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The Visual Argument

Making the Case for Visual Smoke Alarms – with CHS’s Jo Ann Bentley  

According to research, if a fire activates a smoke detector in your home, you may have as little as two minutes to escape unharmed. But if you don’t hear the alarm, you may have no time at all. Research also shows that people who are culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing will not wake from a deep sleep to an audible smoke alarm. As such, it is critical that Deaf and hard of hearing individuals have a visual smoke alarm in their homes, according to Jo Ann Bentley, program director for CHS’s Communication Devices and Accessibility Consulting programs. To find out more about visual smoke alarms, read our list of Frequently Asked Questions below.  


Visual smoke alarms incorporate a visual component, such as a strobe light, in addition to an audible alarm when smoke is detected in the home.  


  There are typically two kinds of visual smoke alarms: 

 1. Hardwired – These devices are wired directly to the home’s electrical system and include carbon monoxide detection in addition to smoke detection.  

 PROS: Advantages include a “daisy chained” system that syncs visual alarms throughout the home, For example, if there’s a fire in the basement, the visual alarms would go off in all rooms of the home.  

 CONS: The costs can be quite high compared to portable devices as a professional electrician is needed to install the system. When moving, you can’t take the system with you.  

 2. Portable – These devices are portable rather than wired into the home and are intended for people who rent their homes or move frequently. In addition to the visual component, portable systems also have the option for a “bedshaker” attachment which vibrates the user’s bed when smoke is detected as an additional safety measure.  

 PROS: They can be moved from place to place. They are also cheaper than hardwired systems.  

 CONS: They do not detect carbon monoxide.  


As mentioned above, research shows that culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing individuals will not wake up from a deep sleep to the sound of an audible alarm or the smell of smoke. As well, hearing loss typically affects the high tones (like the ones a conventional smoke detector emits) rather than low tones, making it difficult to hear a smoke alarm. Individuals with hearing loss also typically remove their hearing aids at night, making it impossible to hear a conventional alarm. As such, visual smoke alarms can literally mean the difference between life and death for a culturally Deaf, oral deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing individual.  


 For more information on visual smoke alarms and other communication devices, visit our eStore online at or call1-866-518-0000 or TTY 1-877-215-9530.

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