State expands amplified phone program

Four years ago, the state of Illinois expanded a program to provide amplified phones for residents who are hard of hearing.

Not many people are aware of this program, especially because there is no cost for the telephones.

There are different amplified telephones available for people with different hearing loss.

"The 60 decibel is the highest amplified phone on the market through this (Illinois Telecommunication Access Corporation) program. There is also a 50 decibel and a 55 decibel. The 55 decibel has caller ID as well as a speaker phone. .Our senior citizen clientele tend to gravitate toward that phone because it is a much simpler phone to use and then there is the 40 decibel which has a few different features, such as memory buttons," Lainie Williams, coordinator of Hearing Loss Link at Chicago's Hearing Society.

This is one of 30 statewide Illinois Telecommunication Access Corporation centers for the amplified phone program.

To qualify for the program, you have to be a resident of Illinois and have a land line at home. Either an audiologist or physician will need to sign forms indicating that you are hard of hearing and can benefit from amplified phone.

It's essential that you come in and test the phones.

"They can either call a family member who they'd like to speak with to test the phones, they can call me, I'll run in here to my office and we'll communicate using the phones. But we test each and every phone so that we can find the decibel that they need," Williams said. "We order the amplified phone that they choose and then the phones are delivered directly to their home."

"I have a slight hearing loss in my left ear, so they suggested that I get a phone with an amplifier," said Elaine Neu, who is losing her hearing.

After several months of struggling with hearing on the phone, Neu got one after her son was frustrated with her not hearing him.

"He said, 'If you don't get a phone that you can hear on, I'm not talking to you anymore.' And I didn't want to lose his phone calls, so I did what I had to," Neu said.

Being able to hear on the phone is making a big difference.

"He calls me every morning to see how I'm doing 'cause I'm not that young anymore, so he's a little worried about me at this age," Neu said.

Gabe Wright's hearing has improved after getting a cochlear implant.

"They say I'm severe, profound so that's about 90 decibels, my right ear. My left ear I've been deaf for 28 years but recently had an implant last summer, so now this ear has gone up maybe about 40 percent," said Wright.

And he is looking to get an amplified phone.

"I've tried one of the newest one before, very loud, have to get used to it, very loud, but I think part of it - you have to learn how to adjust the setting and the volume control and just trying to make it easier for you to understand how to not have it too close to your ear and use your hearing aide more for that," Wright said.

"I know that there's a lot of people with hearing losses who are sort of hidden out there. It's not something that anybody, that a lot of people really want to come out and talk about. Yet, they're suffering because they don't have the technology available to them or they don't know about the technology," Williams said.

ITAC has testing sites all over the state of Illinois. Remember, the telephones are free, but you must have a land line. To find out where the nearest center is, call ITAC at 217.698-4170 via TTY or 800.841-6167 or visit

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