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Cell Phones and Hearing Aids

Linda Kozma-Spytek, MA, CCC-A, CED

May 19, 2003


Question

Do you have any recommendations for the best cell phones for use with hearing aids? Is this different for every style of hearing aid (i.e. BTE, ITE, ITC, CIC)?

Answer

Unlike when purchasing a regular home phone, when hearing aid wearers are making a decision about going wireless, there is more to consider than just the characteristics of the cell phone itself. Here's why.

Most homes receive telephone service over the public switched telephone network (PSTN). The technology used for transmitting voice over the PSTN is the same regardless of which phone company provides the service for a home. In addition, all corded and cordless phones are designed to work with this single standard telephone service. Individuals know that no matter what type or style of telephone they purchase, it will work when they plug it into a telephone wall jack at home. This means that an individual only has to consider the telephone and its features in making a decision about which phone works best for their hearing needs.

For wireless or cellular phones, this is not the case. Individuals not only need to consider the phone and its features, they also need to consider the type of transmission technology that is used to provide the phone service. Each wireless telephone service provider will support one of these technologies on their telephone network.

Likewise, an individual cellular phone will only support one technology. The interference generated by the various technologies has different characteristics, some of which tend to cause more annoying interference for hearing aid users than others. Therefore, hearing aid users must consider both the phone service and the cell phone in making a decision about which combination works best for their hearing needs. This makes the selection process a difficult one, but there is some research and clinical evidence that can provide guidelines (but not specific recommendations) for where hearing aid wearers might start in their search for a cell phone and service that works for them.

With regard to recommendations for cell phone service, Verizon and Sprint PCS, which use CDMA transmission technology, and NexTel, which uses iDEN transmission technology, seem to work better overall (This does not mean interference free!) for HA users than competing service providers and their transmission technologies. Once a service provider has been selected, the next step is to see which cell phones it supports. This can be done by visiting the service provider's website or store.

Although these guidelines are the same regardless of the style of hearing aid an individual wears, people with ITEs or CICs may experience less interference in general than people with BTEs. A more important distinction than hearing aid style is the type of coupling method a hearing aid wearer uses for telephone communication. While hearing aid users who couple (connect) to the telephone using their hearing aid microphone still experience interference when using a digital cell phone, interference is a particular problem for individuals who use their hearing aid's telecoil for telephone communication.

The design of the cell phone may be important for hearing aid users. Look for a phone that has a ''clam shell'' or ''flip up'' design in which only the speaker (where you listen to the other party) is in the flipped-up portion of the phone. This design provides some distance between the hearing aid and the components related to the cell phone's transmission technology that may cause interference. For telecoil users, it also provides distance between the rest of the cell phone electronics, (that can cause another form of interference,) and the hearing aid. This distance may reduce any interference experienced by the hearing aid wearer.

Telecoil users should be aware that there is no requirement for digital cell phones to be hearing aid compatible in the traditional meaning of the term (i.e., able to couple with a hearing aid telecoil). However, from consumer reports and clinical evidence, the following cell phone manufacturers, Motorola, Samsung, Lucky Gold (LG), and Nextel, have some models with good ability to couple to hearing aids through the telecoil. Finally, digital cell phones are also not required to have volume control, although most do.


Linda Kozma-Spytek, M.A., Research Audiologist, Gallaudet University Technology Access Program, Washington, D.C.


linda kozma spytek

Linda Kozma-Spytek, MA, CCC-A, CED

Research Audiologist, Technology Access Program

Linda Kozma-Spytek has been a research audiologist in the Technology Access Program of Gallaudet University for the last 11 years.  She is the lead investigator on projects within the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) on Telecommunications Access related to hearing aid compatibility for telephones.  She is also an investigator for the RERC on Hearing Enhancement on their projects related to hearing aid compatibility.  She actively participates in standards development for hearing aid compatibility in digital wireless and cordless phones, and has published and presented extensively to consumer and professional groups alike on these and related topics.  She has been recognized for her work in this area with awards from the Hearing Loss Association of America, Inc. and the Telecommunications Industry Association.


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