According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, over five percent of the world deals with hearing deterioration or deafness, or about one out of every twenty people. In America, over 40 million adults are living with a hearing impairment. Even if you are not dealing with hearing loss, chances are someone close to you is.
With so many of our friends and family living with hearing loss, it is imperative that we build a world that accommodates their needs. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do this is with home improvements that can range from simple changes to serious remodels. Many contracting agencies are experienced with home improvements that help make a living space more user friendly for the deaf and hard of hearing. Here are some of the home changes that can make their lives easier.
Home Design for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Whether looking for a new home, helping a loved one find a new home, or assisting with renovation ideas, it is of paramount importance to consider the deaf individual’s preferences and needs. Each person is different, and the needs of someone who uses a cochlear implant will vary greatly from someone who uses ASL. Make sure the person in question is a firm part of the decision making process.
Many people with hearing impairments prefer lighting and color schemes allow for better visual acuity and decrease eye strain. For most, this means a pattern of soft, even lighting without any glare. The key is to find a sweet spot between too much light, with areas of intense glare, and too little light, with areas too much shadow. During the day, sheer curtains can be used to diffuse the light in a room and get rid of glare. At night, lamps and other moderate, local lighting devices can be used for a more even, shadow free lighting. Color tones shouldn’t clash and distract, rather solid, neutral tones tend to work better for the hearing impaired. For ASL users, wall colors that contrast with skin tone can help improve communication.
Room Layouts and Line of Sight
The layout of a house’ rooms becomes much more important for people who rely on sight for information and communication. The more rooms that are closed off from sight, the less a person will be able to communicate with others throughout the house. Looking for homes with open floor plans is a great idea for people with hearing impairments. Knocking down a wall or adding in windows between rooms are also great renovations to help improve line of sight throughout a home. Even the layout of a room’s furniture can make a big difference; a common life hack for the hearing impaired is to layout furniture in a circular or “horseshoe” fashion so that everyone can view each other.
Hallways require a different, wider design to accommodate the needs of the hearing impaired. Auditory English speakers may be able to walk single file down a hallway and still communicate, but two ASL users will need to walk side by side. Minimizing narrow walkways during renovations is a worthy consideration when trying to make a more deaf user friendly space.
Faucet design is an often overlooked part of a home that can have a big impact on the deaf or hard of hearing. Most people recognize whether a faucet is turned on or off by the sound of running water. Because this can be hard for some people, there are many faucet designs with spring loaded handles that immediately turn off when released, automatic motion sensor on/off switches, and even smart faucets that use facial recognition software.
Acoustic Improvements for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Home acoustics can also play an important role for the hearing impaired. They can either make noises easier to identify or harder to separate, and so should be heavily considered in a home’s design. When considering home acoustics, make sure to factor in the individual needs of the deaf or hard of hearing resident. For instance, echoes and reverberation may cause a major distraction for someone with a hearing aid, but may actually slightly assist in communication for someone who is completely deaf.
Ceilings and Acoustics
Ceilings can play a major role in how much noises echo throughout a room. For people with hearing aids or cochlear implants, this can be distracting, or even downright painful. Having a ceiling lowered is a huge renovation, but is still worth some consideration. Other more affordable options to reduce echoing from high ceilings include installing a vaulted ceiling or sound muffling ceiling tiles.
Flooring and Acoustics
Fine tuning the acoustics of your floor is very similar to fine tuning those of your ceiling. Hardwood and other types of flooring can cause echoing, which can be distracting or painful to people with hearing aids/cochlear implant. Carpeted or tiled flooring materials are great options for reducing echoes and reverberation through the floor. There are also many underlayments designed to absorb sound efficiently. However, for those who are deaf, the vibrations of a hardwood or vinyl floor can be a great method of attracting attention.
Windows and Acoustics
One of the most enticing aspects of a home is the fact that it’s a haven from the bumble and bustle of the outside world. But windows are far less effective at blocking this noise than exterior walls, and thus can be a source of much distraction for people with hearing aids, especially if they live near a busy road. Luckily, there are all kinds of options to help soundproof windows. Some more affordable options are adding heavy drapes or curtains to muffle sound or caulking or weatherstripping rattling windows. For a little more investment, new windows can be installed that more effectively block sound. Generally, the more panes a window has, the more sound it blocks, but there are also window materials made specifically for sound reduction.
Walls and Acoustics
Just like with ceilings, acoustic tile panels are available for walls that can help reduce any sound that gets through. Besides completely renovating with completely new sound proof materials, this is a much more cost effective way to reduce sound traveling from room to room.
Helpful Technology for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Besides the structural makeup of your home, there are many technological improvements that can be easily implemented to accommodate deaf or hard of hearing residents. From alarm systems, to appliances, to phones, there are lots of options for improvement.
When choosing appliances for people with hearing aids, newer models are most often going to offer the least noise pollution. Some brands offer appliances made specifically for their quiet performance. When dealing with bigger appliances like washing machines and dryers, often much of their noise can be mitigated by laying them on top of towels or blankets rather than directly on the floor.
Smoke alarms are mandatory across the country because fires spread so quickly. Unfortunately, they are really only designed for the hearing. Fortunately, there are many new detector models that offer either flashing lights or vibrating warnings in the event that smoke is detected. If an entire new smoke/CO2 detection system installation seems like too much work, there are many aftermarket products that can alter your current system to suit your needs.
In the event of a home invasion, all members of the household need to be notified immediately. People with residual hearing my prefer the classic loud sirens when their security alarm goes off, however those with hearing aids should field test the siren beforehand to ensure that the sound is not painful. For those who would better benefit from non auditory warnings, there are other security system options. Certain products can be programmed to flash different colors based on the problem they are trying to indicate. Others are set up to connect to different items in the home, and cause them to vibrate when an alarm is triggered.
The strides we have made in phone technology offer many great new methods of communication for the deaf and hard of hearing.
- Captioned phones utilize a service that translates spoken words, transcribing them into text for a person to read. Recent advancements in voice recognition technology have made captioned phones a highly accurate and quick mode of communication for the hearing impaired.
- Deaf video relay service is a video relay service offered to people who use ASL, wherein each party in a two way call is connected to an ASL interpreter that translates from ASL to English and back for each party.
Just like with smoke alarms, there are many landline products that send out flashing light or vibrating alerts. There are also aftermarket products that can be plugged into standard landline and cell phones to provide vibrating or visual signals when a call is received.
Here at Audiology Innovations, we have worked closely with hearing loss patients, assisting them with hearing aids, assisted hearing devices, education, and hearing loss treatment in Calgary for over 15 years. We hope this article has proven informative. If you would like more information on hearing loss, hearing aids, or hearing treatment, please do not hesitate to give us a call at your earliest convenience. One of our friendly and knowledgeable representatives will be happy to answer any questions you may have.