Accessible Fire Alarms for the Deaf

A fire incident can get deadly for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (D/HH). Most D/HH people do have a strong sense of smell and will be able to detect the smoke in time to get to safety, but that does not always happen. Just like hearing people, some Deaf also have a “deaf nose”, which is no sense of smell.  Accessible fire alarms for the Deaf are critical to keep our community safe.

History of Fire AlarmsAccessible Fire Alarms for the Deaf

Did you know that fire alarms have been around since the 1600’s?  At that time, a bell was be used to warn firefighters. In contrast, smoke detectors have only been around since the 1890’s. Makes you wonder… back in the day, how did Deaf people survive a fire? Well, let’s hope they didn’t have a deaf nose!  A hundred years later, all buildings are required by law to have smoke detectors and/or fire alarms, but even now, some of them are not ADA accessible.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

According to the ADA law1, most smoke detectors and/or fire alarms are not up to date for Deaf people in the building. What does that mean?  Fire alarms that are not visual are not Deaf friendly. Even though they can be extremely loud, and usually in a higher pitch frequency, they are not audible to the hearing loss of some D/HH individuals. When the non-visual alarm is signaling, Deaf people may or may not hear or recognize the alarm. Particularly for those who have profound hearing loss or if the Deaf individuals have taken off their hearing aids or C.I. (sleep, shower, swim, etc.). A non-visual type of fire alarm does not do any good for those individuals.  Wall mounted strobe light fire alarms are necessary for Deaf, as it grabs their attention visually when there is a fire. The lights are usually so bright that it will typically wake a sleeping person. However, for those who are deep sleepers or the bedroom door is closed, individuals are not going to see the lights flashing, which could result in disaster.

Types of Fire Alarms for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

There are several types of accessible fire alarms for the Deaf. Most buildings have hard-wired fire alarms, and most homes/apartments/dormitories have the wireless KA300 system.

Hard-Wired Alarm System are connected directly into the building’s power supply but also typically have a battery backup, so the alarm will still work if a power failure occurs. These systems typically provide the best fire detection, because you don’t have to worry that the battery might run out. Hardwired systems often include a control panel that helps keep track of multiple fire-detecting devices and adds a layer of security. A hard-wired fire and smoke detector is typically installed on or near the ceiling.

The KA300 Alert System is a bed shaker with a receiver that is plugged into the alarm clock. It transmits a signal from the smoke detector, and will transfer the signal to the alarm clock. The bed shaker is usually placed under the mattress and will vibrate or shake when signaled.  This also can be linked for the doorbell, phone, an intruder, a baby’s cry, carbon monoxide alarm, and sometimes weather. With today’s technology, it can also be an application on your smart phone. It can be set up to alert the user via SMS text messages, and send a notice to the emergency dispatcher as well.

Two wireless alarm brands are OTO Sense and DreamZon.

Making the Change!

If your workplace is in an older building or you live in an older apartment or dormitory, and you notice that the fire alarms and/or smoke detectors are not updated, you do have the right to request them replaced with a visual model.  Making accessible fire alarms for the Deaf may not be cheap, but it is worth it to save a life!

Also read about the importance of accessible Tornado Sirens.

1 702.1 General. “Fire alarm systems shall have permanently installed audible and visible alarms complying with NFPA 72…”


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