Is Your Home Safe for a Deaf Person?

by JoHarrington

Alarms in your house warn of anything from a fire to a burglary. But what if the only person there is hearing impaired?

Installing a home fire alarm system for warning a deaf person is critical. At least it is if there is the possibility of someone sleeping alone in a house when deaf!

As a partially hearing woman, I received a nasty taster of how dangerous things could get. I was in my bed when the alarm went off.

It was one which relied upon someone hearing it. I'd only just turned over in bed. How long precisely had that alarm been attempting to warn me that something was amiss?

Unilateral Hearing and the Case of the Loud Alarm

Relying on sounds to keep your house and family safe can be dangerous if one of them is deaf.

The shrill noise was constant, beeping at intervals of mere seconds. I lay in bed assuming it was someone's mobile 'phone. Waiting did nothing.

Through the fog of waking, it dawned on me that I was alone in the house. This posed a problem. I had never heard that sound before, so I was going to have to track it down. I wished myself luck with that one.

I have unilateral deafness; that is to say that I have no hearing at all in my right ear. In truth, if I had just turned over in bed, I could have made that horrific beep beep go away. It's possible that had already happened. I once slept through road-builders using a pneumatic drill outside my house, because I'd lay with my left ear burrowed into the pillow. Blessed silence. I often think I have the best deal, when it comes to all things auditory.

But I was awake now and that loud beeping was getting on my nerves. I wasn't worried. If it had been the smoke alarm, then I was in the best place to find out. My whole bed would have shaken and lights flashed on and off like something out of The Exorcist. There is a disc under the pillow, which is connected via Wi-Fi to the fire detectors. It is designed specifically for the hearing impaired.

Just to make sure, I sat up and double-checked the router box. Its lights told me that it was working perfectly. I forced myself out of bed and began my process of elimination.

For those with unilateral deafness, there is no direction of sound. Things may become louder and quieter, but with something that shrill the latter didn't appear to be happening. People with perfect hearing would have just followed the noise to the source. I had to rely upon my vision and deduction skills, neither of which are great first thing in the morning.

First stop was the actual smoke alarm. It wasn't flashing a warning light. Next I wandered into my own sitting room and fished my mobile 'phone out of my hand-bag. It was inert in my hand. I went downstairs and checked the wall unit that governs the heating in our house. All looked fine. I looked across the family computer desk for errant mobile 'phones. None were there, which confirmed that I was alone in the house.

By now, that beeping alarm was louder than it had ever been. I walked into the lounge and I located the noise. It had taken someone with no hearing in one ear several minutes to find it. A fully deaf person would never have heard it at all. It was the carbon monoxide detector and it was flashing red lights at me.

Does your home and family's safety rely upon hearing alarms?

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Suitable for Deaf People? Ask the Fire Brigade

Some regional fire divisions will fit smoke alarms in your home free of charge. Your protection is in their interests too!

Photo: Fire BrigadeIt was a chance meeting that led to our home being kitted out suitably for a hearing impaired resident.

For over three decades, I'd basically trusted providence that, in the event of a fire, I would a) be sleeping on my deaf side or b) a hearing person would be in the house and remember me in their panic.

An off-duty fire officer had patently attended one too many emergencies, where others had relied upon the same luck. As soon as he realized that I had unilateral deafness, he brought up the subject of smoke alarms.

A few minutes later, he was reaching for a pen for my details. They would be added to the list, as soon as he was back at work. In his expert opinion, our house was a tragic accident waiting to happen.

In Britain, it is a national requirement that all fire divisions provide free smoke alarms. Officers will even come to fit them, if necessary. Many also have specialist home units, which deal with the deaf community. These are fire officers who have received extra training. They can, for example, communicate in sign language.

More importantly, fire officers will make an appointment to visit your home. They have smoke alarms which are created especially to alert those who cannot rely upon hearing. They came and did so in my house. They also left the carbon monoxide detector, which gave me such a rude awakening this morning. In short, they potentially saved my life.

More of my articles about deafness

Unilateral hearing affects a significant percentage of the population. How would you welcome a client or guest with this kind of deafness?
Unilateral hearing can result in some excruciatingly awkward social situations. A heart-breaking search query has led to this article.

Useful Links

Contact numbers for local fire and rescue services in Britain
It is worth giving the fire brigade a call to see if they offer smoke alarms for the deaf in your area.

Contact numbers for local fire and rescue services in the USA

Fire and Smoke Alarms Designed for the Deaf

Stay safe! At the very least, you are buying peace of mind. If it saves a life, then it could be the most valuable item in your home.

How the Smoke Alarm Works in My House

Being unilaterally deaf, we have had to take extra precautions in our home.

There are many advantages to luring burly fire officers into your home. Not least is the fact that they know precisely where smoke alarms should be fitted. It's not general advice. It's based upon an expert eye being cast over the dimensions of your house and the units being placed for maximum protection.










Our smoke alarms are like any others, but for one vital feature. They are Wi-Fi enabled. At the center of my house is a staircase. We have two detectors. Each are fixed to the ceiling - one at the foot of the stairs and the other at the top.

I know exactly what would happen in the event of a fire, because I participate in Test It Tuesday. As with any smoke detector, it emits a shrill sound. The hearing people would know immediately that it is time to get out now and invite those nice fire officers to pay a return visit.

During the daytime, this holds true for me too. No partial deafness is going to stop me hearing something that loud!

There is more acute danger for me, when I'm snug in my bed at night. Lying on my left side, I can't hear pneumatic drills outside my window. I probably slept through a significant amount of time, while the carbon monoxide detector was urgently trying to tell me something. I would easily sleep through a smoke alarm. But not in my house.

Whatever happens with either of those ceiling smoke alarms is being conveyed via Wi-Fi to the receiver box in my bedroom.










If that audible alarm is sounding, then this unit will be flashing lights. It might look quite small, but it is bright. It is enough to make my whole bedroom look as if an alien spaceship is trying to land. Or maybe that was a dream...?

Just in case a powerful light show isn't enough to stir me from my slumber, the receiver has one more trick up its mechanical sleeve. The white cable leading from it is attached to a disc-like pad, which is slotted under my pillow. (At least the fire officers placed it there. After a few nights of it sliding about and banging against the chest of drawers, I secured it in place under the valance sheet too.)










The disc vibrates. It's not a small, polite, self-effacing kind of shaking. It renders the entire mattress trembling like there's a minor earthquake and I'm at ground zero. I defy anyone to sleep through that, especially when your eyes, opening wide in shock, are going to notice the whole room flashing with lights.

This is just one system targeting the home safety of the hearing impaired. Other models can be linked up to the electrical mains. They would cause every light in the house to flash on and off. Others produce strobe lighting and/or vibrating pads for various items of furniture. It is always best to take advice from the fire service, in order to match the most appropriate alarm with the deaf individual.

Of course, nothing bad will ever happen to any of us. Ever. But just on the off-chance that I'm wrong, then it is better to be ready to give yourself, your family and any house guests the greatest chance of survival. Call your local fire brigade and see what they can offer now, to prevent them from having to deal with much worse later.

Other Alarms for Deaf and Hearing Impaired People

Life can be made so much easier, if you invest in equipment designed to work with your deafness.

Gifts for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People

I've been deaf in one ear since I was nine years old. The most frustrating thing about that is other people. Grab an Angry Deaf badge to defend against the audists in your life.
Looking for 'my first' American Sign Language toys and books? Deaf babies and infant CODAs will love these fun aids to communication.
Nobody wants to put a damper on the Christmas celebrations. Let an Angry Deaf Christmas tree decoration gently say it instead!
Let Deaf Bunny help your partially deaf child socialize while out playing. Informative clothing to articulate the hearing needs of deaf kids unable to explain for themselves.
Updated: 07/11/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 09/11/2012

My alarm is under my pillow for this very reason. <3

And I can soooo emphasize with the direction of sound thing. Have you ever watched the stereo hearing people? A sound comes and they just turn their heads into its direction. It's weird.

BrendaReeves on 09/11/2012

I missed an early doctor's appointment once, because I had rolled over on my good ear during the night. My mother lost her cell phone recently. I called it with my cell and it took me 30 minutes to find it because I couldn't tell what direction it was coming from.

JoHarrington on 09/09/2012

Yes, please do review it, as I've not heard of the book before. :)

And I would advocate having fire alarms in your apartment building. You need all the time that you can get to escape that!

Mira on 09/09/2012

I imagine this helps a lot of people. I'm reading David Lodge's Deaf Sentence at the moment (wondering whether to do a review about it when I finally get to finish it), and learned so many things about life as a hearing-impaired person. He says there are 9 million in the UK. Your article was great! (I got to it following Sam's link in the forum, under Knock-your-socks-off Wizzley pages :-).) I never really thought about smoke alarms, as we don't have them over here in apartment buildings -- at least not in the apartments themselves. It makes you wonder why we don't . . .

JoHarrington on 01/28/2012

Thank you, Katiem2! It sounds like your home will soon be safe for people like me. <3

katiem2 on 01/28/2012

WOW very helpful article on how to keep your home safe for a deaf person. A good quality search result for anyone looking to make their home safe and welcoming. Katie

JoHarrington on 01/19/2012

Apologies for not responding to your comments yesterday. I was maintaining internet silence because of the SOPA/PIPA protest. (

Sheri - Thank you very much. I'm glad that it was useful. :D

Dustytoes - I'm glad that I had that CM detector too! There are a whole host of things which could make your son's life easier. Unfortunately most of them cost too much. At least in Britain, this one is free. I'd be grateful if you'd report back on whether this is also true in the USA.

Lorren - I'm glad that there are alarms for the likes of me too! ;) Thank you for reading and I'm pleased that you enjoyed my article.

dustytoes on 01/18/2012

My oldest son is deaf in one ear and this article has me wondering what he has for alarms. I've never heard of the Fire department in the U.S. going into homes to install this type of thing. My other son is a firefighter so I will ask him about it. Good article - glad you had that CM detector.

Sheri_Oz on 01/18/2012

This is a wonderful article, Jo. Opened my eyes to something I had never thought about.

JoHarrington on 01/16/2012

I opened a lot of windows and disappeared back upstairs, behind a shut door, in a room with the window wide open too. I had a bit of a headache for a short while, but that went away.

I knew the source by then. It seemed that someone had started to leave our house earlier, started up his van, then realised he'd forgotten something. He left the front door wide open, with the exhaust pipe on his van outside, while he ran in to get it. Then he closed the door and drove away, leaving exhaust fumes floating through the hallway.

LOL! Your stories bring back very fond memories from my own university days. I just giggled all of the way through yours. Thank you!

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