Are you in the market for a hearing aid compatible phone? Finding the best phone for you depends on several factors: Are you looking for a cell phone, or a landline phone? Are you a frequent or infrequent phone user? Is your hearing impairment mild, moderate or severe?
Because the technology is always changing, we recommend collaborating with your hearing healthcare professional, who can likely suggest options for you and even help you set up your cell phone's connection with your hearing aid. Also, plan to try out different phones when shopping, testing various models to see which one works best for you.
These days, cell phones—also known as smartphones, wireless phones or mobile phones—are by far the most common type of phone purchased these days. New models and features are constantly evolving, and fortunately the FCC requires all of them to be hearing aid compatible (known as HAC).
Phones for mild or moderate hearing loss
If you have mild or moderate hearing loss (most people with presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, fall into this category), you are in luck: You probably don't need to do anything special to use your hearing aids with a phone, thanks to technology known as "acoustic coupling." In simple terms, this phrase means you use the phone as normal, and your hearing aid microphone will automatically pick up the sound coming from the phone. The downside? It also may pick up some background noise.
When shopping for a phone, look for what's known as the M rating for hearing aid compatibility. The M rating ranges from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best compatibility. A higher rating means less distracting noise and feedback coming in, but some unwanted noise is still possible. M3 is perhaps the most common rating--all iPhones currently on the market are rated this at this range, for example.
Phones for severe hearing loss (or if you want a really clear signal)
If you have more severe hearing loss—or you use the phone a lot and/or want a really clear signal—you will want to make sure the "telecoil" in your hearing aid is turned on. Telecoils direct sound to the hearing aid’s processor without using the microphone. It can improve the signal-to-noise ratio while eliminating the potential for feedback.
Your telecoil may automatically switch on or it may require you to manually switch into the telecoil or “T” mode. Ask your hearing healthcare provider for more details. This is something you'll want to test out when trying out different phones, too. If you plan to use the telecoil feature, look for what's known as the T rating for hearing aid compatibility. The T rating also ranges from 1 to 4, with 4 being the best. Many cell phones today are T4.
If you would prefer to route the sound through special technology like Bluetooth, you'll need to make sure your hearing aid is capable of working with the associated technology. Not sure if you want it? Find out what Bluetooth is and how it works with hearing aids.
Landlines (including cordless)
Good news: All workplace, public and emergency phones must be HAC, as required by the FCC.
But, if you're on the market for a home phone, you'll want to make sure the model you're buying is marked as HAC. Also, look for the same rating system described above (M and T ratings) to determine the level of compatibility. This goes for both regular phones and cordless phones.
While landlines don't offer the portability of mobile phones, they do generally provide excellent sound and reliability, since you're not beholden to a choppy cellular network or internet signal. There are countless models that are marked as HAC, and many will have extra features for the hard of hearing, like extra-loud ringers or flashing lights for incoming calls.
Other features to consider
- Volume control: Most cell and landline phones on the market have volume control, and this is an important feature in a hearing aid compatible phone. You also may want a volume control for the ringer, so you never miss a call. You may benefit from having a variety of ringtones available, too. Depending on the configuration of your hearing loss, some may be easier to hear than others. This is a good feature to test when shopping.
- Incoming call alerts: Some HAC landlines 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. Nearly all mobiles phones have this feature, too.
- Speech-to-text: These landline 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 on their phone via text messaging (also known as SMS), so get a mobile phone plan that includes unlimited texting and a device with an easy-to-use typepad.
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.
You also can 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.