Skip to content

The Phone and Hearing Loss

The phone is all about being social and getting information. It’s one of the first places hearing loss is recognized. Repeats are more common than in person; why? Because it’s a disembodied voice with no way to lip read or observe body language, all the little clues used without realizing it.

As I talked on the phone to my mom in the early 90’s, she stopped the conversation and said, “For God’s sake, will you get some hearing aids?” So I did and we thought that fixed the whole problem. I continued to have problems understanding some people over the phone. Some women came across too high pitched. Operators used headsets with the mouth piece too far away. Some mens voices came across as rumble without distinguishable words. The T-coil in my hearing aid helped but some words, names and numbers took more repeats than I though necessary.

Volume must be the answer. I tried pricey phones and cheap phones, looking for a good volume level. My best phone turned out to be a cheap, plastic red one that hung on the wall. It sounded louder than the more expensive ones. If I didn’t already know I had a hearing loss, cordless phones proved it. Ours came with a high/low switch but even on high, people sounded far away. The convenience of wandering around the phone was nice but all the “huh’s and what’s” got on my nerves. I went back to my cheap red phone, buying a longer cord so I could travel around the house with it.

In the mid nineties my hearing dropped again. I tried several phones but none seemed to be loud enough. My husband suggested calling the phone company because he noticed we paid a deaf tax on each bill. I called and they offered a TTY for the deaf or voice carry over (VCO) phone for the hard of hearing. After providing proof of being hard of hearing (who would want to fake that), they delivered the VCO. Excited, I listened as the representative showed me how to use it.

  • I called a relay number.
  • The relay operator dialed the number I wanted.
  • A small delay as the relay operator explained to the person on the other end how it worked.
  • I talked like normal on the phone and used GA (Go Ahead) at the end of conversation to let the other person know I finished for now.
  • Then I listened to silence as I watched a tiny screen with words scrolling across. When I saw the GA it was my turn again.

Talk about impersonal! I used the relay service only to call hotel operators or help lines. My friends suffered repeating because they too didn’t like the relay service much either. This phone had great volume control, a dial I could move up and down. If a family member picked up my phone without moving the dial down, they yelped and squinched their eyes while fumbling for the control. I liked that phone.

As my hearing continued to drop, I strayed further and further from the phone. I didn’t call friends to chat, I called them to set up times to get together in person to chat. At work, I let the phone ring one or two times, hoping someone else might get it instead. Understanding who they wanted to talk to on the phone could be a chore. Was it Shari, Chelle, or Terrie they wanted?

Then there came a big drop in hearing and the phone became a true struggle. This how I heard at work, as a hair stylist:

  • “Hello, this is the Salon. How can I help you.”
  • “I a a oo L..E.”
  • “I’m sorry, who do you want to talk to?”
  • “Lindsey.”
  • “Oh, she’s not here right now, can I help you with something?”
  • “I an et my R Ee…”
  • “I’m really sorry. I can’t hear very well, can you repeat that?”
  • “I want a weave.”
  • “Oh okay. The soonest she has open is….”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “Can I get your name please?”
  • “Annie.”
  • “Okay Annie, your appointment is… what?”
  • “That’s not my name, it’s Stephanie,” she said talking louder, sounding more annoyed.

Another whole round of misfires and repeats came next as I tried to get a number to go with the name. Most phone calls when like that and there were some who I couldn’t understand at all. The girls I worked with in Arizona helped me whenever I needed it, taking over phone calls which sometimes could be my own client.

In Utah, the other girls were too busy to rescue me so I struggled through it until I began to loathe the phone. The heavy dread feeling carried over into my personal life and I stopped calling friends almost entirely. I lost a few friends who didn’t understand. As you know from my previous post, someone at work kept pressuring me to answer the phone and I quit all together.

After that, I started being very picky about who I talked to on the phone. My mom, my sister (who repeats without irritation), my boyfriend, one girlfriend who repeats all the time but doesn’t mind and maybe my kids here and there. If I don’t recognize the number, I won’t pick it up. The message on my phone tells people I’m half deaf and to please email or text me instead.

Texting is a godsend, isn’t it? Teenagers did it all the time so I stopped my daughter one day and had her teach me. Then I taught my mom who thought it was wonderful because we could keep in touch daily for the first time. Slowly, more adults learned to text and my world expanded. My tax people text, my audiologist staff will text and I even got a dentist office to text me for an appointment.

Then came web captioned services. There’s a small delay but it worked so much better than the VCO phone. We talked back and forth as normal except I had captions to go along with it. I loved it when my one girlfriend went on a rant over the phone. Her voice crackles, maybe due to all the smoking. When she’s upset or angry, she talks twice as fast as normal. I can’t keep up with her and neither can the relay operator who gets a few words in and then types, “speaker unclear” every couple of minutes. I laughed and my girlfriend laughed when I told her about being unclear. The relay operator caught more than I could at any rate.

Now there are captioned phones. I didn’t have a land line but they told me it would work through Magic Jack so I got one. People sounded so far away, not even the relay operator could barely caption it. There were big gaps of “speaker unclear.” Then my Magic Jack quit working. Magic Jack couldn’t figure it out in one phone call so I gave up. Some day soon, I’m getting a land line to try it out again. I’ll need it for work when I start again, which will be in the next month. I hear from others how much they like their caption phone and I hope it works good for me.


Phones: (Just to name a few, help me add more)

Caption Call


Clear Captions


Captioned Services on the Web: (Again, help me add more.)

Sprint Cap-Tel

Hamilton Cap-Tel

AT&T cap-telI



What do you use to communicate on the phone?

0 thoughts on “The Phone and Hearing Loss”

  1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the internet and cell phones!!! Best invention for communication EVER! I feel I am really involved in life with the internet. I can hear ok on my cell with people I know, but struggle with new voices and dread new voices on the phone at work. I mostly talk to the same people over and over again at work, so it isn’t a real problem. My new hurdle is going to be using a walkie talkie at work. I think that will kill me. But I am going to do my best with it. I just have to learn everyone’s voice on it. Once I learn the voices, I will be ok. I just need them to be patient until I get it!!

  2. I love my cell phone for email and texting. When I went online for the first time around
    ’96 or ’97 I was hooked. The internet made me equal and I loved it too. It’s still my main mode of communication but texting comes in real close. I remember having my daughter teach me texting and then having to wait for years for other adults to catch up. My older two kids are on my phone plan and between the two, they’ve only had about 750 texts. Me? I had 2,000 texts this month. Crazy!

  3. I know my wife has bilateral cochlear implants and struggles greatly with the phone. Texting has become her lifeline, but she almost has to relearn peoples phone voices.

    The Hearing Loss Association has actually been a great resource for us on different phone technologies, if you haven’t already joined your local chapter you might check it out. We are now board members of the Greater Richmond Hearing Loss Chapter.

  4. I’m often OK on the phone, I get by using both are house phone and my mobile. Even so, I tend to shy away from them and text and IM as much as possible. I especially rely on IM at work, we have quite a noisy office and trying to hear on the phone over the background rubble is too much work, IM is the easy route!

  5. Thanks for this great post! I have never been diagnosed with a hearing problem, despite a visit four years ago to an audiologist (who told me there was nothing wrong with me, and sent me away with no further follow up.) Each year I have more trouble with the phone. I can’t figure out what people are saying, particularly when I first pick up the phone. I turn up the volume, and I hear their voice, I just can’t make out what they are saying. After a few minutes I can usually keep up with what they are saying. I sometimes have this problem when people first come into my office at work, too. I don’t have an echo in my office, but that’s what it sounds like at first. It takes me a few minutes to catch on to what they are saying. I really hate talking on my cell phone…it’s never loud enough unless I’m using a headset.

    My sister has had high-frequency hearing loss for years, so maybe I need to try to get back in from of an audiologist, but I was so defeated last time I’m not sure it’s worth it to try again.

    Maybe I should see another type of doctor?
    Thanks for your thoughts!

  6. Phones are just hard after a certain point with high frequency hearing loss. Volume isn’t the answer, we need clarity. Caption phones help but even then sometimes I get a bad typist and still can’t get names or numbers right. When I do use the phone, I also use my amplified neckloop (only amplified because I couldn’t find one that wasn’t) that plugs into my phone which also has a microphone for a two way conversation. It sends the phone call to both my ears which also helps. Between that and captions I do all right but I still dread the phone. I procrastinate when making a phone until I have to do it and when I do I think, “It wasn’t that bad” but I will still text and email where I can. lol

Leave a Reply