled from the headset rather than from the TV; the volume of the TV can then be set at a comfortable volume for other listeners.

Personal Amplified System: A personal amplification system that is portable and can be used indoors or outdoors. It is used for one-on-one conversations or TV listening.


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Closed Captioning: These symbols indicate the TV programs, DVDs, and videotapes that are captioned. Captions can only appear with the use of a closed-caption decoder or decoder chip built into the TV. Many DVDs are now using SDH (“Subtitles for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing”).

Activating Closed Captioning: Check the television owner’s manual for instructions.

Open Captioning: Captions are a permanent part of the picture. It is not necessary to use a decoder or have the decoder chip activated to see the captions.

Real Time Captioning: A method of captioning where captions are simultaneously prepared and transmitted at time of origination by trained real-time captioners using a stenotype machine.

This information is in accessible formats for individuals with disabilities by calling (651)431-5940 or by using your preferred relay service.  Additional assistance with legal rights and protections for equal access to human services programs is available.


Contact Information: (651)431-5940 or (800)456-7589 V, (651)964-1514 VP, (888)206-6513 TTY,

(651)431-7587 FAX,,

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