DeafBlind Association (NSW)

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Technologies used by people who are deafblind

There are many technological aids which may be used by people who are deafblind. This can be technology developed for people who are blind or have a vision impairment, or for people who are deaf or have a hearing impairment, or technologies which span both as well as devices developed specifically for people who are deafblind. There is more general technology becoming available to deafblind people all the time, so always ask us for information.

Email

People who are deafblind may use email in conjunction with screen reading software such as JAWS or NVDA, screen-magnification software such as ZoomText, Braille displays etc.

Tellebraille or Krown

A device similar in concept to the TTY, except it has a Braille display and keyboard in addition to the conventional keyboard and display. A person who is deafblind (or a person who is blind) can use this device over the telephone line in similar fashion to a conventional TTY. It also allows face-to-face communication between a person who is deafblind (using Braille keyboard and display) and a sighted person (using conventional Keyboard and display). These are provided by Telstra, but are now going out of use with more updated technology.

Hearing aids

A person who has a hearing impairment and is not totally deaf may benefit from a modern hearing aid. The instrument's profile is adjusted to match the wearer's hearing contour. The devices can take many forms; behind the ear, in the ear, bone conduction etc. Many devices include a telecoil feature which allows the user to get a cleaner signal in auditoriums fitted with induction loops (some telephones also have small induction transducers). Many hearing aids also have adaptive features which allow the instrument to reduce impact of background noise etc, but some care can be necessary using these features if the wearer is blind. Optimal performance of the hearing aid is enhanced in one-to-one situations if the speaker is within two metres of the wearer. If the wearer has some vision, they may also benefit from lip-reading and being able to recognise facial expressions.

Assistive listening devices

Devices which can be useful to hearing aid users whose instrument is equipped with a telecoil feature include buildings such as audititoriums and places of worship wired with induction loops, personal loop systems where the listener uses a receiver connected to a loop worn around the neck and the speaker uses a microphone/FM transmitter combo, and an induction headset which can be used with a personal audio device or even a computer. There are also FM and infrared systems which can be used with conventional headphones, but these devices may not take advantage of the individual contour profile in a hearing aid.

Cochlea implant

People who lose their hearing later in life may be given a cochlea implant. This is a device which bypasses the ear and connects directly to the auditory nerve. It processes sounds (via a control box) into a stream of pulses which are passed to the auditory nerve. The stream of pulses initially sound rather different to what the wearer is used to (being compared to clicks and buzzes), but with practice wearers can hear speech quite well. Sometimes results can be disappointing. Good clinical management is essential. This technology is also used on very young children who have been born deaf. However, this is cause of considerable ethical debate amongst the deaf community.

TactAid

With the advent of more powerful hearing aids and the cochlea implant, this device is not as common as it once was. However, it may still be an option for those who may not be suitable for a cochlea implant. Sounds are picked up and processed by a small control box which converts the signal into vibrations which are transferred to the wrist via a wrist strap. With practice, some users can learn to interpret speech patterns and environmental sounds. Earlier models had only two channels, but later models have increased the number of channels.

iPad adjusted to large print

An  iPad can be adjusted to large print and used as a personal communication system relating to others within the community. It can also be used to communicate with a deafblind signing person whose primary loss is hearing and a deafblind person whose primary loss is sight, who may have difficulty when one does not sign and one does not Braille. One person reads the iPad in Large print and types and the other Brailles and reads Braille on the small braille display, or they can use their Braillenote display.

iPhones used with Braille display or BrailleNote

These can be used with text messaging, giving Deafblind people the opportunity to contact each other (which has previously been difficult), especially when on the move or wanting to get in touch urgently.

Computers

Modern computers can be used in combination with adaptive software such as screen-readers and screen magnifiers to enhance opportunities for a person who is blind or has a vision impairment to access electronic documents and the internet. Screen-readers allow a person who is blind to read text in many formats by translating the text to speech or Braille - it cannot however translate graphics, though use of alternate text with graphics on websites can mitigate this. Screen-magnification software can enhance viewability for people with a vision impairment by making the image larger, changing contrast or changing colour.

OCR (optical character recognition)

OCR can be performed on a personal computer with a flatbed scanner. This allows some blind or vision impaired users to scan documents into a computer and convert printed text into electronic format that can be read by a screen-reader or screen-magnification software. There are also a number of integrated devices which act as stand-alone book-reading machines

Braille display

This is a device which displays computer generated text as a row of Braille cells, which is quite expensive. It is very useful to a person who is deafblind, as it allows text to be read using finger-tips when speech or magnification are not an option. It is also very useful to blind users (with hearing) when reading complex text or notations which do not translate well into speech.