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Hooked on Phones

Hooked on Phones

by Cindy Shapiro

Editor: Looking for a little guidance in the purchase of a phone? If so, this article by Cindy Shapiro (tutorlm@hotmail.com) may be just what you’re looking for.

Cindy Shapiro, M.A., M.S., is a certified teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, an SHHH activist (leader of the Northern Light SHHH Chapter in Traverse City, MI and active in the state organization), and owner of C.A.S./Visions Unlimited… Communication Access Solutions, a consulting business for hard of hearing/deaf assistive technology.

Cindy wants to thank all the folks at Michigan Self Help For Hard of Hearing People (MI-SHHH) who helped in the preparation of this article.


Harry Potter’s owl-tooled and “wanded” world may not need a telephone to get a message swiftly to friends Hermione and Ron, but we Muggles (humans) regardless of level of hearing, have yet to cut all our telephone cords. Although many of us have discovered the internet as a communication tool, even devoted e-mailers find reasons to fall back on using the telephone. A call to a doctor, dentist, plumber or pizza outfit, not to mention the possibility of a genuine emergency, is sufficient reason to stay connected to our telephonic culture.

This short discussion will graze the surface of the large and ever-changing pool of phone options for persons with hearing loss. Combined with the variety of phone choices, there are many types and degrees of hearing loss. This means that consumers should consider many factors when choosing a phone to meet their needs. The long and short of it is that one size does not fit all.

The unit for measuring the loudness of sound is a decibel (dB). For those who have a mild or moderate hearing loss, a boost of up to 25 decibels is usually enough. A severe or profound hearing loss in the important speech frequencies may require a louder phone, one that delivers 30 to 48 dBs of sound, for example. A word of caution, louder is not always clearer. Using a hearing aid’s T-coil with a hearing aid compatible phone may provide sufficient amplification and clarity without requiring maximum loudness. (Want to know more about T-coils? See box below.)

– T-coils –
– –
– Hearing aid users are advised to ask their hearing care –
– provider for information about the benefits and costs of –
– using a hearing aid with a T-coil (also called a telecoil or –
– T-switch or telephone switch). Hearing aids with T-coils can –
– be used with other wireless and hardwired hearing –
– amplification systems as well as with hearing aid compatible –
– phones. Select cell phones can be used with a T-coil. The –
– T-coil allows the user to hear through the hearing aid, –
– which is tailored to one’s hearing loss, rather than having –
– to remove the hearing aid in order to use the phone. –

With a T-coil, you can use neckloops or silhouettes to enhance the quality and volume of the sound from the phone, if the phone is hearing aid compatible and/or if the phone has the appropriate audio output jack. (Unsure about the meaning of neckloops and silhouettes? See box below.)

– Neckloops and Silhouettes –
– –
– Neckloop: A loop of wire that goes around the neck and plugs –
– into an audio output jack. The neckloop generates a magnetic –
– field that transmits sound directly to T-coil equipped –
– hearing aids. –
– –
– Silhouette: A small, flat, plastic encased induction –
– mechanism that plugs into a jack and is placed between a –
– behind the ear (BTE) hearing aid and the head. The –
– silhouette transmits sound directly to a T-coil equipped –
– hearing aid. –

– Jacks on Phones –
– –
– There are two types of jacks and plugs for connecting –
– accessories to phones. The larger jack (1/8 inch or 3.5mm –
– size) called an audio output jack, audio jack or neckloop –
– jack accepts neckloops, silhouettes and headphones. –
– –
– The second type of jack (3/32 inch or 2.5mm size) accepts –
– accessories that contain a small microphone which is added –
– to a silhouette or headset/earphone, allowing for hands free –
– operation. Only HATIS brand is known to offer a –
– silhouette-microphone combination at this time. –
– –
– Reminder: The hearing aid’s T-coil needs to be “on” when –
– using a neckloop or silhouette. –

Some people can improve their understanding of telephone conversations by using a phone that features tone/pitch adjustments.

A device called the “telelink” allows users to connect their standard home phone to a hearing amplification device, be it an FM system such as a Comtek, Listen, Phonak, Seinheisser or William Sound, or a hardwired Pocketalker or SounDirector. The telelink works with standard phones (cord connected to receiver) where the keypad is separate from the handset.

Residual (what’s left) hearing may suffice in face to face conversations but hard of hearing people may require a text-based format for all or some of their telephone communications. [In such cases, a person may wish to use a TTY or VCO phone (and a relay operator) to talk to those using a voice phone.]

When choosing a phone you have to decide your priorities. The following checklist may be useful.
– Degree of amplification
– Tone adjuster
– Cordless or corded phone option
– Use of accessories and their corresponding jacks
– Size of keypad for easy keypunching
– Cost

Finding the right phone can lead to more independence and an improved quality of life for persons with hearing loss. Time spent investigating and exploring phone options and possibilities can reap many rewards.