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Hearing accessibility guide - everything you need to know

How to make the most of your mobile phone's hearing accessibility features.
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woman wearing a hearing aid using her smartphone

Using a mobile phone when you have some form of a hearing loss can be difficult.

But did you know that Apple and Android smartphones have features that can help?

In this guide we’ll show you how to get the best out of your phone’s hearing features and ultimately have a better mobile phone experience.

The hearing sections on Android and Apple

Android and Apple phones all have various features to help people living with hearing loss. And if you currently use a Hearing Aid, you should find support is also available across iPhones and Android devices.

The first place to check is in your phone’s Accessibility menu. It’s worth noting that not all hearing aids are compatible.

We’ll be using a Samsung S20 Ultra and an iPhone 12 for this guide. Both are running the most up-to-date software available at the time of writing.

How to access the hearing section on an Android

Open your phone’s general settings menu. This can usually be done by pulling down the notifications / quick settings bar, and then tapping the settings icon.

  • Scroll down the main settings menu until you see the Accessibility option, then tap it.

  • Depending on your phone, the hearing section may be within its own submenu or segment.

  • Look for an option along the lines of Hearing enhancements.

You should now be able to see all the hearing options at your disposal.

Setting up a Hearing Aid on Android

This process will vary depending on your phone model.

Some Android devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S series, will allow you to pair your Hearing Aid within the Accessibility settings section.

Other Android phones may require you to connect your equipment through the Connected Devices menu.

  • Open the general settings menu. You can do this by pulling down the notifications/quick settings bar and tap the settings icon.

  • Select Connected devices, which should be near the top of the menu.

  • Next choose pair new device.

  • Choose your hearing aid from the list of pairable devices

How to access the hearing section on an iPhone

  • Open the settings menu which you should be able to find on the first page of your home screen.

  • Scroll down the settings menu until you see Accessibility then tap on it.

  • Finally, scroll down the Accessibility menu, until you come across Hearing.

Setting up a Hearing Aid on iPhone

You can connect a Hearing Aid by choosing Hearing Devices within the Hearing section of Accessibility.

This is the top option within the Hearing subsection. There are some caveats though.

Apple states that you need to be on iOS 7 or later and have a hearing aid that’s specifically compatible with iPhones.

You can check if your hearing aid is compatible here.

Once you’ve selected Hearing Devices, choose your Hearing Aids from the options.

You may also benefit from toggling on Hearing Aid Compatibility, which Apple says “improves audio quality with some hearing aids.”

The hearing section on Android: the basics

Android features will vary to some extent from phone to phone. For example, while Google Pixel and Samsung S series have Live Caption, many other makes do not. This remarkable piece of software provides live subtitling for most media, whether they have a subtitle track or not.

Check out our Live Caption and subtitling guide

A key feature of the Accessibility suite is Live Transcribe. This function transcribes a conversation and displays it in easy-to-read text in real time.

This allows you to be a part of a conversation even if you cannot hear it. During our tests we found it to be very accurate save for a few minor mistakes. Accuracy is likely to decrease in noisy environments though.

Once switched on, Live Transcribe is added as an Accessibility shortcut, triggered by pressing the Accessibility icon at the bottom of the screen, or using the corresponding finger gesture. This will depend on whether you have your interface set to gesture or button control.

As well as letting you adjust font size, you can also set the phone to vibrate when specific names are mentioned. This can also be set to alert you when conversation restarts after a break of 10 seconds or more.

The settings can be accessed by pressing the icon on the left-hand side of the app’s interface. If you would like to type your responses, then the keyboard can be accessed via the keyboard icon on the bottom left. You may need to tap the screen to get the options to appear.

Elsewhere, basic subtitling is available to help you enjoy your favourite media. You can change the caption style within the settings, but your chosen content must have a subtitle track for it to work. Some apps will not accept customisations.

It is possible that your phone will provide the option to utilise mono audio as well as the ability to set a bias between the left and the right ear with a slider.

When toggled on, mono audio takes sounds specifically meant for the left or the right ear and combines them into one stream.

This enables you to hear the whole scene even with just one strong ear.

A sound detector is available on Android phones as part of the live transcribe function. Sound notifications can be turned on via the settings icon within the app.

Once engaged the phone can listen out for things like the doorbell, sirens, running water, and a dog’s bark.

The software shows you a timeline which will display when a selected sound was detected. The phone will also vibrate and the torchlight will flash.

When we tested it with the doorbell sound effect it worked, although it did not always register multiple doorbell noises close together. Once the phone has detected the intended sound, we recommend that you switch the setting off and on-again to reset it.

To get the best results your phone should be placed as close as possible to the source of the expected sound. Other sounds such as the TV should be kept at a low volume so as not to interfere with the Sound notifications.

You can tweak Sound notifications’ settings at any time by pressing the settings symbol on the top right of the Sound notifications’ interface.

The hearing section on iPhone: the basics

Hearing options included on your iPhone are, Subtitles and Captioning, Sound Recognition, Mono Audio Phone Noise Cancellation, audio balance slider, and LED Flash Alerts.

Subtitles and Captioning allows you to customise how your subtitles look on your chosen media. For example you can change the colour and size of the text.

This option has its limits though, as it will only work if there’s an existing subtitle track attached to your chosen program. It is also worth noting that customisations do not always take effect on certain apps. For more on this check out our extensive live caption guide.

Mono Audio meanwhile, takes sounds usually intended for either the left or the right ear and combines it for both. This might come in handy if you’re using headphones and would prefer not to get individualized sounds.

To enable Mono Sound simply tap Audio/Visual within the Hearing section and then toggle the option on via the next screen.

If you feel you have a stronger ear, then you have the option to set an audio bias between the left and the right ear. This is done by using a slider, so you can set either an extreme or slight bias between the two ears.

This too can be done from the Audio/Visual submenu of the Hearing section. Phone Noise Cancellation reduces ambient noise on phone calls when you are holding the receiver to your ear.

The phone works to reduce extra background noise, helping you to hear your conversations a little bit more clearly. Activation is as simple as toggling the setting on.

Also, within the Audio/Visual menu you’ll find the ability to use a flashing light to alert you to calls. Unfortunately, this feature worked inconsistently when we tested it multiple times.

In theory you can also set the LED feature to work when your phone is set to silent.

Though it appears to be hit and miss, when it works the light is bright and very difficult to miss.

Outside of the Audio/Visual submenu you will find a potentially very useful feature called Sound Recognition.

When switched on the phone will listen out for certain sounds, including doorbells, a dog, a cat, sirens, car horns and running water.

If the device detects any of the sounds it will then alert you with a notification. A sound must be selected for your phone to be able to listen out for it.

This setting may be an important tool for those people with only short range or no hearing ability.

To get the best results you’ll want to put your phone as close to the source of the potential sound, so that the handset’s microphone has the best chance of picking it up.

You will need to be watching your phone like a hawk, because while it identified a doorbell sound during our test, it only provided a small beep and a disappearing notification by way of notice.

It also doesn’t help matters that the phone did not respond to multiple rings of the doorbell in quick succession. Meaning that if you miss the notification, your guest could be standing there for quite a while.

During our test, the software would only respond to certain doorbell sound. You should test the feature repeatedly before fully trusting it.