Research shows phone calls causing frustration and stress for deaf people

Posted on November 5, 2017

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People with hearing loss want to be able to make and receive phone calls more easily than they are currently able to, according to new survey research by Ideas for Ears.

More than 1,100 people, aged 18 to 80 plus, answered questions about their experiences of making and receiving phone calls. Most had some degree of hearing loss, with 63% having mild to severe hearing loss in their better ear and 10% having profound or total deafness in their better ear. The remaining 27% had good or very good hearing in their better ear.

60% of all respondents were hearing aid users, and 8% had a cochlear implant or other device.

The survey was carried out in August and September 2017.

The findings suggest the following …

Difficulties with phone use increase with degree of hearing loss

Not surprisingly, respondents having the least difficulty in making and receiving phone calls were those with good hearing or mild hearing loss. Those with greatest difficulties had profound or total hearing loss. 

Phone service providers could do more

Around one third of respondents felt that phone service providers cater poorly or very poorly for their hearing needs, with 32% feeling this way about landline providers and 37% feeling this way about mobile service providers. Nearly two thirds (61%) said that they would like a solution that could improve their experiences of phone calls. 

Video calls are easiest to hear

The findings suggest that respondents find video calls easiest to hear, followed by landline calls, then mobile calls. Conversely, however, mobile phone calls are the most preferred way to stay in touch. Half of all respondents (50%) make or receive mobile calls at least once a day, compared to 45% for landline calls and 15% for video calls. 

People with moderate to severe hearing loss are the most frustrated and stressed

The experiences of those with moderate to severe hearing loss in their better ear were found to be particularly interesting. People with moderate to severe hearing loss have enough hearing to potentially use a phone with reasonable ease, so long as clarity and volume are suited to their hearing needs.  However, the survey found them to be struggling significantly.

Of the 404 respondents with moderate to severe hearing loss, 97% said that due to the way they hear on the phone, making or receiving calls is sometimes or often frustrating, and 91% said it was stressful. They also said it can feel confusing (84%), embarrassing (84%), tiring (83%), and down-heartening (82%).

Nearly all respondents with moderate to severe loss reported taking steps to make hearing on the phone easier.  When asked about tactics used to help them with mobile phone calls, the most popular was concentrating and listening hard (73%), followed by making calls from a quiet location (71%), and then adjusting the volume (63%).

However, the findings also suggest that they are also changing the way they use their mobile, with 51% saying they ask people to text instead; 50% saying they keep calls brief; and 29% saying they don’t answer the call.  More than half (53%) pass their phone to someone else to take the call for them.

People with moderate to severe hearing loss are most eager for new solutions

It was also found that respondents with moderate to severe hearing loss were the most eager to hear better on the phone, with 89% agreeing that they wanted a solution to make phone calls easier. Of those with profound or total hearing loss, 66% were interested in a solution, a lower number that perhaps reflects their reduced likelihood that a solution is possible for their degree of deafness.

Many people are actively looking for solutions

Across all respondents, nearly a quarter (23%) have spent considerable time over the last two years looking for a phone or communication solution to make it easier to stay in touch with people. Time spent looking has increased with severity of hearing loss.  One third (33%) of those with moderate to severe hearing loss have spent a great deal or much time looking, and nearly half (48%) of those with profound or total loss spending a great deal or much time looking. 

Awareness of NGTS isn’t as widespread as it could be

The questionnaire also revealed that awareness of specialist deaf phone services is patchy. Two thirds of respondents (66%) don’t know what the Next Generation Text Service is and more than half (54%) do not know what the Text Relay service is. These services connect to a third party who joins the phone conversation to type up what’s said in real time so the user has the option to read what’s said on a digital device or Text Relay phone.  Awareness tends to increase with level of deafness but the findings suggest that substantial numbers seem unaware these services exist.

Uptake of digital technology is lower than it could be

Although 68% of all respondents were hearing aid (or other hearing device) users, just 9% said they are currently using digital technology to stream sound directly into their hearing aids. This suggests that current solutions using Bluetooth or an intermediary streaming device are not being widely adopted. 

Phone service providers could boost public perception by introducing new solutions

The findings also indicate that telephone service providers that make new technology available so people can hear more clearly are likely to be viewed favourably by the general population. Across all respondents, 81% agreed they would feel very or extremely positively towards providers offering technical solutions to improve clarity. Even amongst those with good hearing or mild hearing loss there is strong support, with 73% of this group agreeing that they would feel extremely or very positively. 

People would be willing to switch to get enhanced clarity on the phone

The majority of respondents would even switch to another phone service provider if there was an opportunity to receive a service that makes calls crisper and clearer so conversation is easier to hear and understand. Across all respondents, 64% rated their interest in switching at 8, 9 or 10 out of 10. The strongest interest was shown amongst those with moderate to severe hearing loss, with 76% of this group rating their interest at 8, 9 or 10.  

Sally Shaw, director of Ideas for Ears, commented: 

“Huge thanks to everyone who completed the questionnaire.  It was an important exercise that has generated robust data for us to take to phone service providers to press for new solutions to be made available.

“The findings suggest that large numbers of people across the UK are struggling to hear well on the phone and that they want new solutions to allow them to hear more easily.

“Having hearing loss doesn’t mean that you should automatically accept hearing poorly on the phone.  Solutions exist already to make things easier, although these typically require you to use, and normally to also purchase, assistive equipment, a different phone or Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids.

“This could all change with the power and versatility of today’s digital technology. With investment from phone service providers, it is perfectly feasible to see a future where phone users are able to receive personalised sound so that phone calls sound clearer and crisper. This could involve phone numbers and/or handsets being matched to the users’ individual hearing profile so tone and volume of voices are adjusted automatically as the call takes place

“The results of this questionnaire strongly suggest that there is demand for new solutions to help people hear well on the phone, and that people will even be open to switching provider in order to receive clearer sounding calls. It is now for the telecoms sector, and the array of individual phone service companies, to determine how they will respond.”

About the survey

Respondents by gender

Respondents by gender breakdown

Gender All respondents
Female 60%
Male 40%
Other Less than 1%

 

Respondents by age

Age All respondents
18 – 24 years 2%
25 – 34 years 5%
35 – 44 years 9%
45 – 54 years 24%
55 – 59 years 16%
60 -64 years 15%
65 – 69 years 10%
70 – 74 years 10%
75 – 79 years 4%
80 years plus 4%

 

Respondents by hearing description

Respondents reported on their ability to hear in their better ear, and it can be assumed that some respondents will have given their answered based on accurate information supplied from an audiologist, whilst others will have subjectively guessed. People with any hearing ability were encouraged to complete the questionnaire, although it was highlighted that the questions were likely to be less relevant to those with very little or no hearing, which may help explain the numbers with total hearing loss being so low.

Respondents by hearing description (how they hear in their ‘best’ ear)

Hearing description All respondents
Very good or good 27%
Mild loss 22%
Moderate loss 19%
Moderate-severe loss 11%
Severe loss 11%
Profound loss 9%
Total loss 1% 


Winner of £300 prize!

To show appreciation to those participating in the questionnaire, there was the chance to enter a prize draw to win £300 in Amazon vouchers. The lucky winner, selected at random by an independent witness, was Colin Ayers from Newcastle under Lyme. Colin said:  “It was wonderful to receive the prize of £300 in Amazon Vouchers, some of which will be used to help me present deaf awareness on a voluntary basis to local businesses and individuals.”

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