Assistive Technology

Individuals with hearing impairments, visual impairments, and dual sensory impairment use a variety of assistive technology devices to facilitate communication, navigation, and safety. Individuals vary with regard to which devices (if any) they prefer to use. Popular assistive technology devices include the following:


  • Portable word processors are used to enter and store text. The text can be converted to an accessible format, such as Braille, or transferred to a computer with screen-reading capabilities.
  • Braille notetakers enable users to enter and store text. They typically have a synthetic speech output, as well.
  • Tape recorders are used to record speech or notes for future reference.


  • Braille typewriters, notepads and computer programs can be used to convert text to Braille.
  • Optical character recognition software can convert scanned print documents into speech.
  • Screen reader software (e.g., JAWS) converts text, documents, and websites into speech.
  • Large print materials are used by individuals with visual impairments.


  • A telecommunications device, or TTD, assists people as they use the telephone by enabling the caller use text instead of speech. TeleBraille devices enable people with deafblindness to use Braille when using the phone or while engaging in face-to-face communication.
  • People who do not have TTDs can utilize telephone relay services to communicate with people who use TTDs.
  • Augmentative Alternative Communication Devices (AACDs) range from low to high-tech, and are used to assist or complete communication. Examples of AACDs include picture boards and portable computers with modified keyboards and speech output.

Hearing Aids and FM systems

Hearing aids and FM systems are used to amplify sounds and to help users differentiate between speech and background noise.

FM Systems

  • FM systems usually consist of a microphone, which can be placed in the middle of a room or on a table, a transmitter, and a receiver, which is connected to the personal hearing device in the user's ear.

Hearing Aids/Other

  • Analog hearing aids were the first type available, and are still useful for specific purposes.
  • Audio Frequency Induction Loops are a means of transmitting sound through a telecoil by generating a magnetic field around a wire. If a second wire is brought within this magnetic field, the current is induced in the second wire. Audio Frequency Induction Loops can be used to improve the wearer's ability to hear over the telephone by picking up the sound via the diaphragm coil in the receiver of the telephone. In addition to improving the quality of hearing over the telephone, the Audio Frequency Induction Loop can improve the sound quality in room, provided that a single core insulate wire is placed around the perimeter of the room. Use of the Audio Frequency Induction Loops with the built-in coil in the hearing aid makes the receiver available to the user at all times.
  • Digital hearing aids are the most advanced and sophisticated technology currently available. Digital hearing aids offer the most control over sound processing and sound quality characteristics, though the range in terms of both price and quality is large.
  • Hearing aids are typically available in four styles: Behind the ear, in the ear, in the canal, and completely in the canal.
  • Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that can enable a person to hear environmental sounds, improve speech discrimination, and/or augment lip reading (speech reading) capability.

Personal Safety/Other

  • There are a number of signalers that use blinking lights and vibration to notify people of a ringing phone, and alarm, a doorbell, etc.
  • Service animals, such as guide dogs, can be trained to respond to doorbells, telephones, and alarms, as well as other noises.

Implications for Dental Professionals

Staying current on assistive technologies can enable dental professionals to anticipate the devices and techniques that may be used by patients. It may be necessary, based on the type of assistive technology in use by the patient, for the dental office or office practices to be modified to accommodate the patient's communication or safety needs. Individuals who use Braille or large print may request that written materials be provided in a format that can be easily converted. Patients may request information in an electronic format. Those who use hearing aids or FM systems may require notification by the dentist before a particularly noisy treatment so that the device can be turned off or turned down. The dentist may wish to purchase a TTD device or to learn the number of local relay systems, to assist patients who call to make appointments using TTD devices. Other considerations are likely to apply, and keeping abreast of developments in assistive technology will allow the dental office to be more prepared to meet the needs of patients with sensory disabilities.

* For more information, see the AbleData website at http://www.abledata.com


Henry, P., & Brassine, E. (2002). Selection, Application, and Integration of FM Systems. Retrieved on November 15, 2005, from http://www.healthyhearing.com/library/article_content.asp?article_id=118

Information about Deafblindness. Retrieved on November 15, 2005, from http://www.aidb.org/helenkeller/deafblind-info.asp

AbleData Information Centers, retrieved on January 4, 2006, from http://www.abledata.com/abledata.cfm?pageid=19326&ksectionid=19326