Is the smart home friendly for those who have hearing impairments? It can be — with the right devices, settings, and routines. In some cases, smart devices may be exactly what you need to help work around hearing loss or similar conditions. Let’s take a look at the best ideas.
Use visual alerts for your important smart devices
Many smart devices, especially those related to security systems, offer multi-channel communication that can navigate around hearing loss. After all, most of these devices are made to send alerts when homeowners are away from the home: Those alerts usually take the form of a pop-up notification, but some systems can also send direct texts or emails.
Let’s take security cameras as an example: With the right settings, a home security camera’s motion sensor will be triggered by someone it recognizes as a person, and it will send an alert through its app on your phone. The alert will appear as a notification on your lock screen with a warning that a person has been detected. With the right phone settings, you can set these types of alerts to vibrate your phone so you don’t miss them.
This isn’t flawless — features like two-way audio on security cameras may not be possible for the hearing-impaired to use — but it does make many smart devices usable with hearing loss. And it works with door/window sensors, leak sensors, automatic reminders, and IFTTT alerts you can set up for a variety of conditions, from humidity levels to leaving the garage door open.
This can also work with voice assistants. Look for options with assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant to send you visual alerts to your phone or computer to let you know if a package has arrived, if there’s an important weather alert, if an event on your calendar is approaching, and so on. Smart speakers often have indicator lights to note an alert as well, but these are difficult to notice unless you’re close to the speaker.
Find hearing aids that work with your home automation devices
The right hearing aids can also help you interact with your smart home. The catch is that serious hearing loss is addressed by hearing aids that are chosen by an audiologist, so your choices may be limited (some brands, like Apple, are working to bring more hearing aid features to the consumer market, but it’s slow going). However, most audiologists should be able to recommend a Bluetooth hearing aid like the Phonak Audeo Paradise, which can connect to your smartphone and TV and is compatible with a number of smart apps so you can get alerts right in your ears where they will always be audible. This takes another level of management for your hearing aids, but the benefits are worth it.
Look for app-compatible home appliances
Certain common home appliances aren’t traditionally compatible with hearing loss. Those with hearing impairments may not be able to hear a coffee maker signal that’s ready or a dryer that it’s finished cycle. A replacement model can usually solve these problems: Take a look at our lists of the best coffee makers or washing machines (or refrigerators), and you’ll find a least a couple of models that offer smart app compatibility that can send you phone notifications in addition to audio alerts, and allow you to set up schedules or adjust settings as you need to.
Switch smart speakers with smart displays
Smart displays like the Echo Show 15 add a touchscreen display to smart speakers, packing them with visual information and more ways to interact with the smart home. This can be a useful solution if you don’t have a problem issuing clear voice commands but struggle to understand the responses. A smart display will include the important information on the screen when responding and allow you to make choices via the touchscreen.
Set up more complex routines with your smart lighting
A set of smart bulbs around the house and a DIY smart platform like IFTTT or Alexa’s Routines can open up many, many alert possibilities even if you can’t be near your phone. You can set one routine to flash your smart lights blue when a motion detector is tripped, another to flash the lights when someone uses your smart lock, and so on. Light colors can be linked to anything from the weather outside getting cold to forgetting to lock your door on the way out, giving you easy codes to know what’s going on around the house.
Find a smart bed shaker
What if the lights are off and your phone won’t wake you up? Look for a smart bed shaker that’s compatible with a voice assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant. That usually means you can link it to specific schedules or routines, so it can act as a bit more than just your alarm clock.
Watch for directional audio in the coming years
Directional audio for the home is a work in progress, but the technology has promise. The idea is to produce very narrow, targeted sound waves toward a specific location, like a favorite chair in the living room, or possibly synced to a tagged smartphone that you have with you (similar technologies are used for some museum displays). In-home options could help solve problems with TV and music volume without the need for hearing aids. Brands like Turtle Beach are working on speakers that can do this, but it’s still a ways off. Keep an eye out for directional audio features in home speakers in the coming years.
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