Hearing aids and mobile phones have not always gotten along as well as they do now. The sophisticated electronics in both devices often triggered static, lost words or screeching interference noises. Fortunately, advances in technology and new government regulations have made the issue “Will this phone work together with my hearing aid?” simpler to answer. To help consumers shop for the right hearing aid compatible cell phone, the new regulations include a standard rating system and labeling requirement.
The first thing you need to understand is that hearing aids operate in two different modes – microphone or “M” mode, and telecoil or “T” mode. In M mode, the hearing aid uses the internal microphone to detect sounds and amplify them. In T mode, the hearing aid uses telecoil technology instead. The hearing aid is able to pick up the electromagnetic signals from inside the phone directly. Roughly 60 percent of all mobile phones sold in the United States have a telecoil (T) mode.
Under the new regulations, these two modes of operation have ratings that range from 1 (the lowest sensitivity) to 4 (the highest sensitivity). To be labeled as hearing aid compatible (HAC) a cell phone must carry a minimum rating of M3 or T3.
In addition, many hearing aids (and cochlear implants) have a similar M and T rating to measure their sensitivity and their resistance to radio frequency interference. When shopping for a phone, to determine its compatibility with your hearing aid, simply add its M and T ratings together with those of the phone to create a combined rating. If you get a combined total of 6 or more, that is thought of as excellent, a combination of hearing aid and phone that will be highly usable. A combined rating of 5 is thought of as normal, and suitable for most people. If the combined rating is 4, this is thought of as acceptable but not very usable if you make a lot of extended phone calls.
If you are shopping for a mobile phone online, you can usually use this combined rating to determine how compatible the phone you are interested in buying will be with your hearing aid. If you are able to shop in a store that allows you to “try before you buy” and actually use the phone you want while wearing your hearing aid, that is of course a better idea.