Until very recently, wearers of hearing aids who wanted to use cell phones have often had to endure some frustrating barriers to attaining clear communication. Annoying difficulties such as static and interference often have caused many hearing aid patients to shy away from cell phone usage altogether. Many have felt that their pleas for improved compatibility have gone unheard.
Help is on the way! After much discussion and deliberation, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) finally responded to these requests and has adopted regulations that require both cell phone manufacturers and cell phone providers to provide phones that sound clearer to the hearing aid wearer. (See the link for the FCC below.) Now, all cell phones are required to have both a T-rating and an M-rating that will indicate how well they will work with hearing aids. Improvements include less static and interference, and on some phones, better communication with the telecoil (T-coil) program that is included on the hearing aids.
Your first step should be to consult with your audiologist and obtain the “T-rating” of your telecoil-equipped hearing aid. Armed with this information you will be ready to go shopping for a new cell phone. When you get to the cell phone store, the cell phones (or their boxes) will be marked with either an “M” rating or a “T” rating. The higher the “M” or “T” number (up to 4), the more likely it will be capable of providing you with improved sound clarity. The T rating means the cell phone will connect with a telecoil-equipped hearing aid; if your hearing aid does NOT have a telecoil, the T rating will have no effect on the clarity. The M rating refers to a reduction in interference when the phone is held up to a hearing aid. Note that your hearing aid will also have an M rating, up to 4. The overall clarity of the phone when coupled with your hearing aid will depend on the total of both numbers when added together. (The number of the rating from the cell phone PLUS the number of the rating from your hearing aid is the overall total number.) Ideally, you will want a total of six (3 + 3) or greater for optimal clarity.
If you are interested in hands-free options for use with your hearing aids, there are a number of excellent products available on the market. Some of the latest and most technologically advanced hearing aids, such as the Clear products from Widex, and the new line of hearing aids from Phonak, are able to directly couple to cell phones via a “streaming” type of device that the user either wears around his or her neck, or carries in their pocket. This allows the sound to go directly from the cell phone into the hearing aids, thus providing optimal clarity with reduced outside noise interference.
If you would like to adapt your current hearing aid for use with your cell phone (and you have a telecoil-equipped hearing aid) there is a device that makes this possible. The CLA7 Amplified Power Neck Loop manufactured by ClearSounds is capable of connecting directly to a cell phone (or to an iPod) for hands-free use (it utilizes your hearing aid’s telecoil program).
Provided below are the internet web addresses for two handy neck loop comparison guides; one for non-Bluetooth-enabled devices and one for Bluetooth-enabled devices (see end of article).
The takeaway advice here is this: You CAN successfully use cell phones with hearing aids; just be sure to “try before you buy” when it comes to selecting your new cell phone. Look for the highest T and M ratings and try it out in the store with your hearing aids and a familiar voice. Any one of ACA’s audiologists will be happy to work with you to determine which set-up is best for your needs. It is clearly no longer necessary to avoid cell phone use just because you wear hearing aids.
FCC Consumer Facts on Cell Phone/Hearing Aid Compatibility:
Neck Loop and Ear Hook Comparison Guide (from TecEar):
Bluetooth T-coil Headset Comparison Guide (from TecEar):