Cell Phones for the Hearing Impaired
Finding Cell Phones for the Hearing Impaired
Cell phones can be problematic for those with a hearing impairment; with limited volume, poor seal around the ear which allows background noise to intrude, and transmissions that interfere with hearing aids. Further compounding the problem are issues that any phone presents; the lack of visual cues such as what a listener has when talking face to face and having to listen with only one ear.
On this page, you can discover how to find a good phone for those with hearing loss: the features to look for when shopping and the other devices and software that can make communication easier.
What Are the Critical Features to Consider?
There are a number of features to consider when selecting a cell phone:
- Compatibility with hearing aids if they are worn
- Volume control or additional amplification and adjustable ringtone
- Cell phone and earpiece design
- Texting capabilities and related plans if voice communication is significantly limited
- Video chat/video conferencing capabilities if sign language is used
- Vibration alerts to avoid missed calls
- Handsfree option, speakerphone
- Features to reduce interference such as backlight control and induction loops
Of course, the features of the cell phone aren't the only considerations. Users can also consider:
- Ancillary devices to enhance performance such as a VCO attachment
- Smart technology hearing aids
Hearing Aid Compatible Cell Phones
When a cell phone and hearing aid are in close proximity, interference can result; creating a buzzing sound that makes hearing voice on a cell phone difficult, or in some cases, virtually impossible.
However, many cell phones are designated as being compatible with hearing aids.
Both cell phones and hearing aids have an "M" (microphone) and/or a "T" (telecoil) rating. Users should compare ratings based on which setting they use for their hearing aid while on the cell phone. The higher the rating, the better the phone should work with their hearing aid.
An ideal cell phone for people who wear a hearing aid should have a rating of at least M3/T3. If the combined rating of the cell phone and the users hearing aid is 6 or better, they should get satisfactory results.
A couple of phones which would meet these criteria include the Sony Xperia XZ1 which has an M4/T4 rating and the iPhone 8 an M3/T4 rating, but of course, there are many more.
Cell Phone Volume
Another very simple step when seeking a cell phone for the hearing impaired is to identify models that offer a volume control which increases volume adequately. The only way to really know for sure is to go to the store and try one out.
Potential buyers also need to check out the volume control to assure it's easy and convenient to operate as it may be a frequently used function.
Of course, a phone with a hands-free function or speakerphone can be very useful as well. For a person with bilateral hearing aids, it allows them to listen with both ears. On the other hand, for those without hearing aids, having headset sockets is also a plus to bring sound closer with less competing background noise via a headset. (Those with hearing aids will want a phone with T Coil and an induction coupler to cut out background noise.)
Of course, if you have wireless hearing aids you can connect to Bluetooth phones directly. So for those individuals, a phone with Bluetooth would be preferable.
Being able to adjust ringtone volume and to even select a specific ringtone can also be useful since some sounds are easier to hear than others.
For some who aren't in the market for a new cell phone, cell phone amplifiers might be considered as well.
For the deaf and many of those with hearing loss, a vibration alert is more effective and less intrusive to others than a loud ringtone. Most cell phones offer the option of using a vibration instead of a ringtone and, therefore, this should be a feature that is easy to find.
The Text Messaging Option as an Alternative to Calling
For some individuals, using text messaging capabilities can be a great way of communicating quickly and easily. Nearly all modern cell phones offer texting capabilities and if paired with a good data service plan can be a great alternative to calling.
One often suggested phone for text messaging would be the Blackberry Classic due to its traditional keyboard and dedicated phone keys. Of course, text to speech software is also valuable for those who text a lot and there are many apps including ListNote and TextWriter that provide good options.
If texting will be the primary method of communication, learning more about text only plans may be in order as well. Find out more below.
Data Only Plans for the Deaf and Those with Profound Hearing Loss
Finding the right cell phone for an individual with a hearing impairment is only the start in some cases. Finding the right plan can be equally important, especially if the phone will be used primarily for text messaging. Several cellular providers offer data only plans that allow customers who only make use of data services such as text messaging to sign up without requiring voice services.
AT&T has their Text Accessibility Plan which offers users basic phone plans starting at $29.99/month and smartphone plans starting at $40/month. Increases in price are based upon data usage with 8GB being the top tier. Sprint has the Relay Data Plan. They offer unlimited text and picture messaging, internet, and email. These services are not available online, so users have to go into a Sprint store to learn more and sign up for the service. Verizon Wireless has messaging only plans starting at $34.99/month for basic phones, $54.99 for smartphones using 2GB of data, and then $74.99 for smartphones using 5GB of data.
T-Mobile offers unlimited text and data for as little as $20/month.
Other Considerations for Those with Hearing Aids
Using the telecoil setting on a hearing aid tends to decrease background noise and feedback. However, even the backlight on a cell phone can create problems, thus a cell phone that allows users to switch off the backlight is preferred to reduce intrusive noise.
Some manufacturers have also developed neck loops such as the Clear Sounds CLA7-V2 which can help increase the distance between the components of the cell phone and the telecoil. These neck loops can provide the convenience of hands-free operation while driving.
VCO and TTY Capabilities for a Cell Phone
A VCO (Voice Carry Over) Phone is similar to a standard amplified phone with a text screen for typed messages. A VCO phone allows the deaf or HOH person to speak directly into the handset to communicate. The call is routed through a VCO service and when the person receiving the call responds, an assistant types the message for the deaf or HOH person to read.
There are a few VCO machines that can be used with cell phones which allow easier and faster communication with these devices.
This method of calling allows those with severe hearing impairment to communicate more normally and much faster than when using a regular TTY where they have to type.
However, if typing isn't a problem, most modern phones can be set up to link with a TTY (teletypewriter). If both sender and receiver do this, then written messages can be used to communicate back and forth. Set up for this is simple by physically connecting the TTY to the phone with the cable and linking them by turning on the feature from the phone's Settings menu.
Video Calling Cell Phones and Video Relay Services/Apps
Cell phones with decent video calling capabilities are of course available. Faster connections have helped by making the quality of the video more appropriate for real-time communication via sign language.
A user just needs a front facing camera on the phone (iPhones, Samsung Galaxy phones, and many others are good options) and of course, the right application helps too. Facebook Messenger, Facetime, WhatsApp, and Skype are examples.
Video relay services (VRS) are also available. With products like those offered by Convo, the user gets a split screen with a sign language interpreter on the upper half of the screen to make communication flow between the two individuals. Global VRS, Purple, Sorenson, and Communication Axess Ability Group also offer services.
Help Finding the Right Phone and Other Electronic Devices
For deaf and hard of hearing individuals finding the right device can be a little bit of a challenge. Luckily there is the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative which can provide suggestions as to which devices are best suited to them. It covers not only the Deaf/HOH population, but also those with visual deficits, cognitive, and dexterity challenges. It can help identify not only cell phones but other electronic devices such as tablets, apps, smart TVs and more.
You can visit the GARI site here.
Hearing Aids Best Designed for Phone Use
Hearing aid manufacturers now provide smart technology which allows cell phones to directly sync with their hearing aids. This feature allows the listener to hear the transmission in both ears making it much easier to communicate with your mobile phone.
You can learn more about what smart hearing aids have to offer here.
Questions & Answers
© 2008 Ruth Coffee