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Accommodations for Hearing Disabilities

Although the general term "hearing impaired" is being used to include both deaf and hard of hearing individuals, the needs of these two groups may vary greatly. In general, people who are deaf depend more upon visual skills for communication and information in their environment while hard of hearing people enhance their usable hearing while relying on auditory input more than visual input. This general difference drives many of the concerns and needs mentioned in this section. It is key that the individual participate in the process of identifying the accommodation solution to ensure it is suitable for the individual and their needs.

  • Visual Redundancy on Computers - Ensure that important information conveyed by beeps or speech during computer related tasks are also displayed visually for the user unable to detect the auditory information.
  • Interpreter - To accommodate persons with hearing impairments who communicate using American Sign Language or need an oral interpreter, professional interpreters are available on a contractual basis or may be hired by the agency. Individuals with hearing impairments, and their supervisors, should develop a plan to ensure that interpreter services are available when necessary. Interpreters may be available onsite for interpreting at meetings, conferences, and training courses.
  • Hearing Aid Compatible Phones - When a person wearing a hearing aid attempts to use a telephone that is not hearing aid compatible, they often hear a very loud, high pitched squeal similar to the sound heard when a public address system exhibits a microphone feedback problem. This can be quite uncomfortable, and precludes using this telephone to carry on a conversation. Individuals with hearing aids should be provided with hearing aid compatible phones. The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act (Public Law 100394) required that by August, 1989, all essential telephones and all telephones manufactured in the U.S. or imported "provide internal means for effective use with hearing aids that are designed to be compatible with telephones which meet established technical standards for hearing aid compatibility." Some individuals that wear hearing aids may need an additional phone amplification device.
  • Speech Amplification Telephone - For individuals with hearing impairments, there are several methods of amplifying the speech being heard over a telephone. There are devices designed for people who use a hearing aid and for those who do not use a hearing aid. Battery powered, portable handset amplifiers are available for calls made at other phones and on travel.
  • Speech Amplification, Meeting or Conversation - Portable speech amplification devices may be easily set up for use in a group meeting, training course, or lecture for a person who has a hearing impairment.
  • TTY - For an employee who cannot use an amplified telephone, a teletypewriter (TTY) or telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) compatible device will be required. A TTY permits a person with a hearing impairment to communicate over a standard telephone line with another TTY user or through a relay operator to reach a non-TTY user. The TTY enables the sender to type a message that is displayed as text for the receiving party to read rather than using auditory output like a standard phone. A personal computer can also be configured to function as a TTY by adding a special modem that supports both the PC code (ASCII) and the code used by most older TTYs (Baudot). A PC-based solution should reflect an individual's requirements and allow call announcement and pickup without exiting other PC application programs.
  • TTY with refreshable braille display - Individuals who are deaf and blind may need a specialized TTY that also has a refreshable braille display unit attached. Using this device, an individual and a sighted person can communicate in a face-to-face situation. Both would type their messages using the TTY keypad. What is typed on the TTY keypad is displayed on the TTY readout and on the refreshable braille display unit. This device also enables an individual who is deaf and blind to access the telephone system in the same manner as a standard TTY user.
  • Signaling System - For a person with a hearing impairment, the normal sounds and tones that alert one to take action, such as a phone ringing, may not be heard. A transmitter can be attached to a phone that will cause a light to flash or a personal alerting device to vibrate when the phone rings. Transmitters can be used to activate a visual signalling system for fire alarms and door buzzers in addition to telephones. For some individuals, tone ringer devices that convert the ring of telephones into a frequency range more easily heard are beneficial.
  • Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) - The General Services Administration provides a relay operator service to support government business calls between TTY and non-TTY conversing parties. The operator serves as an intermediary between the person with a hearing or speech impairment in one direction and the non-TTY equipped caller in the other direction. This service is available to any federal employee as well as members of the public when calling a government office. Within the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area the number is (202) 708-9300. Outside the Washington, D.C. area the number is (800) 877-8339.
  • Captioning - Captioned videos provide the text equivalent of sounds and speech as they occur on the video. Any video-based media produced for instructional, training, or informational purposes either by the agency or for the agency should be captioned so the information presented is accessible to viewers with hearing impairments. When purchasing training tapes, permission should be obtained from the copyright holder to caption them if they are not already captioned.
  • Electronic Mail - Electronic mail presents few barriers to communication because it is essentially a visual process. Systems that provide for an interactive "chat" mode in addition to the non-interactive mail mode can greatly expand the communication possibilities for persons who are deaf or who have hearing impairments. The chat mode may be a viable alternative for many internal communications needs. An effective electronic mail system would include a visual message status indicator feature.
  • Bulletin Board System (BBS) - Access to bulletin board systems may be useful in addition to or to supplement access to electronic mail systems. Many BBSs exist with information covering a wide variety of topics. A few BBSs are accessible by the older Baudot-only TTYs. Many more BBSs are accessible using the newer TTYs with the ASCII option or the PC-based TTY compatible modems.
  • Fax - Facsimile is the electronic transmission of letters and pictures over regular telephone lines. Sending computer generated information, hard copy documents or handwritten notes through a facsimile machine may provide a valuable alternative to telephone messaging in some situations. The fax system used should provide all necessary status information and messages needed for completing the fax transmission in a visual manner. Fax machines that rely on the sender responding to tone or beep indicators are not acceptable for use by individuals with a hearing impairment . A PC fax card option may be a suitable alternative to a standalone fax machine for individuals that transmit data that has been generated on a PC. A combination fax machine/telephone may also be an alternative to a stand-alone fax machine.
  • Pay Phone TTY - A pay phone TTY can be purchased or leased. Placed next to other pay phones, it ensures equivalent communications opportunities for visitors to the building who use TTYs. The TTY is in a closed case to protect it from vandalism. The case opens when a TTY is detected at the number that has been dialed. If the number being dialed is a voice and TTY number, a spoken message can be generated that informs the person answering the call that a TTY needs to be connected to respond to the caller.
  • Videoconferencing - As videoconferencing becomes widely accepted in the federal government, the communication needs of individuals who are deaf should be taken into consideration.
  • Automated Attendant Systems - If an agency or office is considering installing an automated information service with prerecorded voice messages, plans must be made for providing the same information in a text messaging mode that would support equivalent information access by TTY users. Either a single-line configuration designed to handle both TTY and non-TTY callers, or two separate phone lines can be used. In either case, the phone number should be distinctly identified as being TTY accessible.