Hearing Aid Compatible Cell Phones, The Basics
To ensure everyone benefits from advances in technology, the Federal Communications Commission ("FCC") has approved standards and passed regulations for digital wireless device use with hearing aids. In 2001, the FCC modified the exemption for wireless phones under the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 in light of the rising number of wireless calls to emergency services and the growing trend among wireless carriers to move away from analog services in favor of more efficient and feature-rich digital services.
The FCC defines Hearing Aid Compatiblity (HAC) for cell phones in terms of two parameters; radio-frequency (RF) emissions and telecoil coupling. HAC-compliant device packages are marked with "M" or "T" ratings. The M-rating refers to the microphone mode. The T-rating refers to the telecoil mode. Only phones that meet HAC compliance will be labeled as such. If you see a "M3", "M4", "T3" or "T4" on the box then the phone has been designated as HAC compliant. Cell phones that comply with the FCC's hearing aid compatibility rule must receive a minimum rating of M3 for RF emissions and T3 for telecoil coupling.
"T" refers to the phone's coupling ability and is intended for use with hearing aids in the telecoil mode. The higher the "T" number the more likely you will be able to use the phone with your hearing aid on the telecoil setting. A telecoil is a small device that is built into some hearing aids for use with the telephone as well as assistive listening devices. To use the telecoil, generally either the hearing aid is switched to the "T" position or a button on the hearing aid is pushed to select the telecoil program. The telecoil picks up magnetic fields generated by telephones and converts these fields into sound. Telecoils are particularly useful for telephone communication because they permit the volume control of a hearing aid to be turned up without creating feedback or "whistling," and background noise can be reduced especially when using cell phones in noisy places.
The FCC requires that nationwide carriers offer a range of phones that comply with HAC regulations beginning in September 2005 for microphone mode and in September 2006 for telecoil mode. Many regional carriers will also offer phones and support. Some cell phones that are usable with hearing aids are already on the market
All major handset manufacturers are now required to produce HAC phones; some even have hands-free accessories to improve usability. There is no additional cost or difference in appearance of HAC phones versus non-HAC phones. It's best to try several phones before buying to find the best match with your hearing aids. Visit a full-service carrier store and ask to try phones that have been designated as "hearing aid compatible." Be mindful of your service company's termination and return policy before purchasing any phone. Since a cell phone's RF emissions can change depending on your location your listening experience outside the store may be different.
While there is no guarantee; phones that comply with Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) regulations should improve usability for hearing aid users. Hearing loss and hearing aids are highly individualized so it is still advisable to try a cell phone with your hearing aid in the store before making your cell phone purchase. Your hearing healthcare professional will be able to tell you if your hearing aid is immune to RF interference and may need to contact the manufacturer of your hearing aid to determine its immunity rating. Many new digital hearing aids are designed to be usable with wireless devices with lower RF emissions. Of the more than 2 million hearing aids sold in 2004, eighty percent (80%) include a basic circuitry design that increases immunity to RF interference. In 2005, 45% of the hearing aids sold contain a telecoil.
To learn more about how to purchase cell phones which are compatible with hearing aids and for a list of the best (M4/T4) cell phones, click here.
"Catching the Wireless Wave" courtesy of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions Hearing Aid Compatibility Incubator and CTIA- The Wireless Association™