The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act requires the FCC to ensure all wireline 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.
Hearing aid compatible phones have an internal feature which electromagnetically transfers sound signals directly to hearing aids and cochlear implants equipped with telecoils (or T-coils). In the United States, about 60 percent of hearing aids contain telecoils. Many people report feedback or "squealing" when they place the handset of the telephone or mobile phone 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.
Consumer tip: Some people using hearing aids in telecoil coupling mode may need to place the telephone slightly behind the ear rather than directly over the ear to obtain the clearest signal.
What are the requirements for hearing aid compatibility for wireline telephones?
FCC rules require that wireline phones subject to the HAC Act:
- Produce a magnetic field of sufficient strength and quality to permit coupling with hearing aids that contain telecoils.
- Provide an adequate range of volume.
FCC rules also generally require that telephones allow volume to be increased to accommodate individuals with hearing loss whether or not they use hearing aids. Telephones allowing high volume levels must automatically reset to a lower volume each time the handset is returned to an on-hook condition. Telephone equipment manufacturers may request a waiver permitting high volume telephones to remain at the high volume setting under certain conditions.
Are there labeling requirements for wireline phones?
Telephones that are hearing-aid compatible must be labelled as "HAC."
What additional technology considerations are there 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 systems using Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) cellular wireless networks than on systems using Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM). It is also easier to meet hearing aid compatibility standards in handsets with flip phone designs than in other styles, due to the speaker being farther away from other components of the phone – such as the device's battery, backlight or wireless antenna – thus reducing the potential of electromagnetic interference with the T-coil.
Digital wireless telephones sometimes cause interference because of electromagnetic energy emitted by the telephone's antenna, backlight, or other components.
What are the requirements for hearing aid compatibility for digital wireless telephones?
The standard for compatibility of digital wireless handset with hearing aids is American National Standard Institute standard C63.19. A digital wireless handset is considered hearing-aid compatible if it meets a "T3" or "U3T" rating, or higher, under the ANSI standard. This is a rating of the telecoil compatibility of the handset.
The hearing aid with the telecoil should also have a rating, such as T1, T2, or T3. To determine how well the handset and the hearing aid will function together, combine the T ratings for both. For example, a T3 handset used with a T3 hearing aid, gives a sum of 6, which is considered "best" or "excellent".
In addition to rating the telecoil functionality of wireless handsets, the ANSI standard also provides a method for rating RF emissions of handsets and hearing aids. This rating is important even when a hearing aid user uses the microphone for audio input, instead of using a telecoil. The RF ratings are given as M1 to M4, with M1 being the least immune to RF emissions and M4 being the most immune. A digital wireless handset must have an M3 rating or higher to be considered hearing-aid compatible. To determine whether a particular digital wireless telephone is likely to work well with a particular hearing aid, add the immunity rating of the hearing aid to the rating of the handset. A sum of 4 indicates the telephone is usable, 5 indicates normal use, and 6 or greater indicates the telephone would provide excellent performance for hearing aid users.
What are the 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.
- Manufacturers and service providers are required to post information about their hearing-aid compatible handset offerings on their websites.
Some hearing aid manufacturers are voluntarily including additional information about hearing aid compatibility with their products.
Some handsets are capable of using wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, 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
Be sure to try your wireless device with your hearing aid in the store before making your purchase. It's best to try several models before buying one, so that you can find the best match between the wireless handset and 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 outdoors, and in many different locations during the return period for the handset.
Filing a complaint
If you have a problem using a hearing aid with a wireline phone that is supposed to be hearing-aid compatible, first try to resolve it with the equipment manufacturer or your service provider. If you can't resolve the issue directly, you have multiple options for filing a complaint with the FCC:
- File a complaint online
- By phone: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322)
- By mail (please include your name, address, contact information and as much detail about your complaint as possible):
Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554
What to include in your complaint
Your complaint should include:
- The make and model number of the equipment or device you are complaining about.
- The name, address, and telephone number (if known) of the company or companies involved in your complaint.
- A brief description of your complaint and the resolution you are seeking, and a full description of the equipment or service you are complaining about, including date of purchase, use or attempt to use.
More on Accessibility
For more information about FCC programs to promote access to telecommunications services for people with disabilities, visit the FCC's Disability Rights Office website.
Manufacturers and service providers must annually report to the FCC on the hearing-aid compatible handsets that they offer. A list of all the compatible handsets offered by manufacturers during the most recent reporting period is available here.
Additional information on compatible handsets offered by particular service providers during the most recent reporting period is available here.
Consumers may search for contact information for a company's accessibility customer care representative here.