A great deal of equipment and other support services are available to help deaf or hearing impaired people live independently and safely in their own homes and to enjoy improved quality of life. The devices available include TV amplifiers, specially adapted telephones, textphones, special listening and alerting devices such as specially adapted doorbells, alarm clocks and smoke alarms. Such equipment can help many hearing impaired people manage a range of everyday situations.
Many people also benefit from the use of induction loops, which work with the 'T' (telecoil) setting which can be found on most hearing aids. Most public places such as banks, post officers and churches have induction loops and there should be a sign to indicate where the induction loop has been fitted.
You can seek advice about such devices from you local council's social services department, National Health Service audiology departments and a wide range of voluntary organisations. These devices can also be purchased from many AMPLIFON and other private hearing centres.
If you become deaf or hearing impaired, you are entitled to request a health and social care assessment by your local social services department (usually carried out by an occupational therapist). This assessment will examine your individual needs so that the right support or equipment can be provided. You can also arrange to receive 'direct payments' which will enable you to choose and buy equipment for yourself.
Access to communication support is available through a number of routes and is often dependent on your current situation. If you have communication difficulties due to the severity of your hearing loss, you can ask for and expect to be provided with communication support in situations such as a job interview, attending court or a public meeting.
Communication support typically includes British Sign Language (BSL) and there are a number of professional groups such as BSL interpreters, deafblind interpreters, lipspeakers, notetakers and speech-to-text reporters (palantypists).
In most cases, you will need to book your communication support in advance (often as much as six weeks ahead). Therefore, you should make any service providers or potential employers, for example, aware of your needs as far in advance as possible. If you tell them as much as you can about your personal requirements, they will then be able to ensure that the most appropriate form of support is arranged. This is especially important if you are going into a medical or legal environment, as some interpreters have extra experience in these kinds of situations.
The Equality Act (2010) requires all employers and the providers of goods and services to the public to make reasonable adjustments to assist disabled people. For hearing impaired people, reasonable adjustments might include providing communication aids or services, such as an interpreter.
British Sign Language (BSL) is the UK's official sign language. However, although there are more than nine million hearing impaired people in the UK, only 50,000 of these currently use BSL. Lip reading is far more widespread.
Learn Direct provides a database of UK communication support and language courses including British Sign Language, lip reading and Makaton. Text Relay is a national telephone relay service which allows very severely hearing impaired people to communicate with a hearing person over the telephone network using a Text Relay operator. The service is available 24 hours a day and is free to use, although you do of course pay for the calls you make.
If you are over 16, you may be able to access the support of an NHS Hearing Therapist to help you adapt to your hearing loss (this service differs across the country, so you should contact your local Primary Care Trust for more information). Hearing therapists can provide individual support and communication training and counselling for you and members of your family. They can also give you advice about the equipment and services that you can access.