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Friday, November 28, 2008

Hearing Impaired Phones Reduce Frustration

Most likely, the hearing impaired phone you're researching is for a friend or loved one. Although your parent, grandparent or good friend may not believe that they have a hearing impairment (over 28 million people in the U.S. have hearing loss), your telephone conversations may be increasingly frustrating for both parties. Many amplified phones are purchased by someone other than the individual who really needs the device. The level of amplification needed often depends on the level of hearing loss (see below). To make matters worse, many individuals with a hearing loss typically either 1) think that there are no problems with their hearing, or 2) believe that there are no decent amplified telephones on the market that will allow them to have clear communications with friends and family.

Q: Where do I start?

A: Diagnose all the communication challenges and their priorities.
It may seem obvious that the inability to hear telephone conversations is the number one challenge, but you would be surprised that many individuals are searching for other important features (like big buttons) that resolve other problems. These problems can be a lack of dexterity, visual impairment or even mental acuity. Also, maybe the potential user's hearing loss isn't substantial (where only minor amplification is needed) and they just need a phone that provides more clarity. Some common needs are listed below:

  • Amplification level: The loudest corded and cordless phones on the market provide up to 50db of amplification. For moderate hearing loss, consider phones in the 20db to 40db range. For those with mild hearing loss, consider phones in the 15db to 30 db range.
  • Inability to hear high or low pitched sounds: Is there a tone adjustment on the phone? This feature will help compensate for hearing losses in high frequencies as well as low frequencies.
  • Hands-Free application: Does the phone have a good quality speakerphone? Many hearing impaired phones also have space for plugging in a headset, neckloop, or other technologies.
  • Hearing aid compatibility: Even though a user may wear a hearing aid, an amplified phone is often a great addition for improved telephone conversations. The "scoop" or "cup" of the earpiece may be an important consideration. Without this, a hearing aid user may experience significant feedback, leading to an annoying phone experience.
  • Location: Where will the phone be used? In an apartment or a large home? Also, do you need additional cordless handsets? How much range (or distance away from the base unit) do you need? If range is important, consider an amplified phone that uses DECT 6.0 technology (the latest frequency).
  • Visual and Audio notification: Adjustable ringer loudness and bright ringer flashers are available on most amplified phones although the brightness and loudness vary greatly from phone to phone.
  • Additional Considerations: Besides a hearing impairment, are there other impairment issues as well? If the user not only faces a hearing difficulty but their hands are becoming unsteady, then they may benefit from jumbo buttons that allow for easy dialing.

Q: Which hearing impaired amplified phone do I choose? A: Get product feedback.

In general, the more expensive the phone, the more amplification and features you get. A starter amplified phone with basic features and mild amplification (15db to 30db) generally starts in the $50.00 to $85.00 range. Expect to pay $125.00 to $250.00 for top end phones with 50db of amplification and extra features for persons with severe hearing losses.

  • Some additional ideas for selecting an amplified phone:
  • Search for specific product reviews online. Try typing the words "amplified phones" or "hearing impaired phones" in a Google search.
  • Contact your favorite retailer who has a wide selection of amplified phones. Ask about the most popular models and their return rates. Remember that the loudest models don't always equate to the clearest sounding or easiest to use.
  • If you can't find a local retailer, try talking with someone (friend or sales representative) that has used the phone you are considering.
  • Consider the most popular brands in the hearing impaired market: Clarity, Audex, ClearSounds, and more recently, GE.

Amplified phones are clearly of great benefit to people with a hearing impairment - even those with hearing aids. Just as importantly, these phones can have outreaching positive affects on the relationships with family and friends. For the relatively minimal expense and the recent improvement with technology, it makes sense to try an amplified phone.

Bill Nagel, a veteran in the consumer telecommunications market and founder of Cordless Workz, is always on the hunt for the best performing hearing impaired phones. You are allowed to publish this article in its entirety provided that the author's name and website links must remain intact and included with every reproduction.

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