I recently went through a long process acquiring an amplified phone. If you’re a phone junkie like I am, you will want all the bells and whistles, even the ones you rarely use. Until recently, there wasn’t much to choose from. Perhaps the market for these souped-up devices was just so small, or the technology to make phones work well for hearing-impaired people was so expensive, that most phone manufacturers didn’t bother. However, recently we have seen an increasing number of options available, from both traditional and new suppliers. Costs of the technology are coming down. And my guess is that as baby boomers enamored of their cellphones, Walkmen, iPods, and Bluetooth ear pieces lose their resistance to amplified hearing assistance, the market for even slicker devices for the hearing-impaired will really open up.
I ended up with a new ClearSounds 40XLC Amplified Phone with Caller ID, from Hitec Assistive Communications Products. Today I will talk only about my search for an amplified, wired desktop phone. In future posts I will talk about the exciting new developments in amplification for cellphones and in amplified wireless handsets for use in the home and office.
The first place to look when shopping for an amplified phone is the many distributor sites on the web. Several of the most prominent, each with a broad selection are Phone Merchants, Harris Communications and Hear More. They make ordering from the web quite easy. But before you make an impulse purchase from a distributor, look closely at the equipment they are offering, then see if you can find the website of the manufacturer behind the equipment. Sometimes you can get it direct from the manufacturer, or at least the manufacturer may give you a better description of the product and the technology in it.
One manufacturer of several popular brands is Clarity, a division of Plantronics, the maker of those ubiquitous headsets you see on the heads of office workers, call center employees and NFL football coaches. Clarity makes popular amplification products under the Clarity, Walker and Ameriphone brand names that have helped set standards in amplification for several decades.
But the ClearSounds model that seduced me has an enormous number of the latest high-tech features packed in a black handset that’s a little more sleek and modern looking than some of the more traditional amplified phone designs. It also has an LCD display on it that lights up nicely. Not only does it offer caller ID, but it stores lists of recent calls that can be automatically dialed, and it has nine programmable keys for one-button dialing of favorite numbers. These are features I really wanted, having gotten used to them with digital phones at work and my digital cellphone.
I also wanted maximum amplification. The ClearSounds model I got features a regular volume setting, a sliding button to increase the volume, a push-button on the console to pump up the volume to the next level, which can also be adjusted by the sliding button, and then a push-button on the handset which pumps up the volume yet another level. In all you can amplify up to 50 decibels, which when I did my search wasi 25 percent more than the highest amplification offered by the other manufacturers.
The ClearSounds also offers two jacks — 2.5 mm and 3.5 mm — for headphones and neckloops that transmit the phone conversation into telecoil-equipped hearing aids. I’ve got a 48-inch neckloop with a 3.5 mm plug, so I get the caller’s voice in both hearing aids in addition to using the amplified handset which I use with the hearing aid in my better right ear. It’s about as much amplification as a person can stand, but it’s enabled me to use the phone on a much more “normal” basis for business. Having the induction loop transmitting the conversation into both hearing aids is a godsend, because the hearing impairment in both ears is unbalanced and I get a lot more of conversation when it’s in stereo, with each ear making up somewhat for the other’s deficiencies.
I can also use my 2.5 mm neckloop which I purchased from Motorola for use with my cellphone. That has a microphone in it, so I don’t need to use the telephone handset at all. The amplification isn’t as tremendous as when I use the handset along with the other neckloop, but on occasions I like to have my hands free to work the computer while I’m on the phone. So having the second jack is a nice option which I didn’t see on any of the other products.
Hitec apparently is a long-time distributor that has recently started manufacturing some of its own products incorporating its own technologies. With the ClearSounds phone it seems to have gotten the right combination of advanced features for people with mild-to-severe hearing loss.