As more and more American consumers have come to rely on their wireless phones for safety, business, and personal reasons in the past few years, it has become critical that access to digital wireless phones increases for the hearing disabled community. Unfortunately, because of interference and other technological issues, not all digital wireless phones are currently accessible to people who wear hearing aids or have cochlear implants. The FCC recently took an important step to increase the hearing disabled community?s access to the benefits of wireless telephones by requiring equipment manufacturers and wireless service providers to make available more digital wireless phones that are hearing aid compatible.
What prevents me from being able to hear well on my wireless phone when wearing my hearing aid?
Hearing aid users often experience a buzzing sound that makes it difficult or impossible for them to hear conversations over a digital wireless phone. This buzzing typically occurs when the electromagnetic energy emitted by a digital wireless phone's antenna, backlight, or other component, commonly know as RF emissions, interferes with a hearing aid's or cochlear implant's ability to process sound clearly.
People who wear hearing aids containing telecoils will often experience additional difficulties using digital wireless phones. Hearing aids with telecoils avoid unwanted background noise by turning off the microphone and receiving only magnetic fields generated by telecoil-compatible telephones. As most digital wireless phones are not equipped to emit magnetic fields, they do not work with hearing aids containing telecoils.
How will the new FCC rules ensure that hearing aids and wireless phones work better together?
In order to ensure the timely availability of digital wireless phones that are compatible with hearing aids and cochlear implants, the FCC has adopted the following deadlines for the availability of digital wireless phones:
Late summer, 2005: Most digital wireless service providers and phone manufacturers will offer consumers two digital wireless phone models that have reduced RF emissions. Nationwide wireless service providers will offer 25 percent of their digital phone models with reduced RF emissions.
Late summer, 2006: Most digital wireless service providers and phone manufacturers will offer consumers two digital wireless phone models that are telecoil compatible.
February 18, 2008: At least half of the digital wireless phone models offered by most digital wireless service providers and manufacturers will have reduced RF emissions.
How will the new FCC rules work to limit interference and promote compatibility between my hearing aid and my digital wireless phone?
To assist you in finding a hearing aid compatible digital wireless phone, the FCC adopted a uniform hearing aid compatibility scale on which digital wireless phones and hearing aids are rated. Specifically, this scale provides:
Type of phone Best Performance Least Interference Worst Performance Most Interference Telecoil U4T U1T Non-Telecoil Coupling (Acoustic) Mode U4 U1 Type of Hearing Aid Best Immunity to Interference Least Immunity to Interference Immunity Rating U4 U1
You can use these performance ratings to find a digital wireless phone that works well with your hearing aid. If adding the immunity rating of your hearing aid to the emissions rating (or telecoil coupling capability rating) of a wireless handset equals 5 or higher (e.g., a U2 hearing aid and a U3 wireless phone), the two should provide for normal use. If, however, the performance ratings of the phone and your hearing aid add up to less than 5 (e.g., a U2 hearing aid and U1T wireless phone), you will most likely still have trouble hearing phone conversations.
As part of its rules, the FCC has mandated that, according to the implementation schedule described above, most of the hearing aid compatible digital wireless phones offered by wireless service providers and phone manufacturers meet the U3 performance rating, and that a certain number of digital wireless phones meet the U3T performance rating. In addition, the Hearing Aid Industry Association has pledged that all of its members will start producing hearing aids with a U2 or higher immunity rating. This means that, in the near future you will be able locate digital wireless phones that are compatible with your hearing aid. However, recognizing that not all hearing aids will work with all hearing aid compatible phones, the FCC has encouraged service providers and manufacturers to adopt flexible trial use and return policies.
In addition, in order to assist you in locating hearing aid compatible digital phones, the FCC is requiring all hearing aid compatible phones to be labeled with the appropriate rating on their packaging, in their product manual, and for service providers to make this information available to consumers through appropriate means, such as on their websites. The FCC has also encouraged hearing aid manufacturers to label their products in a similar manner.
What can I expect when I purchase a new digital wireless phone?
As the deadlines for digital wireless phone manufacturers and service providers near, you should be able to purchase phones that work with your hearing aid from any wireless service provider or manufacturer. If the provider does not have a given handset available for purchase on site, it is required to do its best to provide you with that wireless phone within 48 hours. In addition, the FCC has encouraged service providers to offer at least one hearing aid compatible handset that is a lower-priced model and one that has higher-end features. In this manner, you should be able to find an appropriate model that fits your service and budgetary needs.
Other than an appropriate hearing aid compatibility rating, what other features should I look for to improve my wireless phone's ability to work with my hearing aid?
You may also find increased compatibility of digital wireless phones with your hearing aid by focusing on the design and operation of the phone itself. Experience has demonstrated that consumers who purchase digital wireless phones that distance the antenna from the hearing aid, such as those with a 'clamshell' (or flip) design, and phones that allow the user to turn 'off' the backlight of the display screen and keypad experience minimized interference and better performance with their hearing aid.
How can I learn more?
The FCC website contains information about the Commission's new digital wireless hearing aid compatibility rules at
For more information on hearing aid compatibility, you can visit the FCC's website at