High-tech gadgets help deaf hear well
By Linda Knapp
Editor: Here's a great discussion in layman's terms of the "high tech
gadgets" that help people with hearing loss. This article first appeared in
the Seattle Times. Thanks to Linda Knapp for her kind permission for us to
share it with you.
A year ago, I wouldn't have written a column about technical devices that
help hearing-disabled people. A year ago, I wasn't hearing-disabled, but now
I am, and I understand how important some special devices are to those of us
who need them. Plus, I'm also a better judge regarding how well they work.
The most essential device is a basic hearing system. Mine is a cochlear
implant, which includes one part that's buried in my skull, and another that
hangs over my right ear.
It helps me, a totally deaf person, hear as well (or better) than
standard hearing aids help people with diminished hearing. (See May 20's
column for more details about the cochlear system.)
In addition to the basic hearing device, lots of little extras can help
people hear better in specific situations. These include cables that connect
the hearing system to a music player, TV or lapel mic, for example, and
special settings that enable a cable-free connection to a telephone,
cellphone or other device.
These little helpers are sometimes essential, but not always. I've
discovered I can watch TV and use a telephone or cellphone without
connecting to the hearing device or changing settings. Let's look at a few
Telephone: Being able to use a telephone is essential, so accomplishing
that feat tops my list of to-dos.
First, I try connecting my hearing device to our home phone by plugging
in a special cable and changing the device setting. I can barely hear the
voice on the other end.
Then, I discover that pressing the speakerphone button enables me to hear
the caller's voice quite well, without changing any settings or plugging in
I can also hear reasonably well by simply holding the phone's receiver up to
my processor. Both alternatives work if there isn't a lot of noise around me
or the caller.
I've also discovered special phones that amplify sound, and some also
have built-in speakerphones.
For example, two Clarity phones I've tried (the amplified telephone and
amplified cordless telephone) have a handy button to push for extra voice
amplification. They work OK for me, but not better than my standard home
For people who have trouble hearing but don't wear a device, these phones
may be the right solution.
Cellphone: Finding a cellphone I can use successfully is the next step.
Some have speakerphones that work pretty well. Some offer Bluetooth support,
and some have telecoil settings, though both those options require me to
change the setting on my device.
FCC regulations require cellphone manufacturers to offer handsets that
work well with hearing aids using the telecoil setting. (A telecoil is
supposed to block out extraneous noise and, for some, it helps.)
Alternatively, many cellphones have text-messaging capability that
bypasses any need to hear the caller at all.
However, I'm looking for a cellphone with voice signal that's clear
enough for me to hear without having to change any settings on my processor.
After considerable exploration, I've discovered if I carefully pick one with
clear voice sound, I can hold the handset over my processor and hear the
caller without changing any settings. That's what I really want.
Finding that perfect cellphone is a challenge, because it means going to
a cellphone store and trying multiple handsets to find the one that works
best. Some providers offer a liberal return policy, so that if you discover
the particular phone you bought doesn't work so well after all, you can
I've tried close to a dozen different cellphones to find the one or two that
work best for me. It turns out that voices are clearest when using Sprint's
Samsung A920, and the Sanyo MM 7500 is a close second.
Both enable me to hear callers reasonably well, if there isn't a lot of
noise around them.
The best choice for you may not be either of these, so I encourage you to
try several at your local cellphone store.
Even if you don't wear a hearing device, but find it hard to hear callers
on your cellphone, consider trying alternative models to find one that works
best with your hearing capacity.
Other devices: OK, here's another challenge. Most of us (deaf people)
remove our hearing systems before going to bed. It's great for sleeping. But
we can't hear an alarm clock, so, how do we wake up on time?
Lucky for us, there happens to be a little disk with a cable that plugs
into a bedside alarm clock. Set the alarm, slide the disk under your pillow,
and when the time comes, the pillow starts to vibrate like crazy. No one
could sleep through it.
I haven't bought one yet, but I think that's the wake-up system for me.
(It's the Sonic Alert Shaker, or Shaker with Clock.)
Besides alarm clocks, there are baby-monitoring systems that flash lights
or vibrate when the baby cries; a variety of telephones; special systems for
hearing in large rooms; headsets for more challenging environments; and
other adaptive devices.
If you're interested in seeing and trying a variety of devices designed
for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, contact the Hearing, Speech & Deafness
Center in Seattle at 206-323-5770 or www.hsdc.org and be sure to talk with
Steve Hillson. Though he hears quite well, he's an expert on adaptive
devices for those of us who need them.