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.
On this page you can discover how to find the best cell phone for hearing impaired individuals and those who are deaf: the features to look for when shopping and the other devices that can make communication easier.
What Are the Critical Cell Phone Features to Consider for the Hearing Impaired?
There are a number of features to consider when selecting a cell phone for the hearing impaired:Compatibility with hearing aids if they are worn Volume control or additional amplification 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 and clips to avoid missed calls Features to reduce interference such as backlight control and neckloops Ancillary devices to enhance performance such as a VCO attachment or Hatis induction coupler
Learn all about these features below.
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 on 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 the hearing impaired who wear a hearing aid should have a rating of at least M3/T3 or M4/T4. If the combined rating of the cell phone and the users hearing aid is 6 or better, they should get satisfactory results.
Just a few of the cell phones available which meet the hearing aid compatibility standards are shown near the bottom of this page.
Cell Phone Volume Control
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 into the store and try one out.
Potential buyers also need to check out the volume control to assure that it is easy and convenient to operate as it may be a frequently used function.
For some who aren't in the market for a new cell phone, cell phone amplifiers
might be considered as well.
There are a few cell phone models that offer padding around the earpiece that help to filter out background noise. Having less unwanted noise competing with the signal the listener needs to hear results in easier communication.
Specialized Cell Phone Models
A Jitterbug phone is one option that offers good volume and a padded earpiece. However, this cell phone is a simplified device but does offer some special features. A Jitterug cell phone also offers a T4 rating for those with telecoil hearing aids, and has larger, easy to use buttons and simple commands.
The Jitterbug5 offers easy access to doctors and nurses, the ability to set up medication reminders and check in calls if desired, voice dial, and much more. The Jitterbug Splash is waterproof, and the Jitterbug Touch2 offers a 4" touch screen and internet access but with simple menus and other Jitterbug features.
If a these phones don't sound right for you, find out more about other options below. However, if a Jitterbug cell phone sounds like your kind of phone learn more here.
For even greater volume, the may be worth considering. It offers volume up to 25dB and is a quadband GSM phone (works on the AT&T, T-Mobile and other GSM networks). It provides adjustable tone control, a 2" LCD display with a high quality speaker phone, an emergency SOS button, a 3.5mm headphone/headset jack, and 3 keys to program for speed dialing. It's just a basic phone for calls and text messaging but offers the volume some people need. Clarity PAL
The Text Messaging Option as an Alternative to Calling
For some, getting a phone with text messaging capabilities can be a great way of communicating quickly and easily. Most modern cell phones offer texting capabilities and if paired with a data service plan can be a great add on feature.
Some have suggested using a Blackberry specifically as it offers text to voice and voice to text capabilities but even newer Windows phones (Mango) are getting good reviews for their speech-to-text capabilities. If you're interested in other phones, see our page about the best phones for text messaging. Some speech-to-text software is also very adequate, as an example, Ivona.com offers a good product for Android phones.
If texting will be the primary method of communication, learning more about data 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 the hearing impaired or deaf individual 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 Accessbility Plan, Sprint has the Relay Data Plan, and US Cellular offers several options inluding a messaging only plan. Verizon Wireless has data only plans starting at $34.99/month, you can see more here.
No T-Mobile data only plan exists at this time, but they have a $30/month prepaid plan that provides unlimited text and web, with 100 minutes of voice calling. Pretty economical even if you don't use the voice minutes.
A Text Messaging/E-Mail Only Device
It's not a cell phone at all, but for under $20/month you get nationwide text messaging and e-mail support for up to 5 accounts. It's the Peek Pronto>. It can be found online for $49.99 with monthly service at $19.99, quarterly service for $49.95, annual service for $179.95 or can be purchased for $299 with lifetime service. (No contract is required) Users can view JPEG, PDF, and Word documents. It's also small and lightweight at a mere 3.84 ounces. It features a 2.5" diagonal color QVGA screen and a very roomy, backlit QWERTY keyboard for easy messaging. It's said to have a great battery life of 4 to 5 days and takes only 2 hours to charge. You can see it below.
Peek Pronto for Sale
A Review of the Peek Pronto
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, thus this should be an easy to find feature.
A phone which can be clipped onto the clothing of the owner allows easy detection of the vibration and thus, a clip or similar feature should be sought. When necessary, clips and similar devices can be purchased separately so this should not be a limiting factor.
Best Cell Phone Design for Those with Hearing Impairment
Cell phones come in two primary designs. Some cell phones are shaped like a "candy bar", just a rectangular shape with no need to flip it open to use it.
The best cell phone for the hearing impaired individual however, has a clam shell design" which flips open giving the phone a longer profile. Such phones are more easily held to the ear and can even offer the padding mentioned earlier to block out background noise.
In addition, the longer profile of such cell phones provides increased distance from the transmission components of the cell phone, minimizing any interference that may occur as a result of proximity to any hearing aid.
Other Cell Phone Considerations for Those with Hearing Impairment
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 the occurrence of intrusive noise.
Some manufacturers have also developed neckloops such as the which can help increase the distance between the compenents of the cell phone and the telecoil. These neckloops can provide the convenience of handsfree operation while driving. Clear Sounds CLA7-V2
VCO 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.
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.
Now there are VCO machines that can be used with cell phones which allow easier and faster communication with these devices.
Voice Carry Over Phones
Is Hatis the Answer?
Hatis is a simple earpeice with an induction coupler that goes into the ear. It can be used with both in-the-ear and behind-the-ear T-coil hearing aids for those with moderate to profound hearing loss. It allows such individuals to hear conversations with much better audio quality.
It can plug into any audio jack, from cell phones and landlines to equipment such as a television or MP3 player. It's highly portable and light weight making it extremely comfortable and inconspicuous.
Free trials of this device are available through Verizon Wireless stores and local audiologists.
See a demo of Hatis here.
Video Calling Cell Phones and Video Relay Services/Apps
Cell phones with decent video calling capabilities finally arrived in the US market a few years ago. Faster connections have also 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 and of course the right application helps too. Facetime, Skype, and ooVoo 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.