As a user of hearing aids, my latest technology experiment has been to hook up a new Bluetooth cordless DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology) home phone to my Oticon Streamer Pro – this is a Bluetooth streamer allowing the sound to be transmitted directly to my hearing aid.
I have always used an ordinary cordless DECT handset and have sometimes struggled to hear the person on the other end of the phone line clearly. In the past I’ve resorted to plugging in wired headphones with a boom microphone connected to the handset. However, even this was prone to problems with quiet connections, and I couldn’t increase the volume level any further.
This is why this new setup, using the Bluetooth wireless technology is so brilliant. Not only in removing those pesky wires, but it also has the ability to increase the volume level. Even better, I can turn off my hearing aids’ own microphone to cut out all background noise and boost the clarity of the incoming call. This means that I can now have a complete hands-free operation and have perfect clarity of sound of whoever is talking to me.
Pairing the Streamer Pro and the phone together does need sighted assistance, but once this step is completed it is great and quite simple to use. As a blind user, I can then pick up incoming calls by simply pressing the large ‘talk’ button and just start talking. I can make out-going phone calls by dialling up the number I need on the handset and as soon as I press the ‘green’ connect button on the handset, my Streamer Pro automatically switches over to the landline. I can immediately hear the ring tones while waiting for the person to answer.
The particular model of DECT phone I use is the Siemens Gigaset S850A GO, priced at about £70 for a single phone and base station. You can also buy twin, triple or quad in bundles to save money.
This particular model has an answering machine. I can press the shortcut key on the numbers (I have number 1 programmed to bring up the answer machine) and this also causes the Streamer Pro to connect. I can listen to my messages very clearly and using the other keys like 2 to repeat the message, 3 next message and 0 to delete, it is very neat and easy to use.
Now however, I will discuss the drawbacks; there are always some!
Like most DECT landline phones out there, there is no spoken announcements of whatever you are doing on the phone and nothing for the address book. You could assign a different ring tone for each person, but it is rather crude. It is based on a ‘group’ for one or more contacts and even then you can’t hear the incoming number or person’s name, even if you already hold them in your address book. If you can see what is happening on the screen, I am told you can even assign a photo of each person listed and it will display it when they are ringing you. Still no audio announcements though (shake of head!).
Unfortunately I am used to that! Plus the reality is that this phone is no different to other DECT phone in that regard. This means that with Bluetooth connectivity, I have actually improved my ability to use the landline and it only cost me £70, instead of the much higher price you would have to spend on buying the specialised Oticon Connect Landline Kit system. Their system may offer caller ID announcements, but it’s missing other important features like an address book or answering machine, so I feel I got much better value for my money.
So my question is – why is it that virtually all cordless landline phones do not support a blind person to navigate around the features of the phone?
They can provide dozens of different written languages, but no spoken words at all. It is funny really, because their answering machine is the only thing that speaks to you, and that’s in British English, which I assume is done using pre-recorded snippets of audio. Why can’t they do that for the whole menu structure, using the same technique?
The address book would be the troublesome area, but just hearing the name of the contact spoken out letter by letter is better than nothing at all! This collection of sound clips could be easy to package and have available on the web site to download into the phone via USB or Bluetooth, or even Wi-Fi on some of these newer fancy phones.
So come on manufacturers, I’m calling on you to get your thinking caps on and join the modern world of accessibility and equal opportunity!
In the meantime, I am enjoying my new Bluetooth connected DECT phone and I can now have hands-free, wire-free and noise-free natters with my family and friends.