Telephones for Hearing-Impaired People

Copyright 1998-99 by Ronald B. Standler

Table of Contents

introduction and history
sources for telephone equipment


I have a severe hearing loss at frequencies above 1.5 kHz, which makes it difficult for me to understand speech on a conventional telephone. Because technology to ameliorate this problem is a well-kept secret, I decided to post the information that I have on the Internet, for sharing with others who may need it. The electrical standards, as well as legal certification, of telephone equipment is different for each country: therefore, the information in this document applies only to the USA.


Prior to the breakup of the Bell System in the USA by Judge Greene in 1984, residential telephones in the USA were manufactured in the USA by Western Electric, the manufacturing division of the Bell System.

On the bottom of each Western Electric telephone is the notice "Bell System Property. Not for sale." These telephones were leased to customers for a monthly rate. For example, in 1979, I paid $ 1.50/month for a touch-tone telephone and $ 1.87/month for an amplified handset. The Western Electric equipment was designed to be extremely durable and have a long lifetime. The Bell System could afford to produce high-quality equipment because they had a monopoly and charged relatively high fees. Suppose the Western Electric telephone had a life-time of 50 years, then the telephone company collected a total $ 900 of leasing fees from the customer during that time! When the local telephone company sold me the Western Electric telephone in August 1983, the price was only $ 55.

After the breakup of the Bell System around 1982, AT&T began selling telephone equipment to customers. AT&T had retail telephone stores, which were often located in shopping centers, in most cities in the USA. The new AT&T telephones were of lower quality than the old Western Electric telephones. However, one could purchase refurbished Western Electric equipment from AT&T retail telephone stores, although they did not advertise this fact.

In February 1996, AT&T closed all of their retail telephone stores. On 1 Oct 1997, AT&T ceased selling telephones to the residential market. The former AT&T multi-line telephones for business use (e.g., Merlin System) are now sold by Lucent Technologies.


I have tried a number of different models of telephones, but I have found only two satisfactory models for me:
  1. The traditional Western Electric model 2500 touch-tone telephone from the 1960s or 1970s, equipped with a Western Electric model G6 amplified handset, sometimes called a "volume control handset". The amplifier is powered by current from the telephone line; no batteries are needed.

    I purchased a reconditioned Western Electric model 2500DMG desk telephone with a new keypad but no handset in September 1998 at a cost of $19, and a reconditioned Western Electric G6 amplified handset at $22.

  2. The AT&T model 100 telephone equipped with the AT&T model K65A "hearing amplification handset". The amplifier is powered by two AAA batteries inside the handset. This telephone has a button that automatically redials the last number that was entered on the keypad, which is a handy feature. These two products are no longer available.
The Western Electric G6 handset does not function with modern electronic telephones. There are at least two different models of AT&T amplified handsets for use with modern electronic telephones, they are not interchangeable. One must purchase the amplified handset separately from the telephone. Sources for this equipment are given at the end of this document.

There are many electronic telephones with volume controls, but most of them provide inadequate gain for hearing-impaired users. These volume controls are a convenience for people with normal hearing, not a feature for hearing-impaired users. Hearing-impaired people should seek an amplifier with a maximum gain of at least 20 dB.

Another solution is to wear a behind-the-ear hearing aid that contains a small coil of wire that acts as an antenna for the magnetic field from some telephone earpieces. The user will need to switch the hearing aid input from microphone to coil. Not all telephone handsets are compatible with this kind of hearing aid.

AT&T – and briefly in 1998 Philips – made a portable amplifier that attached to the earpiece of the handset with an elastic strap. This amplifier is powered by one AA battery. I carry one of these amplifiers plus a spare battery in my suitcase, for use in hotel rooms.

sources for telephone equipment

Triad in Ohio (telephone 800-735-6597) sells refurbished Western Electric G6 amplified handsets and refurbished Western Electric telephones.

If you want a new, electronic telephone for hearing-impaired users, then I suggest that you consult with a local audiologist. There are several ways to find an audiologist:
  1. some groups of physicians who specialize in otolaryngology include an audiologist in their practice.

  2. you can visit the Speech & Hearing Clinic at a local university that trains audiologists

  3. you can look in the Yellow Pages of your local telephone book under "Hearing Aids" or "Audiologists".
    The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association certifies audiologists with their certificate of clinical competence in audiology (CCC-A).

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created 4 Sep 1998, last revised 4 Oct 1999, deletion of dead links 7 Sep 2007

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