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Hearing Aid Compatible Mobile Phones Part One

Many people come to us for advice on mobile phones that would suit someone with hearing loss. They typically have a mobile phone but can’t seem to get on with it as conversation is almost impossible due to volume levels. There are several aspects to consider when choosing an amplified mobile phone but one aspect that is important for some is hearing aid compatibility. For many, however, it is quite unclear as to what this actually means and so I will tackle this subject and define what this does (and does not) mean.

On the surface, it would seem to mean that the phone is designed to work well alongside hearing aids and that its performance does not interfere with the performance of hearing aids. Whilst this is often the case, it is not what is meant by hearing aid compatible. The use of phones (be they mobile or for the home/office) by hearing aid wearers can pose some challenges:

•  For behind the ear hearing aid wearers, there are several issues; placing the handset where one would normally do so actually bypasses the hearing aid as the microphone designed to pick up and amplify sounds is located behind the ear. In addition, sound is prevented from entering the ear canal for those with solid earmoulds and only processed sound from the hearing aid may enter via the sound tube connected to the mould. As such most have to remove the hearing aid to allow the sound to enter the ear from the phone or hold the phone in a position where its output can be picked up by the microphone of the hearing aid. For those using an open fitting solution (as for all HearingDirect behind the ear hearing aids) this is not an issue as sound can enter the ear canal naturally albeit without hearing aid amplification.

•  For in the ear hearing aid wearers, there can be separate challenges. Whilst the microphone can pick up the phone output when used in a traditional fashion, it can often cause feedback problems – by closing the ear with the phone earpiece, it acts in much the same way as closing ones hand around a hearing aid when not in the ear – sound that comes from the hearing aid is picked up by its microphone and re-amplified causing a feedback circle resulting in whistling etc.

The result of the above is that phones and hearing aids are often ‘incompatible’ in practice and many people remove their hearing aid before using the phone. Phones designed for the hard of hearing have two ways of tackling the above issues:

1. Provide significant amplification to the speakers voice (and ringtone if required) to eliminate the need for a hearing aid when using the phone. This means that removing the hearing aid to use the phone can be compensated by the levels of amplification provided by the phone itself

2. Some phones (mobile or home/office) also offer ‘hearing aid compatibility’ – this will be explained in detail in part II of this blog.

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