By Iris Winston,
Canwest News Service, May 18, 2010
Gord Ryall of the Canadian Hearing Society shows how deaf people can
communicate by typing.Photograph by: Sarah Dea, Canwest New Service(visit link below to see image)
The wail of a fire alarm and the ringing of the doorbell are effective warnings for people who hear them.
But for over 350,000 Canadians who are deaf or suffer major hearing loss, danger signals must be presented in a different way.
“The majority of people who have hearing loss are above 65 and are typically most affected at home,” says New Brunswick audiologist Andre Lafargue. “They often report that they don’t feel safe. For instance, if they forget to lock
the door or take their hearing aids out at night, someone could come in without their knowing.”
“Even being unable to hear on the telephone is a security issue for someone trying to call for help and you are unable to communicate effectively,”
notes Rex Banks, director of hearing health care and chief audiologist at the Toronto-based Canadian Hearing Society. “The situation can be very
Some might also feel insecure when they are outside, says Lafargue. “Rural people who like to hunt or just go out in the woods may not be aware of
danger sounds or of other hunters. Some drivers may also feel unsafe on the road because they do not always hear other vehicles approaching.”
People eager to mitigate hearing loss first turn to hearing aids, says Chantal Kealey, director of audiology and supportive personnel with the
Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists.
But there are many additional devices that make life easier and safer, such as fire alarms, smoke detectors and intruder alarms that use flashing lights
as well as sound to signal danger. There are devices that can be placed under a pillow and set to vibrate when an alarm clock goes off. “Some people
have hearing ear dogs to alert them to any unusual noises,” Kealey notes.
“Hearing ear dogs are not as familiar in the mainstream as other types of service dogs,” says Banks, “but they certainly play a vital part in
providing support (to people who are deaf.)”
In the workplace, says Gord Ryall, the provincial manager of employment services for the Canadian Hearing Society, employers can heighten the safety
and security of employees with hearing loss by setting up lights, mirrors and floor markings that “not only benefit the individual who is deaf but
also help other employees. It makes the workplace safer for everyone,” he says.
Ryall, who is hearing impaired, has been on the staff of the CHS since 1974. Speaking through an interpreter, Ryall says “employers often feel it is not
safe to have someone who has a hearing loss work in their environment. But they just need an explanation that deaf individuals would typically use
their vision and visual cues to ensure safety.”
For example, he says, “many employers and people in general think that deaf people don’t drive. In fact, 95 per cent do. The expectation is exactly the
same for drivers whether they are hearing or deaf. Everybody must follow the rules of the road.”
Similarly, employers “should have the same expectation of the deaf or hard-of-hearing employee that they do for a hearing employee. The deaf
person would use accommodation, such as bringing an interpreter to an important meeting. If the deaf person is working in a factory, visual cues
such as lights would be set up so that the individual is able to see if an emergency is happening.”
He emphasizes that “if a deaf person applies for a job, employers should base their assessment only on the individual’s skill level.”
For instance, he says, deaf forklift drivers have the same training as hearing forklift drivers. “The only difference is that if they don’t hear,
they are more sensitive visually.”
Some employers are concerned about the cost of accommodating an employee with specific needs, he says. “But most of the time, it costs little or
nothing.” Even having an interpreter, which is more costly, is necessary “only once in a while for critical meetings and it benefits the rest of the
staff and the employer because it ensures effective communication.”
Canwest News Service