Assistive technology

Find out about the many devices and technologies now available, to make everyday tasks easier if you have a hearing or visual impairment, or complex disabilities, allowing you to get on and live life more fully.

These include:

Smartphones, tablets and apps

These include:

Android smartphones and tablets

Android is Google’s mobile operating system. It is used on smartphones and tablets manufactured by Google, Samsung, LG, Sony, HPC, Huawei, Xiaomi, Acer and Motorola.

All major UK mobile network providers offer phones and tablets running Android.

All Android devices have Bluetooth (short-distance wireless technology), can connect to Wi-Fi, have touchscreens, can access a range of mobile apps and can be customised to suit your preferences.

If you have a visual or hearing impairment, or complex disabilities, you can use the Android Accessibility Suite to get the most out of your device using different settings and apps.

Here are just some of the Android Accessibility Suite’s features:

  • VoiceView screen reader.
  • Changing font sizes.
  • Magnification.
  • Using contrast and colour options.
  • Using voice control and other ways to control your device.
  • Enjoying audio and on-screen text.
  • Using a braille display.

You can download the Android Accessibility Suite from Google Play and find out here more about how to use all its available features.

Find out more about Android, including new developments and devices.

Apps for Android are available through Google Play.

Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch

Apple iOs is the mobile operating system used only on Apple iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch.

Most major UK mobile network providers offer iPhones.

If you have a visual or hearing impairment, or complex disabilities, you can use the built-in iOs accessibility features to get the most out of your device using different settings and apps.

Here are just some iOs accessibility features:

  • VoiceOver screen reader.
  • Changing font sizes.
  • Magnification.
  • Adjusting touch settings.
  • Using voice control.
  • Adjusting audio and visual settings.
  • Subtitles and captioning.

You can find out more here about how to use all of the available iOS accessibility features.

Find out more about Apple iPhones, iPads and other devices.

Apps for Apple iOS are available from the App Store.

Amazon Fire tablets

Amazon’s range of Fire tablets use a customised version of Google’s Android operating system, called Fire OS.

If you have a visual or hearing impairment, or complex disabilities, you can use the Fire OS accessibility features to get the most out of your device using different settings and apps.

Here are just some Fire OS accessibility features:

  • VoiceView screen reader.
  • Changing font sizes.
  • Magnification.
  • High-contrast text.
  • Audio descriptions.
  • Closed captioning.
  • Switch access – different ways to navigate, such as blinking.

You can find out more here about how to use all of the available Fire OS accessibility features. You’ll also find useful quick start guides here for a range of Fire devices.

Find out more about Amazon’s range of Fire tablets.

You can download Apps for Amazon Fire OS from the Appstore using the Apps icon on your Fire tablet home screen.

Using hearing aids with smartphones

Most smartphones work with hearing aids thanks to a small coiled wire called a hearing loop, or Telecoil.

The Telecoil picks up sound and sends it to your hearing aids on the hearing loop setting, making callers easier to hear.

Make sure that you:

  • Turn on the hearing loop setting on your hearing aid or get your audiologist to do this for you.
  • Turn on the Telecoil setting on your phone. You’ll find the instructions in the phone’s manual.
  • Hold or place your smartphone close to your hearing aid.

How well does your phone work with your hearing aids?

Some smartphones work better with hearing aids than others.

You may get radio interference (buzzing) when you hold your smartphone close to your hearing aid, caused by the phone’s electronics and display.

Smartphones can be ranked from 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent). This means looking at:

  • The M (microphone) rating – how well the smartphone works with your hearings on the normal setting.
  • The T (Telecoil) – how well it works with your hearing aids on the hearing loop setting.

Check out your smartphone’s ranking.

How can I reduce interference?

Even with good M and T ratings, you may still get interference.

To reduce interference, try:

  • Making sure your hearing aid is fitted correctly.
  • Holding the phone just an inch or two away from your hearing aid.
  • Using a neck loop or Bluetooth technology.
  • Using your hearing aids on the normal setting to see what works best for you.

Devices for connecting your hearing aids to your smartphone
You can connect your smartphone to your hearing aids using other devices:

  • Neck loop – a cable you wear around your neck.
  • Ear hook – a small device attached to a cable that hooks over the ear next to your hearing aid.
  • Silent headphones – they look like normal headphones but you can use them to hear sounds on your phone.

These devices also use the hearing loop setting to help you hear more clearly. You normally plug them into the headphone jack on your phone.

Hearing aids for Apple devices

A number of hearing aids work directly with Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, using ‘‘made for iPhone” (MFi) technology.

MFi was developed by Apple but can also be used with Android phones, although you may not get as many features.

You can find out here about setting up hearing aids made for Apple devices.

Talking technology

Siri

Siri is Apple’s voice-controlled personal assistant and is built in to iPhones, iPads, the iPod Touch, Apple Watches, HomePods and Macs.

With Siri, you can go hands free.

Siri has access to every other app that is part of the operating system (OS or iOS), such as Mail, Contacts, Messages, Maps, Safari and so on.

Simply speak to Siri and tell her what to do, ask her questions or get her to show you something.

Find out more on Apple’s website.

Google assistant

Google Assistant offers voice commands, voice searching and voice-activated control, letting you complete a number of tasks after you’ve said the “OK Google” or “Hey Google” wake words.

Google Assistant can:

  • Control your devices and smart home.
  • Get personal information from your calendars and other sources.
  • Find information online, from restaurant bookings to weather and news.
  • Control your music.
  • Play content on your Chromecast or other compatible devices.
  • Run timers and reminders.
  • Make appointments and send messages.
  • Open apps on your phone.
  • Read your notifications to you.
  • Give you real-time spoken translations
  • Play games.

Find out more about Google Assistant.

You can download Google Assistant from Google Play and from the App Store for the iPhone and iPad only.

Alexa

Alexa is Amazon’s cloud-based voice service. It works with Amazon’s range of Echo devices and a wide range of devices from other manufacturers.

Echo devices can:

  • Play music.
  • Tune in to radio stations.
  • Read the latest news, weather and sports results.
  • Search the internet for answers to your questions.
  • Act as a calculator, currency converter, alarm, clock and timer.
  • Let you listen to your Kindle or books from Audible.
  • Communicate with other people who have Echo devices.
  • Help you shop online.
  • Control lighting, heating, smart plugs and cameras through other connected devices.

You can find out more here about what Alexa can do, and more here about setting up your Echo device.

You can download Alexa from Google Play and from the App Store for the iPhone and iPad only.

Smart TVs and streaming services

Most Smart TVs now have a range of accessibility tools and features built into them to help with:

  • Dexterity – difficulty doing thing with your hands.
  • Vision.
  • Hearing/speech.
  • Cognition (understanding).

Common features are:

  • Adjustable sound settings – adjusting bass (low sounds) and treble (high pitched) to make speech clearer.
  • Advanced tone control.
  • Audio description (AD) on most UK broadcast channels and catch-up services: BBC, ITV, Sky, Channel 4, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub and All 4.
  • AD is also available on selected Welsh language programmes.
  • AD is available on the streaming services Amazon Prime and Netflix but not on Now TV.
  • Separate volume controls for the main speaker and headphones, allowing you to listen at a volume that suits you without disturbing others.
  • Sign interpretation.
  • Speech enhancement – to help you hear what people say more clearly over background music and sound effects.
  • Subtitles.
  • Voice guidance.

How can I find the right smart TV for me?

To find the smart TV that suits your needs, visit the Global Accessible Reporting Initiative.

Use the search options to find the right device for you from a range of manufacturers, including Apple, Samsung, Sony and LG.

You can also find out here about Amazon Fire accessibility settings, and here for Apple TV accessibility settings.

Find out how to make Android TV more accessible.

As smart TV technology changes all the time, it’s a good idea to visit manufacturers’ websites from time to time to see what their latest products offer.

Devices to help you hear your TV more clearly

There are a number of devices that you can use to help you hear your TV – and music equipment – more clearly. These include:

  • Hearing loops – if you use hearing aids, a hearing loop for your home can connect to your TV’s audio connections. You need to switch on the hearing loop setting on your hearing aid. Your audiologist might need to do this for you.
  • TV listeners – these let you listen to your TV at a comfortable volume at the same time as the TV speaker. They are normally made up of a base unit or transmitter and a receiver.
  • TV and Bluetooth streamers – if you use hearing aids, these might be helpful. TV streamers connect to your TV and send sound directly to your hearing aids (must be compatible). Bluetooth streamers send sound from a Bluetooth device, e.g. your music player or radio, directly to your hearing aids.
  • Assistive listening devices – these small, portable devices pick up speech and make it clearer. You can place one close to your TV, radio or music player loudspeaker.

Amazon Prime, Netflix and Now TV

Amazon Prime, Netflix and Now TV are subscription-based services that you pay for monthly to get unlimited streaming of TV shows and films.

You can get these services via the internet on smart TVs, tablets, computers, laptops and smartphones.

AD is available for Netflix and Amazon original titles, as well as selected other movies and TV shows. Now TV does not have audio description.

Alerting devices

If you are deaf or have a hearing loss, there are now many alerting devices for making everyday life easier and safer:

Alarm clocks

Bedside and portable alarm clocks normally include:

  • An extra-loud alarm
  • A flashing light
  • A vibrating pad for under your pillow.

If you use an alarm on your smartphone or tablet, you can also use a vibrating pad to alert you. This connects to your smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth.

Baby monitors

Specialised baby monitors can include:

  • A unit with a visual display that flashes
  • A vibrating pad for under your pillow or mattress to wake you at night.
  • A built-in television camera to allow you to see your baby on a display screen when in another room.

Doorbells

Types of doorbells include:

  • Extension bell or ringer – add an extension bell or ringer to your doorbell to make it louder. You can also add a flashing light. You may need to get a qualified electrician to do this.
  • Wireless door chime – a unit you can put anywhere in your home that rings, flashes or vibrates when someone pushes the outside doorbell.
  • Wi-Fi doorbell – tells you someone’s at the door by sending you a text message. You control it through an app on your smartphone or tablet.

Multi-altering systems

These combine all the alerts in your home – e.g. doorbell and phone – and notify one or more receiver devices. When you get an alert, the portable receiver vibrates, flashes a light or makes a loud sound.

Smoke alarm systems

If you’re deaf or have hearing loss, you must have a smoke alarm system fitted in your home to alert you to possible danger.

Smoke alarm systems wirelessly link smoke and heat detectors to alerting devices.

Some are part of a multi-alerting system that also notifies you of the doorbell, telephone and other alerts.

British Standard (BS 5446 part 3: 2015) sets out the requirements that fire and carbon monoxide alarms should meet for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.

You should look for:

  • A bright flashing light to alert you when you’re awake.
  • To make sure you’re alerted in other parts of the house, either get additional strobe lights for different rooms or wear a vibrating pager.
  • A vibrating pad for under your pillow or mattress to alert you when you’re asleep.
  • The pad should be difficult to unplug or disconnect and a warning light should come on if this happens accidentally.
  • Enough range to cover all parts of your home.
  • An easy-to-use button for regularly testing the system.
  • Battery back-up – if you have a mains-powered system, in case of power failure, or the system being unplugged from the mains, it will keep working for at least 72 hours.

Carbon monoxide alarms

Some systems include carbon monoxide (CO) detectors.

It’s recommended that you fit a CO detector that meets British Standard EN 50291 part 1 and has the BSI Kitemark™ symbol.

You can also find out more about carbon monoxide poisoning, preventing it and maintaining your appliances.

You can find out about getting a free fire-safety check for your home from the National Fire Chiefs Council.

Where can I buy alerting devices?

You can buy all of the above alerting devices from Connevans online shop.

You can also buy smoke alarms from FireBlitz online shop.

Landline phones

If you have hearing loss, whether you use a corded or cordless landline phone, there are ways you can make it easier to use.

Adapt your landline phone to your needs

To help you hear your landline phone better when it rings or when you’re talking with someone, you can:

  • Increase the volume on the ringer and handset.
  • Change the melody or ringtone to one that’s easier for you to hear.
  • Place it on a hard surface to make it ring louder.

Use your landline phone with your hearing aids

Most landline phones are hearing aid compatible. You can hear the call more clearly through your hearing aid on the hearing loop setting:

  • Activate the hearing loop setting on your hearing aid or get your audiologist to do this.
  • To hear callers more clearly, place the phone close to your hearing aid.

You can out more about hearing aids here.

Use an amplified telephone

Amplified landline telephones are designed specifically for people with hearing loss. Their features include:

  • Hearing aid compatibility.
  • An extra-loud ringer.
  • A separate control to boost the volume through the handset.
  • A handset tone control, which allows you to make people’s voices clearer.
  • Large dial buttons and other easy-use features.

Use assistive devices to make landline calls clearer

You can use various devices to help you hear your landline phone more clearly:

  • Extension bells or ringer – to make your landline louder. These usually include volume control and different ringtones, among other features.
  • Visual call indicator – which flashes when your phone rings to alert you. Most also have a loud ringer.
  • Telephone amplifier – connects to your phone to make the caller’s voice louder.

Relay UK

Relay UK is a free service to help deaf people and those with hearing loss or who have a speech impairment to communicate by phone.

You only pay the normal charges for any calls you make. Check with your phone provider for more details.

Relay UK has replaced the NGT (Next Generation Text) and the old Text Relay service.

With Relay UK, a live relay assistant helps you to communicate by:

• Typing what the person calling you is saying so you can read their responses, if you can’t hear.
• Reading your written responses to the caller, if you can’t speak.

As Relay UK is a regulated service, you can use it to arrange GP and hospital appointments by phone.

How Relay UK works

  • There are different ways you can use Relay UK: Through an app on your smartphone or tablet. Once you’ve downloaded it, you just link your phone number to it and tell the app how you’d like to use the service.
  • With a textphone. This is a type of landline phone with a keyboard and display screen. You type what you would like to say and read the reply on the display screen. You can use a textphone to make a call using a relay assistant.

Download the Relay UK app and find out more how it works.

Find out more about how Relay UK works with textphones.

If you are interested in using a textphone, you can now only buy one second-hand, as they are no longer produced in the UK.

Relay UK and emergency services

Whether you’re using the Relay UK app or a textphone, you make an emergency 999 call by dialling 18000 not 18001.

You can also contact the emergency services by text using the emergencySMS service.

You’ll have to register your phone before you can send a text message to 999 using emergencySMS.

Text the word ‘register’ to 999. You’ll need to register again if you change your phone number.

You can find out more here about calling 999 through Relay UK and using emergencySMS.

Useful resources

Ace Centre

Ace Centre runs courses on the use of Assistive Technology to enable independence, access to education, learning and leisure activities, and communication.

AbilityNet

AbilityNet supports anyone living with any disability or impairment to use technology to achieve their goals at home, at work and in education. Services include:

  • Digital accessibility services.
  • Disabled students’ allowances/student services.
  • Free expert resources.
  • IT Support for disabled and older people at home.
  • Workplace services.

Benefits/help paying for assistive technology

You may be able to get help with the cost of assistive technology. To find out, use the Benefits Calculator.

You may also be able to get help paying for technology from:

• Your local council’s sensory services team.
• Your workplace, if you need technology to help you to work.
• The Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) scheme, if you are in post-18 education.

You can find out more about DSA from AbilityNet, which is one of the largest not-for-profit providers of DSA assessments.

Connevans

Connevans online shop works in partnership with RNID, supplying the full range of technology products for people who are deaf, or have a hearing loss or tinnitus.

Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative (GARI)

Covering phones, tablets, mobile apps, connected wearables and smart TVS, GARI helps consumers to find a device with the accessibility features that work best for them.

National Deaf Children’s Society

Through the National Deaf Children’s Society’s Technology Test Drive, you can borrow more than 100 devices for free.

RNIB

RNIB provides grants for a wide range of assistive technology devices for people who are blind or partially sighted.

You can find out here about which devices are included, the size of grants available, eligibility and how to apply.

RNIB also offers a wide range of support services to help you get the most out of technology.

VitalTech

Vital Tech is funded by Thomas Pocklington Trust to help guide blind and partially sighted people in the UK through the world of assistive technology. It aims to keep thing simple and easy to understand.

See also

  • Vision aids
  • Hearing aids, implants and other devices

Get in touch

Get in touch for information and advice about communication

This content was last reviewed in April 2022. We’ll review it again next year.