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Find out how to navigate in a world without sounds


house How do deaf people answer a doorbell? Hear a smoke alarm?

Deaf people don't worry about missing the doorbell: flashing lights, rather than chimes, alert them to visitors. Similarly, smoke detectors, phones and alarm clocks can all be converted to feature deaf-friendly flashing lights or very loud alarms, and even vibrating mechanisms that shake the bed or buzz in the occupant's pocket. Entire systems can be designed that combine all these alerts into a small, portable vibrating beeper.





phone How do deaf people use the phone?

Deaf or hearing-impaired people can use a TTY or TTD (telephone typewriter or telecommunications device for the deaf — both can be used to describe the same devices) at home or on the road. The traditional TTY or TTD looks a bit like an electric typewriter or word processor with a small text display screen. Some have printer functions and answering machines. The TTY can only receive information from another TTY, since each part of the call is converted to beeps and relayed over phone lines like a fax. To facilitate communications between deaf and hearing people, phone companies provide free relay services in which hearing people are assisted by TTY operators to call deaf TTY users. There are also portable TTYs, TTDs and special aids that convert regular phones. Some places, such as interstate rest stops, even have pay TTYs available. Most portable TTYs look like sub-notebook computers, and some can be attached to a cell phone. A Voice Carry Over (VCO) device can be used by someone who can speak, but has trouble hearing. The portable VCO attaches to the earpiece of the phone, and converts incoming TTY transmissions into displayed text.




dog How do dogs help the deaf?

While there are a variety of technologies available to assist with alerts and alarms, deaf people can also employ the services of a hearing dog. Any breed of dog can become a hearing dog; training is similar to that for Seeing Eye dogs. The dogs alert their masters with a nudge when phones ring or smoke detectors sound, or by nudge and lead them to the source of the sound. Since the dog, unlike a machine, can distinguish threatening sounds, the hearing dog is a good all-purpose alert.





car Can the deaf drive cars?

Many deaf drivers use special devices that let them know when fire or ambulance sirens are wailing or car horns are blaring. To enable drivers to distinguish between sounds, many of these devices can rate the type of sound and alert users on a multi-light panel. Some deaf drivers also use special panoramic mirrors so they can see more of what is around and behind their car. In the U.S., there are few restrictions on the deaf obtaining a license to drive. In certain states, deaf drivers may be required to have special licenses to indicate that the driver is deaf. Not all countries permit deaf people to drive, however; according to statistics from the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD), at least 26 countries do not allow deaf citizens to hold a driver's license.





TV How do the deaf watch TV and movies?

Since 1972, television programs have been available with text for the deaf. While not widely used until the Americans with Disabilities Act required all televisions over 13" to contain converting devices, closed captioning lets deaf television users decode a special signal in program broadcasts that displays dialogue text across the bottom of the screen. Although not all programs are closed-captioned, most network prime-time shows are. Television listings carry a small CC symbol for closed-captioned programs. During special showings, movies feature open captioning, similar to subtitles, for deaf audiences. New technologies such as WGBH's "Rear-Window Captioning System" are being developed that allow deaf patrons to use special viewing panels to read captions during regular movie showings. Most recent movies released on videotape include closed captioning for the deaf. Educational and self-help titles are available to borrow free from certain programs like the Captioned Media Program.





government building How many deaf Americans are there?

Determining the number of deaf people in the U.S. depends upon your definition of "deaf." In 1991, The National Center for Health Statistics reported that there were between 421,000 and 4.81 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the United States. Responding in anecdotal interviews and questionnaires, those surveyed were asked to classify themselves in categories ranging from "deaf in both ears" to "at best, can hear words shouted across a quiet room." Approximately 421,000 respondents claimed to be deaf in both ears, while 1,152,000 could hear speech only if it was shouted in their better ear. According the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of deaf people balloons to almost 20 million when referring to people who classify themselves as simply "hard of hearing."




hospitalHow do people become deaf?

According to The National Center for Health Statistics, approximately eight percent of the U.S. population could be considered "hard of hearing" in 1991. There are many causes for deafness and loss of hearing. Approximately 90 percent of people who claim to be deaf or hard-of-hearing were not born that way. People born deaf can either attribute the loss to hereditary traits or in utero complications such as a rh incompatibility. In the 1960s, a rubella epidemic caused a large number of people to be born with hearing problems. Illness or long-term abuse to the ears (e.g., exposure to loud sounds) can cause a loss of hearing later in life. The number of people who are considered "hard-of-hearing" increases with age. Nearly 30 percent of the population 65 and older have hearing difficulties. The aging process and the effects of long-term noise on the ears cause more than half of the cases of adult hearing loss. Most children with hearing loss inherit their deafness; rubella, meningitis and prolonged bouts of high fever are the second most frequent causes.




schoolDo deaf people have to go to special schools?

In the past most deaf people attended special private schools for the deaf; the first in the U.S. opened in 1817. Over the years there have been heated battles over the best methods of instruction for the deaf, most of them centering on the question of sign language vs. oral-based education. Despite these ongoing controversies, laws passed in the mid 1970s gave children with special needs "equal and appropriate" education within the public school system. Today, many deaf children attend public schools where they are offered a combination of special instruction and general studies with their hearing peers.

One of the greatest challenges faced by deaf people is the acquisition of language skills. People who are born with hearing problems or develop them very early do not learn spoken language the way hearing people do. Since written English is based on spoken language, deaf children have difficulty learning English and expanding their vocabularies over time. Children who first learn to communicate using sign language will have a harder time learning English, since American Sign Language is not based on spoken or written English. Deaf children who start with sign language must learn English as a second language. For these reasons, many deaf children are taught using oral education methods that concentrate on English. Nonetheless, not being able to hear language makes it harder to improve language skills. For all these reasons, deaf and hard of hearing people often have lower literacy levels than their hearing peers. Using a 1996 standardized testing assessment, the Gallaudet Research Institute analyzed a sample group of 926 deaf students between the ages of 17 and 18. The results were approximately equivalent to those of an equal survey of fourth graders taking the same test, meaning that the median literacy level for 17 - 18 year olds who are deaf is the same as that of fourth grade hearing students. This figure, however, reflects English reading comprehension skills only, not intelligence levels.




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