Technology for Deaf People: A Love-Hate Relationship

Amazing solutions throughout history that Deaf people have come up with and used.

How did the Deaf get by in their daily lives without Deaf technology products?

Before the 20th century, any possible technology to help the deaf was far and very few or rare. Often, they were very expensive or unavailable. Most of the times, deaf people didn’t know about them. They often missed out the information that hearing people normally heard about firsthand. So they had to find ways to get around or overcome the obstacles to live their lives daily and normally as possible.

How did the Deaf wake up in the morning without alarm clocks?

1. Natural sunlight

Their body would compensate for the loss of sense (hearing) by heightening the other available senses, such as sight and touch. Naturally, when the sunlight comes in through the windows, it awakens the sense of sight gradually. In the spring and summer seasons, it’s easy to wake up and it can be challenging during the fall and winter seasons when the light shifts and becomes darker.

2. Full bladder

If you’re over age 30, you’d know what I’m talking about. 😅 Waking up in the middle of the night or very early in the morning to empty the bladder. Some deaf people drink a lot of water before they go to sleep.

3. Hearing people living under the same roof

Most of the times, deaf people lived with hearing people under the same roof like family members or roommates. Hearing people would wake them up.

4. Uncertified “hearing” pets

Deaf people can train their pets to wake them up by establishing morning feedings and potty times. Having pets that act like “hearing” alerts isn’t new. It’s been around for much longer than the first organization of the certified trained service animals. Training programs for hearing dogs for Deaf people did not exist until the early 1970s when a Deaf woman named Elva Janke’s dog passed away. Her dog had naturally alerted her to sounds. Through the local news station she was able to connect with a local dog trainer and together they trained the first six official hearing dogs.

5. Unique home inventions

Daniel Shaw was one of the greatest Deaf inventors of assistive technology devices for the hard of hearing and deaf. The technology for the hard of hearing and deaf that he created used flashing lights and electric fans to alert people. He invented devices for hard of hearing and deaf like doorbells, alarms, clocks, baby monitors, and phones. There were some stories saying that they used to use the alarm clock key. The clock alarm hammer would hit the metal bells, turning a key, pulling the string to the lamp, turning it on. Sometimes the device would be set to make a heavy object fall off the night stand or on the bed. Another story is some deaf people would hang a heavy brick from the ceiling and tie it to the clock turning key. When the key turned, the brick that would fall and hit the end of the bed, waking up the deaf person. Another story mentioned that some Deaf used fans that were set to turn on at scheduled times.

6. Noisy public transportation

Some deaf people lived in big cities where their apartment was on the ground floor and near the bus/trolley, or near train tracks. When a transportation vehicle drove by, it create huge vibrations. There was a story that a Deaf couple where they talked about how there was a bus trolley that drove by early in the morning that helped wake them up for work.

How did the Deaf have access to entertainments, such as movies and theaters?

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the audio feature wasn’t invented yet so they added subtitles in between the “mouthing” moments. The silent films were usually comedy and short films. Deaf people loved to watch those films because the actors were very expressive and physically “loud”. Even for some of the deaf people, who were illiterate, they still understood the plot and theme. Foreign films with English subtitles became available and the Deaf enjoyed watching them. Later on, open-captioned movies became available. Open-captioning is when the captions are always in view and cannot be turned off.

Attending hearing plays wasn’t a common pastime for the Deaf because interpreters weren’t available or rarely used. Most of the time it was CODAs (“Children of the Deaf Adults”), who interpreted for their parents on the sideline or sat next to them. Deaf people performed in the plays at their own clubs. They posted the plays every weekend and many Deaf people traveled from faraway homes to watch, congregate and socialize.

How did the Deaf watch TV?

Prior 1970s, the only “captions” Deaf people could watch was open-captioned movies. Then in 1979, the NCI (National Captioning Institute) was established and funded. The NCI made sure that Deaf people had closed captioning services which was a new technology for deaf people. The first show showing CC was ABC News reporting. During the 1970s, closed captions were slowly added to more TV shows and movies. However, closed captions required a decoding device. The department store, Sears was selling the machines. In 1993, a bill signed by President G. H. Bush that required all TVs at 13-inch or larger to have closed captioning chips installed. Realtime captioning, video captioning, and captioning companies all came soon after.

What hearing devices for Deaf people were available for those with some residential hearing?

The earliest invention of a hearing device for deaf people was the ear trumpet dating in the early 17th century. In the 18th century and beyond, there was a wider variety of hearing devices for hard of hearing and deaf people. It evolved to hearing aids.

What about telephone and how did it benefit the Deaf?

When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he wanted it to be available for the deaf. The irony of the invention was that most Deaf people cannot hear and it benefited the hearing instead. What’s worse is that, it kept the deaf out of promotions at their jobs when telephones were required. Communication barriers between the deaf and hearing continued.

How do the Deaf communicate digitally?

In the last 60+ years, technology has dramatically improved the accessibility for the Deaf. After almost 100 years since the telephone invention, in the 1960s, the Teletypewriter aka TTY which was a telecommunication device for the deaf was invented which made the communication between the Deaf users possible. But the barrier between the Deaf and hearing still existed.

Instant Messaging (AOL)

After the 1980s, the accessibility level increased much more because the home computer became more available and common. One of them was IMs (instant messaging) which has made the Deaf users feeling equal with their hearing peers.

Cell phones has an unexpected advantage for the Deaf

In the 1990s, the cell phones became more common when they were cheaper and portable. One of the features was texting. It gave the Deaf a better advantage, just like instant messaging, when they communicated with their hearing peers via texting.

Okay, so far technology helps the Deaf, where is the hate for the technology?

Honestly, I tried to figure out what it was that the Deaf hate nowadays but found none. Maybe telephone before TTYs showed up. 🤔

‘Til next time, ta ta!

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