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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Deaf or Hard of Hearing: Common Assistive Technologies

This guide will provide resources on and for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

What are assistive technologies?

The Technology Related Assistance to Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1988 described an assistive technology device as "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities."

Assistive technologies can be "high tech" and "low tech:" from canes and lever doorknobs to voice recognition software and augmentative communication devices (speech generating devices).

Augmentative and Alternative Communication Devices

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices help those who have trouble with communication. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may need AAC devices if they, for example, are non-verbal, only use American Sign Language, or have trouble speaking. AAC devices can be as simple as a pen and paper to electronic communication devices. Some examples of AAC devices include:

1. Picture Boards - Can be carried to aid communication with those who are hearing. Users can point to images or words in order to communication their message

2. Digitized Speech AAC Devices - Smartphone applications and communication boards can produce digitized speech when the user either types a message or presses on images and words.

Assistive Listening Devices

Some people who are deaf or hard of hearing may choose to wear assistive listening devices, which are amplifiers that bring sound A close up of someone with brown hair wearing a hearing aiddirectly into the ear. Assistive listening devices can be designed for large facilities, such as the movies or classrooms, or for small facilities and one-on-one interactions. Assistive listening devices use the following three technologies to amplify sound:

  1. Infrared - Use infrared light to transmit amplified sounds. Because infrared light cannot pass through walls, infrared assistive listening devices are best for confidential situations like courthouses. 
  2. FM - Use radio signals to transmit amplified sounds. FM assistive listening devices are best used in situations like classrooms where an instructor can where a microphone and the sounds can be directly transmitted to the assistive listening device.
  3. Inductive Loop Technology - Wide area loop systems utilize an electromagnetic field to transmit sound. Inductive loop technology is convenient for t-coil hearing aid wearers, as they do not require body worn receivers. 

Mobile Applications

Employees who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing


Captions are words displayed on television or videos that describe the audio or sound portion of a program. Captions allow viewers who are deaf or hard of hearing to follow the dialogue and the action of a program simultaneously with hearing viewers.

Finding Assistive Technologies