Wireless mobile phones are ubiquitous. Watch any old movie and be amazed that the heroine doesn’t pull out her smartphone to get out of trouble.
Today, you can find a wireless phone full of features that were not even considered 30 years ago. You can find phones that are compatible with your hearing aid or cochlear implant (your hearing devices) and that include features that make the phone truly accessible. But first things first.
How do I know my hearing aid or cochlear implant will work with a mobile phone?
The Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) Act was signed into law in 1988.
- The HAC Act requires that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ensures that wireline phones made after August 1989, and all “essential” telephones, are hearing aid- compatible.
- In 2003, the FCC established rules for the hearing aid compatibility of wireless phones. In 2016, the FCC updated the HAC rules.
- By October 2021, the FCC required that manufacturers must make 85% of their mobile handsets HAC.
- By April 2022, service providers such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and others must also ensure 85% of their offerings are HAC.
- The 2016 order also created a HAC Task Force to look into the feasibility of having 100% HAC mobile handset offerings.
- The FCC has also updated the rules, ensuring that by 2023 all wireless handsets newly certified as HAC must include volume control suitable for consumers with hearing loss.
For more information, visit this website:
Hearing Aid Compatible Mobile Handsets-Federal Communications Commission (fcc.gov)
How do I connect my hearing devices to my wireless phone?
To determine which wireless phone works best for you, it’s important to find out how you hear best on the phone. There are several ways to do that:
- Microphone mode. Your hearing devices include microphones that “listen” and bring sound to your hearing aid.
- You can hold your phone up to the microphone in your hearing devices. Ask your audiologist or hearing instrument specialist where that microphone is.
- You can put the wireless phone on speaker phone and use both your hearing devices in microphone mode.
- Telecoil mode. Many hearing aids and all cochlear implants have telecoils. Ask for it. They allow you to shut down the microphone and get a direct connection to your phone, allowing you listen with reduced background noise.
- You can hold up your phone to your ear and switch your hearing device to telecoil mode.
- You can plug a neckloop into the headphone jack of your wireless phone (this may take an adaptor for your neckloop) and switch to telecoil mode on your hearing devices.
- Bluetooth (BT). BT connections provide another way to directly stream the sound of the voice from the person speaking on the phone to your hearing device(s).
- Most wireless phones have BT connectivity, as do many hearing aids and some cochlear implants. Some are proprietary; for example, Apple uses MFi that connects an iPhone to a made-for-iPhone hearing aid. Choose the phone that works best with the hearing device you have.
- Some hearing aids connect to a remote streamer that can be paired to a wireless phone.
- With each of these options, remember that the phone should be nearby but does not need to be held to the ear.
Ratings for phones
Once you know how you want to connect to your wireless phone, you’ll be able to choose the phone that works best for you. Look for the HAC rating for the phone. These ratings help you determine whether the phone you’d like to buy will work with your hearing devices.
Ratings for microphone or telephone mode:
- All wireless phones have a rating for their ability to reduce interference with hearing aids operating in microphone mode—from M1 to M4.
- Wireless phones are also rated—from T1 to T4—for their ability to operate with hearing aids that contain a telecoil.
- Wireless phones rated “M3,” “M4,” “T3,” or “T4” meet FCC requirements and are likely to generate less interference with hearing devices than those that aren’t rated as highly.
What else do I need to know?
Wireless phones are getting better at adopting accessibility features, some of which are built into the wireless phone. Only you can know which are most valuable to you:
- Audio, Visual and Vibrating Alerts
- Closed Captioning for Video
- HD Voice
- Text Communications
- Video Conferencing
- Volume Control
- Wireless Emergency Alerts
CTIA, the Wireless Association, has built a website that provides information about HAC phones and features that work for people with hearing loss. To learn more about these features, go to CTIA Access Wireless - Deaf or Hard of Hearing.
CTIA also teamed up with the Mobile and Wireless Forum (MWF) to bring you a cell phone database that shows you phones with accessible features. This tool is called the Global Accessibility Reporting Initiative. CTIA Access Wireless - Find Accessible Devices allows you to use the database to choose the features you want in your wireless phone and find the phone best suited to you.
Thirty years ago, the few people who had wireless phones would not have found them compatible with their hearing devices. Today, you can find the features you want on a wireless phone that is HAC.
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