Talking on the phone can be of life's pleasures. It helps keep you connected with friends and family which is great for your wellbeing and even your safety if you live alone. However, if you are living with hearing loss, you may find it difficult to understand phone conversations. Hearing aid compatible phones can make it easier for you to hear with less background noise, and no buzzing or humming noises.
What is a hearing aid compatible phone?
The Federal Communications Commission created the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988, which requires telephones to be compatible with hearing aids. In 2003, they expanded the act to include wireless phones. 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 a telecoil.
Listening to the phone by simply placing the receiver up to the hearing aid microphone is called acoustic coupling. This is very common practice for people with mild or moderate hearing loss. This allows you to hear 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 delivers it directly to the processor of your hearing aid, bypassing the microphone. This hearing aid feature is most commonly recommended for people with more advanced degrees of hearing loss. Your telecoil may automatically switch on when it senses the electromagnetic field from the telephone or it may require you to manually switch into the telecoil or “T” mode. Ask your hearing healthcare provider for more details.
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 you determine the best wireless phone for your needs, the FCC created a rating system that gives phones a hearing aid compatibility score. Although the ratings are not a guarantee, they are a solid basis for comparing phones and helping find one that suits you.
Hearing aid compatible ratings
Telecoil coupling: Wireless phone providers must make one-third of their phone models compatible with a hearing aid telecoil. These phones are labeled with a T3 or T4 rating. Additionally, one-third of a manufacturer’s available handset models must have the same rating.
Acoustic coupling: Wireless phone providers must have at least half of their phone models offered be compatible with hearing aids through acoustic coupling. These phones are labeled as M3 or M4. This rule is applied to nationwide providers and local or regional service providers.
Phones are required to have functionality and features to suit people with hearing loss and hearing aids.
Availability of phones
Hearing aid compatible phones are not 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 people who wear hearing aids can find the one that best suits their needs.
Other features to consider
- Volume control: Many phones on the market have volume control, and this is an important feature in a hearing aid compatible phone. You may also want a volume control for the ringer, so you never miss a call. You may benefit from having a variety of ring tones available, too. Depending on the configuration of your hearing loss, some may be easier to hear than others.
- Incoming call alerts: Some phones flash or vibrate when someone is calling, so you don't have to rely only on an auditory signal. This is especially helpful when you’re watching TV or listening to music.
- Speaker phone: This feature is helpful for hearing aid wearers because it can reduce the interference between the phone and the hearing aids. Most phones on the market today have speaker phone, but make sure you know how to activate that feature.
- Speech-to-text: These telephones, also called captioned phones, make it easier to communicate on the phone because you can read the text on a screen while you are listening to the audio. Captioned phones are also available with large screens, making the text easier to read for the visually impaired.
- Text: People with hearing loss may prefer to simply reach others via text, so get 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 hearing aid wearers. Ask to try any cell phone before committing to buy because interference can change depending on location. You may need to try a few before deciding on one. The highest possible rating is M4/T4.
Check with your local hearing care provider for help and recommendations regarding hearing aid compatible phones. They can provide advice in the context of your specific needs, and they can help you learn how to use your chosen devices for best results.