Talking on the phone is one of life's little pleasures. It helps to keep you in contact with friends and family, and allows you to maintain an active social life. However, if you are living with hearing loss, you may find it difficult to understand phone conversations. It's important to keep up relationships with family members and friends for your health and wellbeing as well as your safety if you are living by yourself. Hearing aid compatible phones make it easy for people with hearing loss to hear the voice on the other end of the line without any buzzing, humming or whining noise.
What is a hearing aid compatible phone?
The Federal Communications Commission created the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988, which requires telephone manufacturers to be compatible with hearing aids. In 2003, they expanded that act to include wireless phones. This means that manufacturers must build at least a few models of landline and wireless phones that are compatible with hearing aids. To find a phone that is compatible with your hearing aids, you need to know whether you will be listening to the phone through the hearing aids acoustically or through a feature called telecoil.
If you plan to listen to your phone by placing the receiver up to the hearing aid microphone, you will be using acoustic coupling. This is very common practice for individuals with mild or moderate hearing loss. This allows the listener to hear ambient or background noise as well as the telephone signal through the hearing aid microphone.
A telecoil picks up the electromagnetic energy emitted by the phone and directly delivers it to the processor of a hearing aid, bypassing the microphone. This hearing aid feature is most commonly recommended for individuals with severe or profound hearing loss. Depending on the settings of the hearing aid, the telecoil may automatically switch on when it senses the electromagnetic field from the telephone or it may be a manual switch for the user.
Digital phones and hearing aid compatibility
Although a traditional household telephone usually won't generate a high level of interference, digital or wireless phones are much more prone to this. Since electromagnetic energy is transmitted through these types of devices – through the antenna or a backlight – they can interfere with a hearing aid when the phone is brought near the ear. To help hearing aid wearers determine the best possible wireless phone for them, the FCC created a rating system that gives the phone a hearing aid compatibility score. Although the rates are not intended to be a guarantee, they are a solid basis for users to find a phone that suits their needs.
Hearing aid compatible ratings
Telecoil coupling: Wireless phone providers are required to offer at least one-third, or 10, phone models that are considered compatible with a hearing aid telecoil. These phones will be labeled with a T3 or T4 rating. Additionally, manufacturers must have one-third of handset models with the same rating.
Acoustic coupling: Wireless phone providers must also offer at least 50%, or 8, phone models that are considered compatible with hearing aids through acoustic coupling. These phones will be labeled as M3 or M4. This rule is applied to both nationwide providers and local or regional service providers.
Availability of phones
Phones which are compatible with hearing aids should not be hard to find because the FCC requires phone manufacturers and wireless providers have a minimum number of compatible phones available to consumers. Each provider is also required to release or update their list every year. Phones must have different levels of functionality and features so individuals who wear hearing aids can find the one that best suits their needs.
Other features to consider
People with hearing loss may also want to consider different features offered in hearing aid compatible phones so they are able to properly use the device.
Volume control: Many phones on the market have volume control, and this is an important feature to consider when looking for a hearing aid compatible phone. This allows you to change the volume easily since people on the other line of the phone may have different settings. Volume control is also important to consider when it comes to the ringer. You may benefit from having a variety of ring tones available, since many people with hearing loss will find it more difficult to hear high-pitched noises.
Incoming call alerts: Some phones can flash or vibrate when someone is calling, so you don't have to only rely on an auditory signal. Lighting up or flashing can be a great feature so you do not miss calls when you are busy watching television or listening to music.
Speech-to-text: These telephones make it easier for people with hearing loss to understand speech because you are able to follow along on a screen while you are listening to it. Also known as captioned telephones, similar to closed captioning on a television, these devices are great for individuals who are on the phone often. You may also want to consider a telephone with a large screen so you can read text easily during a phone call.
Text: People with hearing loss may also prefer to simply reach others via text, so you'll want to make sure that you have a mobile phone plan that includes unlimited texting and a device with an easy-to-use keyboard.
How to find a phone
Hearing aid compatible phones are available through many different providers, and you can check your specific service's website for the best phones. Mobile phone companies will have a list of phones that are best for individuals who wear hearing aids. It is also best to make sure that you can try the cell phone before investing money into it, because interference can change depending on location and it is very possible to have to try several models before deciding on one. The highest rating you can find is M4/T4.
You can always check with your local hearing care provider for help and recommendations regarding hearing aid compatible phones. He or she is likely to know what services and devices will be most compatible with your hearing aids.
- Hearing Aid Compatible Phone Guidelines, Federal Communications Commission, https://www.fcc.gov/guides/hearing-aid-compatibility-wireless-telephones