Those who fall under the category of hard of hearing differ from the profoundly deaf in that they suffer from some hearing loss, but retain some useable hearing. They may use hearing aids, lip reading and other aids to communication such as specialized mobile phones and other electronic goods.
By March 31st 2007, 164,600 people were registered by the National Health Service as being hard of hearing. This is an increase of around 5,600 (4 per cent) since March 2004 and an increase of 73 per cent since March 1992.
These figures indicate not only an increase in the number of people registered with hearing difficulty but more importantly an increase in awareness so that those people previously suffering with such hearing problems are now being more closely listened to and helped.
The development of mobile phone headsets and other technology for the hearing impaired has been a gradual process and there is no doubt that only a small proportion of mobile phone manufacturer’s Research and Design budgets go on the development of technologies specifically for the hard of hearing.
A study at Cambridge University found that 40 million adults in Europe (around 9% of the adult population) experience problems using mobile phone headsets, with a great proportion of these people victim of age-related hearing difficulties. This has a massive social effect as adults in their senior years who could benefit from the use of mobile technology greatly suffer.
Mobile Phone Technology
Greater awareness of this problem, coupled with huge developments in mobile phone headsets and other technology in recent years has ensured that those with hearing difficulties are now able to communicate more with friends and family from wherever they are. Since the problem of exclusion has been identified, the major mobile phone operators have taken steps to address the issue.
Nokia have developed the Symbian operating system allowing programs to be added to increase the ringing volume to highs that ordinarily would be deafening, and make the screen and keypad lights flash to aid hearing-impaired users.
Another such example is the Easy5 mobile, designed for people with hearing problems, it has many accessories that can aid mobile usage, such as induction loops or hooks which can increase the volume and block out any noise interference.
Hard of Hearing Headset Technology
A study in 2006 into hearing aid and mobile phone headset compatibility found that some hearing aid users experience interference when using a mobile phone. This problem is not addressed by the ‘special’ models designed specifically for those with hearing loss due to the practical problems facing hearing-aid wearers. Developments in Bluetooth headsets for those with hearing-aids have helped change this.
Bluetooth developments in recent times have resulted in innovative mobile phone headsets for the hard of hearing, which employs wireless communications to link an in-ear module with a remote microphone. Bluetooth headsets possessing such advances can be configured by an audiologist, or the user, to amplify sound based on individual preferences.
First pioneered by Cambridge Consultants, a firm specialising in breakthrough technology, and integrated into Sound ID’s Personal Sound System, such mobile phone headsets allow the ear module to link with a remote microphone that can be positioned to improve signal-to-noise ratio. They also act just like a standard Bluetooth headset for a mobile phone, automatically switching from continuous amplification mode, to ‘hands-free mode’ when a call is in progress.