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Deaf Technology for Education

Assistive Devices Include Hearing Aids, Video Calling, & Bed Shaker Alarms


Filmmaker Jaime Del Pizzo discusses deaf technology in education

When not pursuing her film studies degree, Jaime Del Pizzo is snowboarding.


I have bilateral hearing loss. I wear hearing aids all day that amplify sound enough for me to hear most things. Without them, I pretty much hear nothing, unless someone shouts directly into my ear.

The barriers I face are surmountable with the right strategies. I might need to find an alternative way to screen a film that doesn't have closed captions or subtitles. I also need one-on-one meetings to mitigate the confusion caused by teachers and advisors talking over me.

Key Accommodations for Deaf Students

I think the most important accommodation for a student who's deaf or hard of hearing is a note-taker - an assigned person or classmate who shares their notes with you. You can review the full set of notes after each class to complete projects and study for tests. This has been most helpful: it removes the stress of trying to pick up everything the professor says and possibly missing key information.

Disability Services at my college assigns note-takers for free, provides a place where I can view the notes, and makes sure they are (for the most part) clear. The office also apprises my professors on my hearing impairment and suggests ways they can help me during class, e.g. to look directly at the class, speak clearly, etc.

But I also introduce myself to professors and explain my situation in my own words. This helps them to get to know me a little and provides an opportunity to ask questions.

Communications Technology for Deaf & HOH

I don't use sign language. I read lips. This can make using communications technology challenging. For example, video speed and resolution on mobile apps seem high enough to read hand signs; but those little delays you get on the Internet can make lip reading difficult. I can usually Skype if the delay is minimal and the video isn't too pixilated. Sometimes, the person has to type their responses in the IM chat box and I'll talk back.

I haven't yet discovered any mobile apps that help with my hearing. Facetime provides the closest equivalent to traditional calling, since I can't use a regular phone. Facetime, however, requires Wi Fi, which limits its availability.

Snowboarding is Del Pizzo's Passion

Luckily, communication isn't always essential. Snowboarding is my passion. I wear my hearing aids, but use no other assistive technology. On the mountain, there's small talk here and there, but it's not as frequent or as important as it would be in school.

My friends often have their face covered, which adds to the difficulty. But they'll just pull their ski mask down if there's something I need to hear, and I don't mind missing a conversation. After all, I'm there to snowboard: I can have a great time riding with friends with minimal talking, which is the best thing.

Technologies Deaf Students Need Most

I think the biggest technology gap for the deaf and hard of hearing is telephones. There are TTY phones that type what people are saying on the other end, but they're inconvenient: you often have to access a special website to initiate calls.

I'm a big texter, and am content with that technology's current capabilities. But there are times when it takes too long, or is dangerous, e.g. while driving.

It'd be nice to have more advanced capabilities in TTY mode on phones and mobile devices. For example, a system that enabled me to talk normally and for responses to be translated and displayed as text on my iPhone screen. That would be amazing and helpful.

Bed Shaker Alarm Clock Increases Independence

After my hearing aids, the most crucial piece of assistive technology I use every day is my alarm clock. It has what's called a bed shaker that I put under my pillow. When it goes off, it shakes my bed, which is extremely annoying, but it works. For a long time, I had to have someone wake me up since I remove my hearing aids to sleep. The bed shaker is liberating because I don't have to rely on other people.

Del Pizzo hopes to apply her filmmaking skills to promote female participation in snowboarding, a sport she regularly competes in. Note: Del Pizzo graduated from Keene State College with a Bachelor's in Film Studies in May 2013.

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