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Tips for People Who Converse with CI Recipients on the Telephone

Posted By Naama Tsach, PhD, Thursday, May 14, 2020

Within the space of a few months, telecommunication in COVID-19 has become the main way to communicate with the people in our lives. Face-to-face communication has been replaced by video-chatting and phone calls. In today's post, I'll discuss telephone use and ways to reduce communication difficulties.

Phone calls have always been a challenge for many people with hearing loss including those who use a cochlear implant.

We usually read and write about what cochlear implant users can to successfully hold telephone conversations.  For example, we may advise someone to use technologies that work in concert with a CI and/or to use Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs), or to make phone calls while in a quiet room. There are a number of ways for someone with hearing loss to improve their likelihood of having a successful and enjoyable telephone conversation and I will discuss these in depth in this post.

When you begin practicing using the phone, choosing the right partner is one of the most important things to do. You would most likely choose someone you know well and feel comfortable with, someone who is patient, and someone who is willing to help you. Regardless, talking on the phone can be a real challenge, even for CI users use the phone regularly. In order to make it easier and avoid some of the obstacles, you might want to discuss what helps you ahead of time with your phone call partners.

So, this post is written for your phone conversation partners to provide them with practical tips and guidance that may help the person with a cochlear implant.

Here are some points to think about, and some requests that someone may want to bring to the conversation partner’s attention:

  • In order to talk on the phone with your CI user friend, move to a quiet room, keep the closed to reduce background noise, and avoid interruptions.
  • Do not call your CI user friend while driving unless you are equipped with a high-quality headset with a microphone adjacent to your mouth. Even then, it would be best to wait until you have reached your destination (if possible).
  • Do not call your CI user friend while walking down the street or if you are in a noisy or echo-prone space. Noise that is insignificant for you, can make the call difficult for your CI user friend
  • If your CI user friend calls you when you are somewhere noisy and you cannot move to a quiet room, describe the situation and let them decide whether to hold the conversation or have you call back later.
  • Do not talk to your CI user friend when you are on speaker phone, as the CI user will hear you from a distance along with disruptive background noises.
  • Speak just a bit slower than usual.
  • Help your friend by Noting the reason and/or the topic of the conversation. Having that information will help him or her to follow your remarks.
  • If you want to tell a long story, it may be best if you could break it into short passages to allow your friend to stop you if information is not accurately understood.  
  • Always encourage your friend to ask for clarification if (s)he needs that. Be patient and repeat yourself as needed. If there is a certain word that wasn’t understood even after repetition, you may want to express yourself using other words or phrases.
  • If you are having difficulty understanding your CI user friend, do not hesitate to ask for clarification. You may want to ask him or her to repeat what was just said, say it another way, or even spell the word you did not understand.
  • If you provide information that includes names of people or places, or you are scheduling an appointment, allow your CI user friend to verify that they understood the name correctly. You may want to send the details by email or text to avoid misunderstandings.

Good Luck! Your patience will help your friend develop the confidence and skills to be comfortable making phone calls.

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The mission of the American Cochlear Implant (ACI) Alliance is to advance access to the gift of hearing provided by cochlear implantation through research, advocacy and awareness.