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Understanding Communication Devices

Under the Customer Service Standard of the AODA, service providers must communicate with customers in ways that take their disabilities into account. For instance, some customers will need information in alternative formats, such as Braille, large print, or accessible websites. Likewise, some customers will need to use communication supports, such as American Sign language (ASL) interpretation, speechreading, or captioning. In addition, providers must serve customers who use communication devices. In this article, we describe a few different types of communication devices.

Communication Devices

Hearing Aids and Assistive Listening Systems

Hearing aids amplify sound. In other words, people use hearing aids to hear the sounds around them more loudly or clearly. Some hearing aids can connect directly to other devices, such as phones. They can also connect to assistive listening systems, devices that transmit one speaker’s voice straight to a person’s ear and bypass background noise. People use assistive listening systems in group situations where they need to concentrate on one speaker or area, such as:

  • Classes
  • Concerts
  • Tours or lectures

Some people with hearing aids hear background noise at the same volume as nearby sounds. For instance, a person might hear someone on the other side of the room as clearly as they can hear a nearby person they are talking to. Some people might move to a quieter location where they will be able to follow a conversation more easily. Other people might prefer to use a different way of communicating, such as speechreading or writing.

Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants are prostheses in people’s inner ears that transmit sound directly to the brain. People receive a great deal of training to learn to use their implants. Some people who have implants communicate by speaking and listening. However, other people with implants prefer different ways of communicating, such as speechreading, signing, or writing.


Teletypewriters (TTYs) are devices that carry typed conversation over telephone lines. People type their side of a conversation on a keyboard and read the other side of the conversation on a screen. People can converse with non-TTY users through relay operators.

Video Relay Service

Video relay service (VRS) allows people to communicate in Sign language remotely using smartphones or computers connected to the Internet. People can communicate with other Signers, or connect with a trained Sign language interpreter in order to communicate with non-signers.

Communication Boards

Communication boards display images that the user can point to or focus on one by one. For instance, boards can include combinations of:

  • letters
  • Words
  • Phrases
  • Pictures
  • Symbols

Some people use communication boards of their own. In addition, providers may have communication boards containing words, phrases, or pictures related to their services.

Augmentative or Alternative Communication Devices

Some people type their side of a conversation into an augmentative or alternative communication (AAC) device, or use other inputting methods, such as a mouse or joystick. Others have devices that contain pre-programmed words, phrases, pictures, or messages the user can choose from. Some devices have screens that display the user’s side of the conversation. Other devices have speech output. Some people pre-record what they want to say and play it back.

Service providers may still have questions about what to do when a customer comes in with a communication device. Our next article will offer some best practices for serving customers with communication devices.