People experiencing different degrees of hearing loss find phone conversations difficult and frustrating. They require mobile phones for the hearing impaired to compensate for the lack of physical interaction during a phone call which compounds hearing difficulties. This is because they cannot read the other person’s lips or facial expressions to try to understand the conversation. Fortunately, the hard of hearing now have phone options to choose from, although some research is required prior to making a purchase.
This article aims to present some of the necessary research information that should be considered prior to selection of a cell phone option.
General Challenges Faced by the Hearing Impaired
Some cell phones may receive radio frequency feedback when used by those with hearing aids or cochlear implants. This causes static, whistling or buzzing sounds. The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 mandated that additional phone options be designed to work with hearing aids and cochlear implants for equal access to the national telecommunications network.
Some phone companies provide a regularly updated list of devices that are suitable for those with hearing loss while others allow customers to test devices with their hearing aid or cochlear implant to determine which phone provides the most benefit for them. This is one reason why specific cell phone recommendations are not made in this article.
Important Considerations Before You Buy Mobile Phones for the Hearing Impaired
There are several considerations when purchasing a mobile phone which include
- phone ratings,
- length of trial periods,
- added features,
- deaf or hard of hearing plans, and
- additional accessibility features.
Many individuals are unaware of the different services offered by mobile phone companies. Depending on the provider, the model of the phone, and the hearing aid, several features can be offered to individuals with hearing loss. It is important to be aware that this varies between providers.
Ratings of Cell Phones and Compatible Hearing Aids
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has mandated all cell phone manufacturers to rate their products’ hearing aid compatibility using the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) C63.19 standard. M-ratings and T-ratings are designed to diminish outside noises and interference.
The scale provides measurements from 1 to 4. The lower the rating, the more likelihood to have hearing aid/device interference with the cell phone. It is suggested that individuals first test several devices before making a final decision. Usually, the notation of hearing aid compatibility will be displayed on the cell phone packaging, display tag, the company’s website, and in the device’s user manual (FCC, 2021)
Cell phones have an M (microphone) rating. Cell phones work better with hearing aids to block unwanted noise considerably when they are set in microphone mode M3 or M4 rating. Most people use phones with an M3 rating.
People with severe hearing loss must turn on the T (telecoil) in their hearing aid to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. T4 is the best rating. Cell phones that work well with cochlear implants or hearing aids with a T-coil have a T3 or T4 rating.
Note that individual experience with a particular cell phone will depend on the type of hearing aid used. Behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids often experience more interference than in-the-ear-canal (ITE) hearing aids. Furthermore, some apps on the phone may interfere with the quality of sound – such as, the phone’s backlight which may affect telecoil transmission.
Features and Plans
If the phone does not work with one’s hearing aid or cochlear implant, depending on the provider it can be returned within a certain window of time though they often charge a restocking fee.
Some providers offer features like real-time text (RTT), Text Telephone (TTY), and Relay services. Other compatible phones have accessible features like vibrate on ring, LED flash for alerts, personalized messaging, video call capabilities, and closed captioning.
Deaf or Hard of Hearing Plans
Most providers offer special data-only and unlimited texting plans that disable voice calls to customers that prefer not to use the voice option.
Typical Features of Mobile Phones For the Hearing Impaired
The cell phone options for the hearing impaired are not as many as landline options although phone providers are more increasingly ensuring hearing aid compatibility of phones. Several key features of cell phones for the hearing impaired include the following
- Extra loud speakers
- Large key buttons for easier operation
- Large screen
- Hearing aid compatibility – the cell phone has been tested for the level of audible interference or radio frequency interference. Cell phones are given an M-rating. The higher the M-rating, the lower the radio frequency emissions and the better the signal quality. For good call quality, the M-rating of the cell phone and hearing aid should add up to at least a rating of five.
- Telecoils – Many modern hearing aids are built with telecoils which convert magnetic signals from cell phones into sounds. Telecoils do not whistle or create feedback since they only receive sound from the electronic device. Bluetooth hearing aids have t-coils to pick up radio and electromagnetic signals from streamers that convert Bluetooth signals from TVs, music players, cell phones, and more.
- TTY compatibility – A TTY or TTD, Telecommunication Device for the Deaf, is used by deaf and hearing-impaired people and is built into modern phones.
TTY devices are keyboard devices which attach to landlines and cell phones. They allow users to type messages back and forth. However, both users must have the TTY device to allow them to write back and forth. The written messages are sent through the phone line.
In the absence of a TTY device, a cell phone with a large screen and keyboard can be purchased instead.
Hearing disability is not a hinderance to the use of cell phones. With increasing technology improvements each year, designs are being made to mobile phones for the hearing impaired to continue to provide an enhanced quality of life
Mobile Phone Features offered by Phone Companies to Individuals with Hearing Loss. Lucy Hinderliter B.S., Emma Freeman B.S., Linda Thibodeau Ph.D – Univ Texas at Dallas https://cpb-us-e2.wpmucdn.com/labs.utdallas.edu/dist/0/126/files/2021/11/Hinderliter-Freeman-Poster-FINAL.pdf