Before 1995, people with a moderate to total hearing loss couldn’t carry on an ordinary phone conversation, according to Jo Waldron, co-inventor of the Hearing Aid Telephone Interconnect System. Today, using the HATIS device, it is possible for people with up to 99 percent hearing loss to hear and talk on a phone, said Waldron who is 97 percent deaf.

HATIS is distinguished by how it transmits sound. A cord connects the HATIS device, inside a user’s ear piece, with a telephone. Talking on the phone, electronic signals are sent from the handset to the ear piece and an induction coil activates the user’s hearing aid. Waldron said HATIS calls sound best on wireless phones.

“The hearing aid actually becomes the receiver,” said the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, “creating a volume and clarity that enable people who have never heard an intelligible sound to hear conversations.”

Waldron was struck with the idea for HATIS five years ago. “I was going nuts,” she said. “There were no phones I could hear on.” Waldron and Shirley Crouch, co-owners of Phoenix Management Inc., developed a prototype in 30 hours. Her first time using HATIS with a cellular phone Waldron said she made 27 calls in 45 minutes.

HATIS received its official debut and a good dose of publicity last month when Miss America 1995 Heather Whitestone, who is profoundly deaf, spoke with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton on a cellular phone. Whitestone called Clinton to thank her and President Clinton for their support of her efforts on behalf of hearing impaired and deaf people.

Until HATIS, volume-controlled and hearing-aid compatible wireline phones were the only phones that hearing impaired people could use. But “Most of the 30 million hearing-impaired Americans can’t understand what they hear on such phones, because background noise gets amplified as well,” remarked Waldron. Distortion occurs when sound waves from the handset travel through the air. A magnetic coupling problem furthers hearing difficulties.

Waldron said calls using HATIS with a cellular phone are clearer than with a landline phone and that she hears greater voice inflection on a cellular phone. Most cellular phone manufacturers produce handsets with HATIS compatibility, indicated Waldron.

“Wireless cellular is the answer to landline accessibility compliance,” said Waldron. “That’s why we’re working so close with Chairman (Reed) Hundt and the (Federal Communications Commission).”

Hearing impairment is classified as mild, moderate, severe, profound, or total. Total deafness is defined only by what is beyond an audiologist’s chart, said Waldron. Maxed at 18 decibels, volume-controlled phones provide Waldron no remedy. To hear sounds at a natural level she needs sound amplified to 144 decibels, equal to the sound level of a jet engine revving full-blast beside your ear. She’s off that chart.

Pamela Ball, a clinical audiologist said HATIS is the “only hearing aid-telephone compatible system which we have found to be universally acceptable for all degrees of hearing loss.”

As a “plug-in” device, it is not relevant which technology standard a cellular phone uses, said Waldron. For wireless compatibility, HATIS’ costs about $90, subject to various quantity and manufacturer discounts. HATIS works with retrofitted bag phones as well. Phoenix Management has agreements with original equipment manufacturers and service providers for marketing HATIS. As of September, the company reported 1,000 units have been ordered.

As Disabled American for the Nation since 1987, Waldron represents people with disabilities throughout the United States. In that pursuit and as a deaf person, she is an avid opponent of Hear-It Now, a group lobbying on behalf of deaf Americans to require wireless telephones be hearing-aid compatible. Hear-It Now maintains that Global System for Mobile communications technology causes interference with hearing aids.

GSM and other cellular phones cause only slight interference, which is easy to repair, counters Waldron, citing one instance where both a Nokia Corp. phone and Motorola Inc. phone initially causing interference were repaired within 24 hours by diverting the audio path within their handsets. Moreover, in one Hear-It Now test demonstration, computers used to generate GSM interference tests themselves were a source of interference heard not only on a GSM phone but a Code Division Multiple Access phone as well, said Waldron, noting FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Chief Regina Keeney witnessed the event. Once the computers were turned off or shielded-done by encasing certain wires in rubber coating-the interference ceased, Waldron said.

Finally, what underscores the whole interference issue, contended Waldron, is that the campaign against GSM cellular phones won’t accomplish much since all cellular phones without the use of HATIS are functional only for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, a group which accounts for less than 10 percent of the total hearing impaired and deaf population of the United States.

Established in 1987, Phoenix Management of Colorado Springs, Colo., specializes in corporate sponsored job fairs for people with disabilities, women, minorities and senior citizens, developing technologies for people with disabilities in compliance with the American Disabilities Act and conducting seminars about ADA.


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