Whether we are connecting with friends or family near or far, completing work calls, ordering pizza, making reservations, or communicating to healthcare providers for telehealth appointments, telephone use remains a significant part of our daily lives. Telephones, however, can be a challenge for those with hearing loss. This is due to two significant limitations: limited acoustic (sound) information and lack of visual cues. Additional difficulty is added with poor cell phone reception, unfamiliar voices, and the fact that listeners must rely solely on hearing from one ear.
What Can Be Done?
If you have any degree of hearing loss, even a very mild one, an amplified phone may help to improve your ability to understand telephone conversations by providing additional volume. Some state programs provide amplified telephones for anyone who has a hearing impairment free of charge (with an audiologist or physician endorsement).
A captioning phone provides real-time word-for-word captions. A captioned phone works just like a traditional phone, but there is typically a screen attached or built-in to the phone base. The caller dials as they normally would and the phone automatically connects to a free captioning service. Both parties talk into the phone like a traditional phone call, but the screen displays the conversation’s transcribed text for the user to read as well.
Some state programs provide captioned telephones for anyone who has a hearing impairment free of charge, or for a small fee (with an audiologist or physician endorsement). Review the list of state programs.
Video calling or conference call applications like FaceTime (for Apple devices), WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, Zoom or Skype can be used on a computer, tablet or mobile device. This way, the user can take advantage of both auditory and visual cues in communicating. Many of these options are free and can include group conversations as well.
Since the 1960s, people with hearing loss or those with speech difficulties, have used text telephone or telecommunication devices, referred to as TTYs, to communicate on the phone. When both parties have a TTY system, the message is sent via text. If the other party in the conversation does not have a TTY system, a relay service must be used. This is a free service and, by dialing 711, the caller is automatically connected to a telecommunication relay service (TRS) operator, making this a great option for those who do not have access to available and/or affordable Internet access. TTY is also available during emergency response services when dialing 911.
Hearing device user options
For telephone users with hearing devices, there are several options to improve communication. Depending on the patient’s hearing devices and their cellphone model, some of these options allow the phone call to be streamed directly to both ears, utilizing the binaural benefits of hearing.
- Specific phone program
- Bluetooth streaming accessories to be the middleman between the phone and hearing devices
- Smart hearing technology that directly connects to Bluetooth devices, like smart phones and tablets, without the need for an additional accessory.
Discuss options with an audiologist to determine which best fits your individual needs.
Roup, C. M., Poling, G. L., Harhager, K., Krishnamurthy, A., & Feth, L. L. (2011). Evaluation of a telephone speech-enhancement algorithm among older adults with hearing loss. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54(5), 1477-1483.
Marcrum, S. C., Picou, E. M., & Steffans, T. (2016). Avoiding disconnection: An evaluation of telephone options for cochlear implant users. International Journal of Audiology 56(3), 186-193.
Telecommunication relay service. (2020, April 8). Federal Communications Commission. Retrieved September 2, 2020, from https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/telecommunications-relay-service-trs