Dos and Don'ts when buying a phone for the deaf and hard of hearing

Why the problem?

Phoning is something which deaf people tend put off rather than enjoy, as effort has to go into understanding and interpreting before being able to respond. Also there can be - as there is for me - pain and echoing inside their heads, which is off-putting and exhausting. So it is all too easy for deaf people to avoid phoning altogether, which leads to isolation and depression.

How well deaf people can cope with phoning depends on the nature of their hearing problems. This page is for those of us who can cope, but often only just.

What to bear in mind when buying a phone for someone who is hard of hearing

The following strategies are by no means the answer to all the problems experienced when buying yourself a phone if you are hard of hearing. However, they should stimulate your thinking so that you can adopt or adapt them for your own use. They apply to both landlines and mobile phones/cell phones.

  • It is crucial to have a phone that first and foremost works for you, and only then to look at the price tag. This means buying a phone from a dealer who will agree to refund the cost if the phone is unsuitable. Some do, willingly, but a surprising number of well-known and well-regarded high street names will not.
  • Similarly it is crucial when buying any type of phone to speak to the manager and ask his advice. It is invariably possible to tell from a manager's reaction, whether he or she really does know his or her stock. A really negative give-away is, "It all depends what you want / or can afford". After trailing round numerous shops, I was lucky to find a manager who agreed to accept a returned phone, but said, "This is a house-phone you will not want to bring back" - and he was right. If you would like this sort of advice, it is essential to shop early in the morning when there are no queues.
  • A phone with a loudspeaker button is essential as far as I am concerned. Although designed for use by several people at a time, it can also be used on one's own; it amplifies without the discomfort of anything in the ear and seems to eliminate pain and echoing inside my head. It is particularly helpful when interacting by phone with people one doesn't know, like commercial operators in banks or government, especially when they have regional accents which need to be got used to.
  • If possible, have someone with good hearing with you when buying, so that they can handle misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

Phones specially marketed as for the hard of hearing - a personal experience

I must not knock all phones that are marketed as for the hard of hearing. Nevertheless my experience with them has not been good. Let me give you just one example which, I grant, was back in 2011:

On the back of the then current edition of the magazine from Amplifon, the hearing aid specialists, was a full page spread for a mobile phone, the Geemarc Clearsound Cl8200, publicised as particularly suitable for anyone with hearing difficulties. It looked ideal, but as my experiences elsewhere had removed absolute trust in such adverts, I tried to book an appointment with Amplifon, specifically to try out the phone.

After several attempts, with the result that "someone would ring back" - which no-one did - an appointment was eventually made - again I must stress, with the particular stated purpose of trying out the phone. When I arrived for the appointment - which had involved quite a long journey to another town - I was kept waiting 10 minutes after my appointment time (even though it was the first appointment of the day and no other customer was with the consultant).

Once the phone was in my hand, I was told that although it had been charged for me, there was no Orange sim card available for it. (According to other suppliers, the phone would work on all networks.) By way of an excuse, I was told that Amplifon were not phone specialists - this even though there was that full page spread for the phone on the back of their current magazine and my request to try out the phone had been clearly made in advance. After declining the invitation for a hearing test - which they presumably hoped would result in my buying a hearing aid - I left empty handed.

Back home, on checking the internet, I found that the Geemarc CL8200 which Amplifon was pushing was not even the latest in the range. More recent Geemarc Clearsound models were available from various suppliers and for all networks.

Some final "dos" and "don'ts"

One benefit of the episode described above was that it reinforced my lack of confidence in companies and organisations selling for profit to the deaf and hard of hearing. It was not my only such experience. See for example my pages on NHS versus private hearing aids and buying a timer alert. You are best off doing your own research in association with a good NHS audiologist.

Also take reviews with a degree of cynicism as too many are written by sales personnel who have never used what they are praising and probably can hear well anyway. Good websites only accept reviews from bona fide purchasers and they clearly state this. Several of my bad experiences have been the results of reviews on websites of national organisations dedicated to serving the deaf and hard of hearing.

10 coping strategies for the deaf

Disclaimer: The information on this site is for a lay audience and I cannot be responsible for errors or omissions. The views, strategies, advice and suggestions etc are based on my personal experience and are not necessarily appropriate for anyone else. They should, hopefully, stimulate individuals to develop their own strategies.