Smoke alarm supports for adults who are deaf or hard of hearing

We have used the words ‘deaf or hard of hearing’ in most of these examples.

We acknowledge the terms deafness and hearing impairment mean different things to different people.

Deaf is the preferred term used by people who use Australian Sign Language (Auslan) as a primary or preferred communication method and who identify themselves as a member of the signing Deaf community.

It’s used to describe their unique cultural identity, which is a result of their rich visual language and is used with pride. In this case the D in Deaf is capitalised.

Many in the Deaf community regard the terms ‘hearing impairment’ and ‘hearing loss’ as alienating and damaging because it implies deafness needs to be ‘fixed’.

We acknowledge that people will make their own choice about how they describe themselves and their disability or cultural identity.

Case example 1

Amos is 24 and has severe, permanent hearing loss in both ears that was diagnosed when he was a baby. He communicates using Auslan and does not wear any hearing aids or have cochlear implants. 

Amos recently bought a house. He is moving out of his family home to live with his partner. He asks for funding for a standard smoke alarm for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Would we fund this?

Yes, we would typically fund standard smoke alarms and alerting systems for people who are deaf or hard of hearing if it meets the NDIS funding criteria.

Amos got some advice from his audiologist about what smoke alarm would be suitable and then had a conversation with his planner about low-cost AT. Amos doesn’t need written evidence because the smoke alarm costs less than $1,500. 

The planner decides the support meets the reasonable and necessary criteria and includes funding for the smoke alarm as low-cost assistive technology in the Core budget of Amos’s plan.

Why would we fund this?

To work out if funding for standard smoke alarms and alerting systems for people who are deaf or hard of hearing is reasonable and necessary, we consider the information you’ve provided against the NDIS funding criteria and our funding criteria for assistive technology.

Among other things, we need to work out if the requested support:

  • is related to your disability
  • is safe for you to use
  • will support you to pursue your goals
  • will improve your social participation
  • will be effective and beneficial for you
  • will provide a standard solution for awareness of the smoke alarm
  • will complement but does not replace other supports you receive, either through the NDIS or mainstream supports, like the public housing system.

If you are an adult who is deaf or hard of hearing, standard alerting systems and smoke alarms for people who are deaf or hard of hearing will usually meet your disability support needs as a standard level of support.

They connect wirelessly through radio frequency transmissions to other devices, such as vibration pads you can place under a pillow to provide a tactile or physical alert at night, and flash receivers or strobe lights that provide a visual alert during the day.

Radio frequency transmissions connect with devices in a similar way to how Bluetooth devices connect, but they have a much greater range and should work throughout most homes.

Some off-the-shelf smoke alarms for people who are deaf or hard of hearing can also send tactile notifications through a pager you wear throughout the day. 

This radio frequency transmission is the same technology used in standard audible smoke alarms when there is a state legislative requirement for battery operated smoke detectors to be inter-connected.

Some states and territories provide a subsidy program for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to upgrade their smoke alarms.

You can contact your local fire service to learn more.

What else do we think about?

The support you need will depend on your situation and the impact of your disability.

For example, if you are hard of hearing and have a vision impairment, we would consider a smoke alarm that provides both tactile and visual notification.

Other things we think about include:

  • your functional capacity to respond appropriately to a smoke alarm intellectually, emotionally and physically
  • any smoke alarms you may already use or own
  • any systems in place for other residents in the home with similar needs
  • if it’s the responsibility of other mainstream supports to fund the smoke alarm, for example some state funded housing authorities make allowances for minor modifications for their clients with disability.

Case example 2

Sarah is 35-years old, with profound hearing loss in both ears. She has cochlear implants, which she has had since she was 21, when she suddenly lost her hearing when she had meningitis.

Sarah speaks and has good lip-reading ability, English comprehension and literacy.

She works full time and has lots of family and peer supports. Sarah lives with her hearing husband and two young hearing children. They have a pool and often entertain outside in summer.

Although Sarah can communicate, she cannot hear the standard audible smoke alarms in her home.

Sarah’s husband is a very heavy sleeper and travels regularly for work. Sarah worries she won’t know if the smoke alarm is triggered at night or when her husband is away.

Sarah’s audiologist recommends a smoke alarm that sends a signal to a vibration pad under her pillow, a strobe light for visual notification and a tactile pager that vibrates when she cannot see the strobe light or is outside entertaining.

Sarah asks the NDIS to fund this smoke alarm.

The planner considers the information provided, along with the NDIS funding criteria. The planner also considers the cost of the smoke alarm. 

Based on the information, they determine the smoke alarm is reasonable and necessary, because:

  • it is related to Sarah’s disability
  • it will alert her to smoke and fire and support her to help her children
  • she cannot hear standard audible alarms
  • it’s not reasonable for Sarah to be reliant on her husband and children to alert her each time the alarm is triggered
  • it’s likely to be effective and beneficial to her independence in the long term.

Because the smoke alarm will cost less than $1,500, Sarah doesn’t have to provide any written evidence.

The planner includes funding for the smoke alarm as low-cost assistive technology in the Core budget of Sarah’s NDIS plan.

Case example 3

Rafeek is 22 years old and has mild-moderate hearing loss in both ears. He is also a person with severe-profound intellectual and physical disabilities, caused by Coffin-Lowrey Syndrome.

Rafeek lives in Specialist Disability Accommodation (SDA) with support 24 hours a day.

Rafeek’s SDA has smoke alarms and sprinklers. He wears hearing aids and needs help to manage them. Rafeek’s family have asked the NDIS to fund a smoke alarm for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Rafeek’s recent occupational therapy report identified he needs assistance with all activities of daily living, mobility and making decisions.

The report also found Rafeek appeared to be scared of the flashing light and vibration pad that are part of a smoke alarm for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The planner looks at the information provided against the NDIS funding criteria and determines the funding for a tactile or visual smoke alarm is not reasonable and necessary, because:

  • Rafeek does not have the motor function and intellectual capacity to respond appropriately when the smoke alarm is triggered.
  • There is a risk he would hide from the alarm, which would be unsafe in an emergency.
  • Rafeek lives in SDA with 24-hour care. 
  • It will not increase Rafeek’s independence or reduce other supports because he needs support workers to explain what the smoke alarm means and help him if there is a fire.

The planner does not include funding for a tactile or visual smoke alarm in Rafeek’s NDIS plan because it does not meet the NDIS funding criteria.

Case example 4

Evelyn is 60 years old and has profound hearing loss in both ears. She does not wear hearing aids because they don’t improve her ability to hear speech and sounds.

Evelyn and her husband, who is also profoundly deaf, have lived in their home for 15 years.

The house is currently fitted with standard smoke alarms and a doorbell for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, which includes strobe lights and a bed shaker.

Her husband also has a pager to alert him to alarms or doorbells when he is outside gardening.

Evelyn would like to install a custom alerting system that uses different coloured strobe lights depending on which system is triggered.

Her current system uses a white strobe light for all notifications. Evelyn needs to check smaller coloured lights on the current device to work out what has been triggered.

She does not think the current standard system is reliable because the smoke alarm occasionally goes off when there is no smoke and she misses deliveries when she’s at home.

She wants it to be available in the bathroom, laundry or outside.

Evelyn is worried about devices getting unplugged and she’s concerned she won’t see the strobe lights if someone puts something in front of them.

The planner looks at the information provided against the NDIS funding criteria.

They determine the funding for an above standard smoke alarm or doorbell system for people who are deaf or hard of hearing does not meet the reasonable and necessary criteria because:

  • Evelyn’s home already has a functioning system that meets Australian standards and will alert her in an emergency. The system is the standard needed to alert Evelyn and has not reached the end of its expected service life. Funding a system above the standard level needed to provide alert notifications to Evelyn is not considered value for money.
  • There are solutions to stop the device becoming unplugged, switched off or blocked. Evelyn could use power point safety protectors. Strobe lights can be put higher on the wall in a specialised bracket or attached to the wall directly to stop them from being blocked or knocked over.
  • A local supplier can assess the current system to make sure it’s set up correctly.
  • The current system can be set up in the bathroom and laundry, and a pager can be added that Evelyn can use outdoors.

Although the planner does not include funding for an above-standard smoke alarm or doorbell system for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, they decide it’s reasonable and necessary to modify the standard system.

The planner includes funding for additional strobe lights, an extra pager and their installation in the home.

These additions are value for money, will meet Evelyn’s support needs, and meet the other NDIS funding criteria.

For more information, refer to:

This page current as of
14 December 2022
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