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Doorbell, Phone, and Alarm Clock Modifications for the Deaf and Deaf-Blind

How does a deaf or deaf-blind person know there's someone at the door if they can't hear the doorbell?

Deaf people often have their doorbell hooked up to at least one light in each room so that when the doorbell rings the light flashes. Deaf-blind people with at least light perception can use the same method or can opt for a system that sends them vibrations every time the doorbell rings.

How does a deaf or deaf-blind person make a phone call?

There are several options for making a phone call. Nowadays, with texting, email, and instant messenger, most deaf people elect to use these communication methods. However, some places (like hotels and doctor's offices) can only be contacted by phone.

Some deaf or hard of hearing people can hear on the phone with their hearing aid set to a special setting, specifically designed for using phones, iPods, etc. The setting is usually called a T-coil and receives the information directly from the phone.

A deaf person who can't hear on the phone can use a telecommunication device called a TTY or TDD. A TTY has a screen that shows letters and has a regular keyboard. The deaf person can type messages to another person with a TTY who then receives them. They can type back and forth.

Most places aren't set up with a TTY number and in this case, deaf people can use a relay service. There are four types of relay service.

1) Text relay
This can either be used from a TTY, done through a website, or set up from an instant messenger service. The deaf person calls 7-1-1 and gives a number to dial. Text relay works by having the deaf person type to a relay operator, who voices to the person on the other end of the phone line. Then whatever the hearing person voices is typed back to the deaf person via the relay operator.

2) Video relay
This works much like text relay, except instead of using text, the deaf person uses a webcam with a special service and gives a number to dial. The deaf person can then see a video relay operator in a webcam (much like a two-way webcam online) and can sign to the operator. The operator then voices to the hearing person on the other end of the line and signs back to the deaf person whatever the hearing person says.

3) Voice Carry Over
Voice carry over is used for deaf people who are comfortable speaking but just can't hear on the other end of the phone. The deaf person calls the VCO service and gives them a number to dial. Then just like with text relay, the operator types to them whatever is being said and indicates to them when it's their cue to speak. Then the deaf person voices whatever they want to say.

4) Captel
Some deaf or hard of hearing people can hear on the phone with visual assistance. The deaf/hard of hearing person has a regular phone call, both hearing the other caller and voicing themselves. The only difference is that the operator types whatever the caller is saying so that the deaf person can have visual support.

For deaf-blind people, the same methods above can be used with large print or braille modifications, such as a large-print TTY, large-print captel, or text relay set up through their computer that has magnification of its own.

For someone who can't read large print, they can use a braille TTY, called a TeleBraille. A deaf-blind person can also use whatever braille technology they might already have and use the same relay website, emails, instant messaging, or texting that sighted deaf people use through their braille display.

How does a deaf or deaf-blind person use an alarm clock?

A deaf or deaf-blind person can either get an alarm clock that rings extremely loud, an alarm clock that flashes a light, or an alarm clock that vibrates the pillow or shakes the bed.

How does a deaf or deaf-blind person use an alarm clock?

A deaf or deaf-blind person can either get an alarm clock that rings extremely loud, an alarm clock that flashes a light, or an alarm clock that vibrates the pillow or shakes the bed.

How the Deaf/Blind Think and Dream

When I think to myself, I have a running dialogue in my head. If someone has never heard a voice before, how do they think?

How a deaf person thinks depends on what kind of exposure they've had to language and life in general. A deaf person who has no hearing at all or who has never heard speech in any way doesn't know what voices or speech sounds like. Someone who has some hearing and can hear parts of speech does know what voices and speech sound like, but their idea of speech and voice is different from a typical hearing person's.

For deaf people who have never heard speech, they think in the same language that they use. A deaf person who uses sign language will think in sign language, and will "see" the signs in their mind's eye the same way hearing people "hear" a voice in their mind's ear. Similarly, a deaf-blind person who uses tactile sign language "feels" the signs in their hands in the same way a deaf person "sees" the signs in their mind. A deaf person whose main exposure to language is in its written form might visualize their thoughts like print on paper or handwriting on paper. Many deaf people also say they think in images or just concepts in general, independent of language. Of course the details of how a particular individual thinks varies, but deaf people can and do think independent of sound (and language when they've had little or no exposure to language).

When I think of a word, I imagine it written on paper in my head. How does a blind person visualize the spelling of a word?

Depending on the writing format they use the most, a blind person might also visualize a word or its spelling in print. If the blind person uses braille too, they can "visualize" the braille in their heads, in the same way as print. Some blind people "feel" the braille under their fingers in the same way a sighted person "sees" a word in their mind.

There's a lot of variety in how people think so the ways mentioned above aren't necessarily the only ways people think.

How do deaf, blind, and deaf-blind people dream?

People's dreams generally reflect their reality. Whatever extent of hearing loss or vision loss a person has in real life will generally experience the same in dreams. Whether or not a person was born blind, deaf or went blind or deaf a long time ago also makes a difference. Someone who is born totally blind cannot visualize images. Someone born totally deaf cannot conceive of sound.

Both totally blind and deaf people can conceive of sound and images in different ways though. Some deaf people have visual associations with sound (such as moving lips) and also an association with vibrations. Blind people can "visualize" through their sense of touch, where their brain forms an "image" from tactile information. A blind, deaf, or deaf-blind person may also experience smells and tastes in their dreams more often.

People with progressive vision or hearing loss may either still be able to hear or see in their dreams, or their dreams may reflect their progressive loss with a delay in time.

Sometimes deaf or blind people mention having a sense of "knowing" where things are in their dreams even if they may not know where things are in real life. Some deaf people also mention a sense of telepathic communication or communication free of language in their dreams. Some deaf people also mention that their dreams come with automatic "closed captions" for all the dialogue in their dreams. Deaf people who use sign language often experience the people in their dreams signing, regardless of if the person knows sign language in real life or not.

Because of the variety in how people think there might be other ways that deaf, blind, and deaf-blind people dream that haven't been mentioned here.

How the Deaf/Blind Perceive Things Like Color and Music

Do blind people know what colors look like?

Some do and some don't. It depends on how much the person can see if anything at all, and when they went blind. Some blind people can see colors just fine and others can see colors but have a hard time telling them apart. People who were born totally blind or only with the ability to see light/dark or shadows won't know what colors look like. Someone who went blind a long time ago may or may not remember what colors look like. If you're wondering about a specific person, just ask them.

Can deaf people enjoy music?

Some can and some can't. It depends on the level of hearing loss and the individual. Even profoundly deaf people can feel the vibrations from really loud music. People with less severe hearing loss can usually enjoy music with hearing aids or special amplification devices, though some may not be able to enjoy it cause of the compromised quality of the music. It depends largely on the individual and how their brain makes sense of the music coming in. Memory can be helpful for late-deafened individuals, and their mind can sometimes fill in the gaps to songs they enjoyed while they were hearing.

Are deaf, blind, and deafblind people's other senses heightened?

Yes, deaf, blind and deafblind people have heightened other senses, but not in the way that is commonly thought. The average blind person scores the same on a hearing test as a sighted person and the average deaf person scores the same on a vision test as a hearing person. The difference is that sighted and hearing people who have information coming through five senses filter out a lot of information. In other words, the brain lets pass through any important information and throws out any useless information. In someone who is relying on four or three senses, their brain filters out less of their remaining senses, making it so that they are receiving more information from each sense.

The average deaf/blind person is more aware of information coming through their sense of touch and smell than the average hearing/sighted person. Deaf people compensate for hearing loss with their vision and blind people compensate for vision loss with their hearing. However it's also important to keep in mind that every individual is different. Some people are more sensitive than others and the same person is more alert at certain times of the day than other times.

Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants

Does a cochlear implant make a deaf person hearing?

No, a cochlear implant does not necessarily make a deaf person hearing. Each deaf person is different because the success of a cochlear implant depends largely on how well the brain adjusts to the new incoming information. Some deaf people can function as hearing with their cochlear implant but most deaf people function as a hard of hearing person. Some can understand speech with their CI, some can in a quiet room only, and some can't understand speech at all. If you know someone who uses a CI, it's best just to ask them how well they can hear with the CI. A CI also doesn't make a deaf person hearing because if they turn the implant off or if the battery dies, they are profoundly deaf again.

Do hearing aids make a deaf or hard of hearing person hearing?

No, hearing aids don't make a deaf/hard of hearing person hearing. While there are very powerful hearing aids out there that can dramatically improve someone's functional hearing, wearing a hearing aid is not the same as being hearing. Some people benefit more from a hearing aid than others. Some people can hear perfectly or near perfectly with their hearing aid but other people are still functioning with a certain level of hearing loss. This depends a lot on the amount and type of hearing loss, so if you're wondering about a particular person, it's best just to ask them.

Why don't all deaf or hard of hearing people use hearing aids?

There are many reasons why someone with a hearing loss might not have a hearing aid.

1) Affordability
Hearing aids are expensive. Not all people can afford a hearing aid and most insurance companies don't cover the cost of hearing aids and many people don't have insurance.

2) Social stigma or Deaf Identity
Some people feel embarrassed about their hearing loss or don't want to have anything in their ears. As a result, even though they could benefit from a hearing aid, they choose not to. On the other hand, someone who identifies as Deaf, from a cultural perspective, may see using hearing aids as a way of sacrificing or trying to hide their Deaf identity, or they may simply see no point in aiding their hearing since they use visual language anyway.

3) Medical reasons
Some people simply aren't medically eligible for hearing aids. People who have a total hearing loss can't use hearing aids because they work by amplifying and shifting residual hearing. Some people get tinnitus (ringing in the ears or phantom sounds) from wearing hearing aids. Some people have tried many hearing aids and have found they don't help very much.

4) A combination of the above reasons

Blind People Who Wear Glasses or Sunglasses

How come some blind people wear glasses or sunglasses if they're blind anyway?

Most blind people (about 85%) have some residual vision. Depending on how much and what kind of residual vision they have, powerful lenses or shaded lenses may help them make the most of the vision they have. For example, someone whose eyes are light sensitive or whose eyes have trouble adjusting to new light levels may benefit from sunglasses. Someone who has extremely blurry vision may be able to use very powerful lenses to make their vision useful at a more comfortable distance. Some totally blind people like to wear sunglasses to take the focus off their eyes or to protect their face from obstacles such as hanging tree branches when walking or cabinet doors when walking around the kitchen.

Doing Everyday Things Blind or Deaf-Blind

How can blind and deafblind tell the time?

There are two kinds of watches that blind and deafblind people can use to tell the time: talking watches and braille watches. Talking watches can be set to announce the time at regular intervals (hourly, every 30 minutes, etc.) or at the push of a button. Despite the misnomer, braille watches don't actually require the knowledge of braille. They're simply tactile versions of analog (face clock) style watches. Typically, a braille watch has three raised dots at 12 o'clock, two raised dots at 3, 6 and 9 o'clock, and a single raised dots at all the other hour or 5-minute markers. Typically a braille watch has hour and minute hands but no second hand. The glass over the face of the watch can then be lifted, which automatically freezes the hands, so that the relation between the raised dots and hands can be felt for time-telling.

How can the blind and deaf-blind do house chores like cooking and cleaning?

When someone goes blind or experiences a significant decrease in vision, they are provided rehabilitation services that teach the person how to cook and clean. Alternative techniques and adaptive technology can be used in both cases. For examples the dials on a stove or washing machine can be marked with tactile markers or bright colors if the person has usable vision. The person is also taught how to be able to tell if a piece of meat is cooked, a pot of water is ready, by the sense of smell and sometimes by touch (if it's not dangerous). Other appliances like microwaves and blenders can be marked with braille or large print. A person with usable vision might also make use of other optical aids like magnifiers to check things visually.

How can a blind person match their clothes independently?

There are several ways to make sure your clothes match with vision loss. One of the ways is to just know the feel of different types of clothes and remember what color they are. For example, a pair of pants with specific buttons might be black and another pair with a zipper might be beige. Clothes that feel the same but vary in color can be labeled either with tactile markers or braille labels. Some blind people choose to invest in more expensive equipment that can be placed on fabric and announce the color of the fabric. When buying new clothes, a blind person who can't see well enough to tell colors apart themselves can ask a store person or sighted friend to help them.

How does a blind or deaf-blind person know where they're going?

A blind or deaf-blind person can know where they are going by memorizing landmarks. Just as a driver might know where to turn because of a specific visual landmark, a blind person can use auditory landmarks, and both a blind and deaf-blind person can use tactile landmarks. Smells and air currents can be helpful too. By traveling in the same area over and over again, a mental map can be formed in the brain. Some blind or deaf-blind people choose to use portable GPS systems with auditory or braille output to help them with directions and give them extra information.

When using public transportation, how does a blind or deaf-blind person know which bus or train to get onto?

In big cities, most buses and trains have a voice that announce the route. If this isn't the case, the blind or deaf-blind person can ask another traveler to tell them when a certain bus or train arrives, or may also carry a card that asks to alert them when a certain bus or train arrives.

How does a blind or deaf-blind person know their bus or train stop?

There are several ways to be able to tell when it's the right time to get off the bus or train. In the case of trains and buses that stop at every stop, the stops can be counted. If a bus doesn't stop at every stop, the blind person can often get a feel from hills and turns. If a blind or deaf-blind person feels unsure, they might ask the driver or another passenger to tell them when they arrive at a certain stop.

In many larger cities, buses have a voice that announces each stop, or the bus driver is trained to announce them verbally. A deaf-blind traveler might still ask for the driver to tap them on the shoulder. Another more high-tech option is to use a portable device with a built-in GPS and either audio or braille output, which can alert the person to when they arrive at their stop.

How do blind people handle money?

Some blind people have enough residual vision to see the number of a denomination with or without an optical aid. Some blind people don't have enough vision to tell the number on the denomination and use another system.

Some countries vary the size, shape, or texture of their currency denominations for blind people. Other countries don't. In countries where the denominations are uniform in shape, size, and feel, blind people generally use a system of folding. For example, single bills might be left unfolded, fives folded width-wise, tens folded length-wise, twenties folded in both directions, etc. In order to first find out what a denomination is, a blind person can either rely on a sighted person or invest in expensive technology that determines the denomination electronically.

Coins are distinguishable by size, shape, and the presence or absence of ridges on the edge.

Questions about Braille and Sign Language

Is sign language universal?

No, sign languages, just like spoken languages, are not universal. Different countries have different sign languages, and sign languages do not necessarily correspond to spoken languages. For example, the U.S., the U.K, Australia, and New Zealand all have English in common as the spoken language, but all have completely unrelated sign languages. Canada shares one sign language in common with the U.S. (American Sign Language) but also has other sign languages not used in the U.S.

Are sign languages related to spoken languages?

No. Sign languages have their own grammar and sentence structures, separate from the spoken languages in the same regions. The only aspect of spoken language that is reflected in the same region's signed language is the alphabet. Most sign languages have a manual alphabet, or a series of handshapes that represent each letter or character of the local writing system. It's generally used to spell out words that don't have a signed equivalent, like personal names and some place names (although common place names tend to have a sign of their own).

Is braille universal?

No, braille is not universal. Braille, unlike sign language, is not a language but a system of encoding the written word. Braille codes correspond to written systems, so there is a braille code for the Latin alphabet, for the Arabic alphabet, for the Cyrillic alphabet, Devanagari (the script used in many Indian languages), Hangul (the Korean script) and so on.

How does Braille work?

Braille works by a system of raised dots. One full braille cell contains six raised dots and is three cells tall and two dots wide. Each dot in a braille cell is numbered one through six, starting from the top left going down and then from the top right going down. Depending on which of the possible positions contain a dot, the overall braille cell changes meaning. (An empty cell is a space in braille.) Braille is written from left to right, regardless of the original direction of the alphabet being transcribed (which means that even Arabic, Hebrew, Chinese, and Japanese braille are always written from left to right, even though Arabic and Hebrew are written right to left in print, and Chinese and Japanese can be written vertically or horizontally). The reader can then feel the dot combinations under their finger or fingers. Braille does not use separate characters for capital or lowercase letters, or regular and italic, but it does have specific braille characters that tell the reader the following letter or word is capitalized or italicized.

What's the different between Grade 1 and Grade 2 Braille?

Grade 1, or uncontracted braille means that each character in print is represented by a character in braille, or in other words, there is a one-to-one ratio of print characters to braille characters. Contrary to popular belief, this includes all symbols and punctuation. Grade 2, or uncontracted braille uses a system of contractions to shorten the braille in order to save space. A single braille character can stand for a word or a group of letters, and two or more braille characters can stand for a word part or a whole word as well. Unlike shortcuts used in print, contracted braille is standardized and used for all literary publications with the exception of materials written for beginning readers.

How can Braille be produced?

There are several ways to produce braille. The most portable and low-tech way is with a slate and stylus. A slate is a metal or plastic frame with holes in the braille patterns. The stylus is a small utensil used to punch the braille dots in the holes. A piece of paper is inserted into the slate and the stylus is used to punch the holes into whatever patterns necessary.

A second way is to use a Perkins brailler, or braille typewriter. A braille typewriter works much like a regular typewriter, except that instead of having keys for each letter of the alphabet, there are keys for each dot of the braille cell along with a space bar and an enter key. The typist uses a method called "chording" where any one to six of the cells are punched at once to produce dots within the braille cell.

A third way is to produce braille electronically, through a computer. It can either be produced by typing into any text document and using software to convert to braille or it can be typed with specific software that emulates the key layout of a Perkins brailler, either on a regular QWERTY keyboard or on a hardware device that has the same keys as a Perkins Brailler. Some braille users also have a hardware device attached to their computer that gives them braille output by a system of raised and lowered pins.

How is braille produced on paper?

To produce paper braille, a special braille printer called an embosser is used. Rather than using ink to print, it punches the braille patterns into the paper. Special paper that is slightly thicker than usual needs to be used so that the braille dots aren't punched all the way through. Braille can be printed on one or both sides, just like inkprint.