Searching for cellphones for hard of hearing is one of the challenges that we face when having a hearing loss. With 63% of the world population using cell phones, they are becoming a commodity for all of us on this planet Earth.

When we talk about cellphones, or mobile phones depending on where you are, they come in various types. Smartphones are one of the most popular types because they offer the ability to use your phone as a computer device. It has a screen instead of a keypad. There are still cellphones that have keypads and a small screen available to buy online. Also,  there are cellphones designed for seniors too. The options for cellphones are plenty. You can always find a cellphone that has features that you are looking for today. What needs to be evaluated further is whether it can accommodate your hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Legal guidelines for cellphones for hard of hearing

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiated standards to help people with a hearing loss. This regulatory body approves products being made and sold in the United States. They decided to implement a Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 (HAC Act) to enforce standards on manufacturers to build hearing aid compatible cellphones and smartphones. Before there were no cellphones for the hard of hearing. The rest of the world naturally benefited from this regulation because many manufacturers were designing mobile phones to service more Americans adopting to mobile phone.

The HAC Act applies to all types of telephone communications, not just mobile phones. Fast forward to 2010, further regulations were set in, when cellphones became mainstream from 1988. One of the rules enforced was that mobile phones had to be hearing aid compatible.  Another regulation was that cellphones needed internet access to allow for electronic messaging and video conferencing services.

As for hearing aid compatible phones, manufacturers had to produce some phones to be hearing aid compatible. Cellphone manufacturers are required to ensure that one-half to one-third of their mobile phones models are hearing aid compatible. This means every brand you see in North America, you should expect at least one-third of them to be hearing aid compatible.

This regulation has made our lives much better. We can now use cellphones with our hearing aids. Cellphones for hard of hearing became much better in quality because of the regulation.

The Mechanics of cellphones that make it compatible

Acoustic and Inductive coupling hearing aids

Majority of the hearing aids on the market can have acoustic and inductive coupling features. Acoustic coupling is the setting on our hearing aids that allows us to hear everything with no filtering of sounds coming into the hearing aid. It is essentially the microphone(s) in our hearing aid that is picking up the sound.

Inductive coupling is a different feature. This is known as the t-switch, or telecoil, as seen on many hearing aids. Not all hearing aids have the t-switch. Mainly hearing aids that are the in-the-ear and behind-the-ear models because people with severe to profound hearing loss benefits the most. You can use your hearing aid with a cellphone or a telephone with the t-switch. The t-switch is designed to enable the hearing aid to pick the electromagnetic signals from the telephone and filter background noises. This also helps with feedback, those squealing noises that appear when we place our hearing aids close to the phone.

With a regular phone, t-switch is a great feature. However, digital mobile phones are known to cause the most interference with electromagnetic signals. Using a t-switch with a cell phone can make it difficult to hear the caller. A few of the reasons are because the back-light (the light used to make the screen visible), and the position of the antenna to pick us the call, cause the interference to occur. 

Mobile phone manufacturers are now obligated to build cellphone devices that are compatible with both the microphone and the telecoil. The FDA has created a ranking system to identify which cellphones for the hard of hearing are compatibility. Mainly there are two ratings, ‘M’ and ‘T.’ The ‘M’ is related to microphones on our hearing aids in relations to the cellphone, and the other is the ‘T’,  the telecoil feature on our hearing aids when used with a cellphone. Both ‘M’ and ‘T’ has a score from one to four. One is the least compatible, and four is the most compatible. You want to aim for a phone that has a ranking 3 or above to be safe. So, T3 and M3 are considered hearing aid compatible. Anything less is not.

You may not be aware that your hearing aids have a ranking as well to determine how compatible they are to cellphones. If your hearing aid along with the cellphone receives a total score of 4 and above, you have a hearing aid that will work with that particular cellphone. An overall rating of 4 means your hearing aid will work not entirely, but it will be okay to use. A score of 5 means that you will be comfortable using a cellphone, and 6+ means you will have excellent performances.

CDMA and GMS Phones

Another requirement that makes a good cellphone for the hard of hearing is the type of radio channel that the phone uses. Cellphones can be grouped into two parts: devices that operate locally and devices that operate internationally.

The local devices are often referred to using the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) air interface. These phones only can work with a few mobile phone carriers, mainly in North America. Sprint, Verizon, and Virgin Mobile all have CDMA phones. CDMA phones are not hearing aid compatible.

Now a Global System for Mobile (GSM) cellphone allows you to use your cellphone anywhere around the world. These are the type of mobile phone where if you have access to switching your SIM card to a local carrier, your mobile phone will operate without any issues. GSM phones can work automatically with a foreign mobile carrier if your home carrier has international partners.  GSM phones are hearing aid compatible. If you choose a CDMA phone, it’s going to be less hearing aid compatible than a GSM phone.

Amplification

One of the criteria for a cellphone for the hard of hearing is having volume control. The volume of the sound can be a big issue for people wearing a hearing aid and cochlear implant. Which is why the FDA wants to ensure that cellphones do include a volume control that will support people with a hearing loss. The FDA is highly supportive for people with a hearing loss because they see the value of mobile phones. They want to see all kinds of phones being compatible. They believe that you never know when a hard of hearing individual is in an emergency situation and needs to borrow a phone.

Therefore in 2020, we should expect to see all wireless phones have a volume control to a level suitable to assist people with a hearing loss. This includes VoIP services and modern landline phones.

Design

The design of the phone plays a huge part in making a phone hearing aid compatible. One type of phone design that are perfect cellphones for hard of hearing is the flip phones. These are the cellphones that fold in half when not in use. These phones work perfectly for people with a hearing loss because they do not give off any interference or buzzing noises that block us from hearing the person on the other line. The reason why the flip phone works because the microphone and the speakers are far apart. Flip phones are not as popular anymore, and it’s hard to find through your mobile carrier, but you can always find them around online.

Accessibility features on cellphones for hard of hearing

Many cellphones now have accessibility features. You can access accessibility features through the settings of your phone or a type of application on the phone. Below we will show you several features that will be useful for you.

Messaging

Sending text message is an application available on all cellphone. They provide a great alternative if it is just too troublesome or cumbersome to talk on the phone. We are fortunate to have the ability to SMS (short messaging service), email, or MMS (multimedia messaging service) to send short, long or video messages, respectively.

Visual and vibrating alert

Being hard of hearing means that we don’t often hear our phone give off noises. When the telephone is ringing, or the phone is sending us a sound notification, we often miss it. Having the option of visual and vibrating alerts is a better alternative. This can be found in the settings of some cellphones. We can use the visual and vibrating features to help alert us to incoming calls, appointment notifications, and alarms, to name a few.

Videoconferencing

If sign language is your preferred method of communication or you enjoy the option of reading lips, having a video communication will be a great option. Many cellphones and mobile carriers offer the ability to do peer-to-peer phone calls without incurring additional charges.

Captioning

Cellphones like iPhone have made it easier for you to source caption movies, TV shows or podcasts that you’d like to stream from your phone.

Background light

For smartphone devices, the screen has a brightening feature to help make reading the screen more visible to the reader.  However, these lights affect hearing aids and can cause buzzing sounds to appear. Having a phone that can adjust the background light at a position that will not cause interference with our hearing aid is a huge bonus.

Mono Audio

Sounds come through two channels (left/right) is harder to hear than sounds coming through one channel. The stereo sends audio signals through two channels. Each channels has its own speakers. The mono channel has one signal, channel and speaker. The mono audio switch on the cellphone can help make it easier to listen to the caller from only one channel or speaker.

TTY (Text Telephone)

You can make or send TTY (Text Telephone) calls without the need to have or own TTY hardware. This makes it easy for you to speak to a hearing person with a 3rd party service (Telecommunications Relay Service) to support you in your conversation.

Different types of cellphones for hard of hearing people

I quickly counted 160 different cell phone manufacturers around the world.

For the purpose of the article, I would like to go through popular brands in North America and the UK. I’ll be highlighting only the following brands that understand what it takes to make a cellphone for hard of hearing people: mobile phones that meet our needs. So, the next time you are looking for a cellphone, you have a list of brands and model as a guide.

If you are buying your phone online or through your mobile carriers, I highly suggest that you try the phone that you think will meet your needs. Besides having a hearing aid compatible phone, you may need other amenities to assist you as well. Take advantage of any trial period or use the phone before the last date for refund, as indicated in the return policy when you purchase a phone or sign up for a contract.

Apple

All of Apple cellphone https://support.apple.com/en-ca/HT201466#compatible-devicesdevices are hearing aid compatible.  iPhones operate well with many hearing aids manufacturers to ensure that your hearing aids work well with their phone.

Hearing aid t-coil vs. Bluetooth

The type of hearing aids you have can make all the difference. Telecoil transmits analog signals, and Bluetooth transmits digital signals via a neckloop device. Now you can own hearing aids that can directly communicate with your hearing aid without the Bluetooth neckloop device. So whether you have a t-coil or Bluetooth feature on your hearing aid, it doesn’t matter that much when it comes to cellphones. The only difference is that if you like hearing the caller through both hearing aids or ears, Bluetooth will be something that you need. Above all, Bluetooth also allows you to be hands-free when you are using the phone.

Yet both t-coil and Bluetooth do the same job. These features will allow you to stream audio to your hearing aid and block other sounds. Bluetooth only streams audio directly from the audio source. Hence, you can’t use Bluetooth anywhere else but paired devices. So, if you go to a theatre or the bank or a place where there’s a looped room, you will be able to hear with the telecoil setting on your hearing aid but not with a Bluetooth.

Therefore when you are looking at the link below to view the various cellphones for the hard of hearing, the telecoil technology is robust. Due to the fact that there are more T4s than M4s on the market. Which means you can always find or borrow a phone to be able to hear. I say skip a hearing aid without telecoil. Get the benefit of both world.

List of cellphones for hard of hearing

A list of the best types of cellphones for the hard of hearing are on the Pioneer website. It provides all the latest and up to date list of cellphones plus their ratings. Check out the table for all the various mobile phones on the market with their respected ratings.

I hope this article helps identify cellphones for hard of hearing people. Hence, you will now be able to have critical elements to look for when you are shopping for your next cellphone. We want to connect with our family, friends, and community. A cellphone plays an essential part in that.

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