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Are my Hearing Aids and Cell Phone Compatible?

Are my Hearing Aids Cell Phone Compatible?

Wondering if your cell phone and your hearing aid or cochlear implant are compatible?

Many people report feedback or “squealing” when they place the handset of the telephone next to their hearing aid. T-coil hearing aids can eliminate this feedback because their microphones automatically turn off to block out ambient sound and the hearing aids only amplify the phone signal.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has regulations to ensure such devices are compatible with hearing aids and cochlear implants. Here’s what you need to know: 

FCC Guidelines 

The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act requires the FCC to ensure that all wireless telephones manufactured or imported for use in the United States and all “essential” telephones, such as public phones, emergency phones and workplace phones are hearing aid-compatible.

Beginning in 2003, the FCC established rules for the hearing aid compatibility of digital wireless phones as well. Some of this information may be overly technical but it’s good to know the details whenever you have a question or concern.

To begin with, the FCC requires that all mobile wireless service providers and device manufacturers offer you handsets that are compatible with (do not cause interference with) hearing aids and cochlear implants.

How hearing aids and cell phones work together

Hearing aid compatible phones have an internal feature that works with telecoil or T-coil hearing aids. In the United States, about 60 percent of hearing aids contain telecoils, which generally are used by individuals with profound hearing loss. Many people report feedback or “squealing” when they place the handset of the telephone next to their hearing aid. T-coil hearing aids can eliminate this feedback because their microphones automatically turn off to block out ambient sound and the hearing aids only amplify the phone signal. The FCC also  recommends that for some hearing-aid users, you may need to place the ear-piece slightly behind the ear rather than directly over the ear to obtain the clearest signal.

“The FCC also  recommends that for some hearing-aid users, you may need to place the ear-piece slightly behind the ear rather than directly over the ear to obtain the clearest signal.”

How the FCC determines whether a handset is hearing aid compatible

There are two measures used.  First, all digital handsets have a rating for their ability to reduce interference with hearing aids in acoustic mode – an interface that couple electrical signals by acoustical means usually into and out of a telephone instrument – from M1 to M4, with M4 being the best.  Handsets are also rated – from T1 to T4 – for their ability to operate with hearing aids that contain a telecoil and operate in inductive coupling mode – In electrical engineering this means that two conductors are magnetically coupled to create a change in current through one wire and induces voltage across the ends of the other wire.

According to the FCC, mobile handsets are hearing aid compatible if they are rated at least M3 for acoustic coupling and at least T3 for inductive coupling.  A specific number or percentage of the handsets sold by handset manufacturers and mobile wireless service providers must meet these ratings. 

Additional technology considerations for wireless phones

The ability to make wireless telephones compatible with hearing aids also depends in part on other technical and design choices made by carriers and manufacturers. For example, for technical reasons, it is easier to meet hearing aid compatibility standards on certain systems using specific access codes. It is also easier to meet hearing aid compatibility standards in phones with flip phone designs than in other styles.

Learn more: Get home and office phone calls automatically transmitted to your hearing aid 

Requirements for hearing aid compatibility for digital wireless telephones

Analog (non-digial) wireless telephones usually do not cause interference with hearing aids. Digital wireless telephones, on the other hand, sometimes cause interference because of electromagnetic energy emitted by the telephone’s antenna, back-light or other components.

The standard for compatibility of digital wireless phones with hearing aids is American National Standard Institute (ANSI) standard C63.19. A digital wireless handset is considered hearing aid-compatible if it meets a “T3” (or “U3T”) rating under the ANSI standard.

In addition to rating wireless phones, the ANSI standard also provides a methodology for rating hearing aids from M1 to M4, with M1 being the least immune to RF interference and M4 the most immune. To determine whether a particular digital wireless telephone is likely to interfere with a particular hearing aid, the immunity rating of the hearing aid is added to the rating of the telephone. A sum of four indicates the telephone is usable, five indicates normal use and six or greater indicates the telephone would provide excellent performance for hearing aid users.

Labeling and testing requirements

Packages containing hearing aid-compatible handsets must be explicitly labeled and must include detailed information in the package or product manual. Wireless service providers must offer a means for consumers to test hearing aid-compatible handsets in their retail stores. Some hearing aid manufacturers are voluntarily including information about hearing aid compatibility with their products.

Manufacturers and service providers are required to post information about their hearing aid-compatible handset offerings on their websites, such as the Phonak DECT Phone. 

Some handsets are capable of using wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, for which hearing aid compatibility technical standards have not yet been adopted by the FCC. If a handset includes such a technology, the packaging material and other disclosures must inform consumers that such operations have not been tested for use with hearing aids.

Try before you buy

The FCC recommends you try your wireless device with your hearing aid in the store before making your purchase. It’s best to try several models before buying to find the best match with your hearing aids. Visit a full service carrier store and ask to try devices that have been designated as “hearing aid compatible.” Your cell phone’s RF emissions can change depending on your location. Be sure to fully evaluate your listening experience outside and during the return period.

Read more: More Phone Etiquette for the Hearing Challenged and Those that Call Them

Filing a complaint

If you have a problem using a hearing aid with a digital wireless phone that is labeled as hearing aid-compatible, first try to resolve it with the equipment manufacturer or your wireless service provider. If you can’t resolve the issue directly, you have multiple options for filing a complaint with the FCC by phone, on line, or by mail.

For more information go to www.fcc.gov, where you’ll find consumer information that can help you make good decisions, get answers when you have a question, or file a complaint when you need to. Here are key things to know

  • The FCC’s Disability Rights Office website
  • A list of all equipment manufacturers and service providers
  • A list of companies that file annual status reports that contains information on the hearing aid-compatible handsets that they offer
  • A list of all the hearing aid compatible handsets offered by manufacturers during the most recent reporting period
  • The Hearing Aid Compatibility Rules(CFR)
  • Note: You can request information in an accessible format – braille, large print, Word or text document or audio.

How are you doing with your hearing aid and your cell phone? Have you spoken with your provider and/or the FCC about your experiences?

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Author Details
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, speaker, composer, musician, recording artist, actor and activist from Rhode Island. He has a special kinship with musicians and singers with hearing loss, but writes and speaks on a variety of hearing issues from his 35 years experience with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. He has hearing in one ear and sight in one eye, which makes for interesting sensory challenges from time to time. He seeks to be of help, hope and inspiration to those of whom he affectionately calls the “hearing lost.”
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Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, speaker, composer, musician, recording artist, actor and activist from Rhode Island. He has a special kinship with musicians and singers with hearing loss, but writes and speaks on a variety of hearing issues from his 35 years experience with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. He has hearing in one ear and sight in one eye, which makes for interesting sensory challenges from time to time. He seeks to be of help, hope and inspiration to those of whom he affectionately calls the “hearing lost.”
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