Hearing technology can provide incredible access to sound for speech, language, cognitive, and social development. However, one of the most basic reasons people choose hearing aids, cochlear implants, or Baha devices for themselves or for their children is more essential: SAFETY. Awareness of environmental sounds for alerting and personal protection is one of the greatest benefits hearing can provide. Here’s how to keep yourself, or your loved one with hearing loss, safe.
Rule #1 is don’t assume. Don’t assume that, just because you, the parent, are hearing, that you will be able to get to your deaf child’s room to wake him in the event of an emergency. Don’t assume that your family pet will heroically wake you when you’re unable to hear the fire alarm. Don’t assume that a friend in your college dorm will come get you when the tornado siren goes off. Who knows? The path to your child’s room could be blocked, the dog could be outside of the house, your designated friend could be at class, or a million other things could happen. Assuming that you will be able to take care of an emergency without protective equipment is a risk not worth taking.
What steps can you take to protect yourself and your family?
A fire and carbon monoxide detector equipped with both strobe and bed vibrating capability. While some may feel that strobe lights are enough to wake a heavily sleeping deaf person during the night, I wouldn’t take that risk. Additionally, if you fall asleep in a lit room, the effectiveness of the strobes is greatly diminished. Why not have both, just to cover your bases. Some local fire departments will provide these alarms at no cost to people in their area with documented hearing loss. It’s worth a call to your local FD to ask. If not, you can find many options HERE.
There are also home security systems that can provide non-audible alerts. Some that are commercially available to the general audience will send a text message to your phone alerting you of any intruders. Others, made specifically for people with hearing loss, have vibrating pagers that can be programmed to let you know when a door or window has been opened.
In the event of severe weather, it’s important to have access to weather alerts. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has a system that will provide text alerts for inclement weather to your cell phone based on your geographic location. Many local municipalities and/or news stations also have text alert systems. For example, most universities now offer their students a mobile alert feature for campus closings, security lockdowns, or weather delays. Investigate what’s available in your area, and make sure to sign up!
Wearing medical identification at all times is crucial as well. In the event of emergency or injury, you do not know if you will be able to communicate to healthcare personnel. It’s important to wear identification stating that you have a hearing loss, wear hearing devices to help you communicate (for example, in case your hearing aids are lost in a car crash, that way the first responders will know that your difficulty communicating may be due to lack of access to sound, not injury, influence of alcohol, or some other reason), and, in the case of CI users, cannot have monopolar cautery or an MRI without consulting your CI surgeon and manufacturer. For young children, adding this information to a carseat tag is another good step to take.
Let your local authorities know about your hearing loss. If you call the non-emergency number of your local fire department, police department, or 911 dispatch center, you can inform them that you have a person with hearing loss in your home and they will place a note in their system in the event of an emergency. That way, if the worst happens and they ever do have to come to your house, they will know who is inside and be especially aware that there may be family members who are unable to hear.
Having backup and extra equipment for your devices can help you stay connected to the world in the event of a prolonged emergency, like a week without electricity due to a natural disaster. It’s important to have backup processors, disposable batteries (in the event that there is no electricity to refuel your rechargeables), and as many other spare parts as you have collected and organized in one place. Keep a card with contact information for your CI team in this kit. Bring spares with you on trips, too!
Now that you’ve got your own home set up, don’t neglect to take care of your safety while on the go, either. ADA regulations require that hotels and other public accommodations be accessible for people with hearing loss. When you make your reservation, be sure to request placement in one of their ADA-compliant rooms, which usually come equipped with strobe alerts for fire, and let the staff know about your needs. Many of the alerting systems listed above are portable, so you may also want to bring your own, just in case. For college dorms, these same regulations apply. Be sure, too, that there are strobe alerts in other areas where you might be spending time, such as the bathroom (especially as you might not be wearing your hearing equipment in the shower), laundry room, or lounge.
All of these safety tips apply to children, too. Hearing or deaf, children need reminders, practice, and instruction to learn safety skills. From the time your child is young, equip your house with accessible safety gear and teach her how to use it at a developmentally-appropriate level. Not only is it crucial for her safety, but it’s an important first step toward independence and self-advocacy. Some families like to have deaf child signs installed on their street. Others, due to privacy concerns, do not. If this is something that your family would like, contact your local Department of Transportation or Department of Motor Vehicles. Use books to talk about what to do in the event of a fire, natural disaster, or other emergency. Practice your family’s emergency plan. Make sure your child has the vocabulary she needs to communicate your name, address, phone number, and other crucial information to rescue personnel. Start early, review often, and stay safe!