Hearing aids and mobile phones haven’t always gotten along as well as they do today. The complex electronics in both products often caused static, dropped words or squealing interference noises. Technology enhancements along with new government regulations have mostly eliminated this problem. Today cell phone – hearing aid compatibility is not the problem it used to be. 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 instead uses an inductive process to pick up electromagnetic signals inside the phone directly, without the need for a microphone. Roughly 60 percent of all cell phones sold in the United States have a telecoil (T) mode.
The two modes – M and T – are each rated on a scale of 1 to 4 where 1 is the lowest sensitivity and 4 is the highest. 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. A combined rating of 6 or more is considered excellent, a hearing aid/phone combination that would provide highly usable, interference-free performance. If the combined rating is 5, this combination is considered normal and suitable for most regular phone use. A sum of 4 is considered acceptable, but if you are a heavy mobile phone user, you may be disappointed or frustrated with this choice.
This combined rating system makes it easy to shop for a mobile phone online, because it easily allows you to determine how compatible it 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.