Assistive listening devices

Contributed by Brande Plotnick, MS, MBA, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
This content was last reviewed on: February 9th, 2018 2018-02-09 00:00:00 Assistive listening devices or ALDs enhance hearing in places like theaters and lecture halls. They also enable connections to audio sources for music and TV. 2018 866 Assistive listening devices

Assistive listening devices or ALDs enhance hearing in places like theaters and lecture halls. They also enable connections to audio sources for music and TV.

Enhancing your hearing experience

If you have hearing loss, it is likely hearing aids will be a tremendous help to you in your daily life. But what about those special situations when your hearing aids aren’t quite enough? Special devices called assistive listening devices (ALDs) are useful helpers for listening to conversations on the phone, watching favorite shows on television, watching performances or speakers in public places and classrooms and even waking to an alarm clock in the morning or hearing the doorbell.

There is a surprisingly large array of ALDs on the market today, and many are geared towards very specific needs. Some of these devices are made to work specifically with certain hearing aids while others are stand-alone and can be helpful even if you don’t yet wear hearing aids.

Amplified telephone

Amplified phones are specifically designed for people with hearing loss, allowing you to turn up the volume as necessary to hear speech clearly. You do not need to wear hearing aids to benefit from these devices. They can make it easier to hear high-pitched sounds, the

amplified phone with large buttons
These amplified phones often feature
extra-large buttons for ease of use.

same sounds many people with hearing loss are missing. These phones sometimes also feature amplified ring tones so you’ll never miss a call.

Available in both mobile and landline models, amplified phones are fully-featured with caller ID, voicemail, headset options and speakerphone. Some are helpful for people who, in addition to having hearing loss, may have visual acuity challenges too. Backlit keypads, photo dialing and large number keys make it easy to place and receive calls even if you don’t see clearly.

If you require a more portable option for phone calls at home or at the office, consider a phone amplifier which can be coupled to your existing phone. In-line amplifiers are compatible with digital and analog phones and are suitable for people with moderate to severe hearing losses. Other portable amplifiers are appropriate for milder losses, but they can amplify the phone signal by as much as 30 decibels.

Hearing aid compatible phones

Since 1988, it has been required by law that telephone manufacturers make models compatible with hearing aids. Hearing aid compatibility is generally accomplished in one of two ways: acoustic or telecoil coupling. Acoustic coupling picks up and amplifies sounds from the phone as well as any noise around you. Telecoil coupling requires your hearing aid to be equipped with a telecoil, a special feature that only picks up the phone signal for amplification. Telecoils in hearing aids are desirable for people with more advanced hearing loss because background noise is blocked out during phone calls. They are a great help for people who spend significant time on the phone or those who use other telecoil-based ALDs such as induction loops in public places.

Assistive listening devices for televisions

When you have trouble clearly understanding or hearing the television, watching your favorite shows can become a chore. Turning up the television isn’t always the best option since it can make sound distorted and even more difficult to understand. And, when you’re watching TV with others, maxing out the volume isn’t always a popular option. There are ALDs that can work for you whether or not you already wear hearing aids.

happy couple watching TV together
It is possible to watch television at a 
volume that's comfortable for you both!

Many modern hearing aids are now equipped with wireless capabilities to allow for personal adjustment of the television volume and streaming of the sound directly to your hearing aids through Bluetooth-enabled accessories. Not only will you hear the TV more easily, you can keep the volume comfortable for those without hearing loss watching with you. Hearing aids equipped with a telecoil can be coupled with a neckloop or induction loop to help improve the clarity of television sound.

Some television amplifiers work even without hearing aids. For example, TV Ears® is a popular and relatively inexpensive wireless headset with a personal volume control that plugs directly into your TV’s earphone socket.

Finally, if you are not ready to buy an ALD for watching TV, closed captioning is another option for making TV more enjoyable.

FM systems

One of the biggest challenges for people with hearing loss is hearing in the presence of background noise, particularly in classrooms or public venues. These difficulties happen when the ratio of the speech signal from the teacher or speaker isn’t loud enough compared to the background noise. This ratio is called the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and improving it can make a big difference in hearing and understanding speech in these challenging places.

While not a new technology, an FM system is a dependable and very effective wireless technology that makes it easier to understand what others are saying in noisy situations, like classrooms or public events. The FM system consists of a transmitter microphone used by the person speaking in front of an audience and a receiver used by the hearing aid wearer. An FM system ensures the speech signal is delivered directly to both hearing aids. There are options for completely blocking out background noise while wearing it or allowing an optimal combination of speech and some background noise. These systems are widely used in schools to help children with hearing loss achieve their educational goals but they are also helpful for adults in many situations.

image of an alerting alarm clock
The Sonic Alert clock uses audible signal
and vibration to wake you. 

Alerting devices

Most ALDs help make listening easier, but some also help you stay connected to what is going on around you and improve your safety. These alerting devices rely on amplified sounds, visual cues and even vibrations to alert you to sounds in your environment.

Some examples of alerting devices include:

These devices can give you peace of mind and help keep you safe, even during those times when you may not be wearing your hearing aids.

Hearing aid technology is impressive and can be a big help for people with hearing loss. However, if you have unique needs that aren’t addressed by your hearing aids or if you aren’t yet ready for hearing aids, assistive listening devices can be the answer. Read more about specific ALDs on these pages and consult any of our consumer-reviewed hearing health providers to guide you to the best products for your needs.

Editor's note: In order to help us support our website and continue bringing our readers the latest information about hearing loss and hearing aids, this article contains affiliate links to products on

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