Hearing aids and cellular phones haven’t always gotten along as well as they do now. The complex electronics in both devices often caused static, dropped words or squealing interference noises. Fortunately, improvements in technology and new government regulations have made the issue “Will this cell phone work 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.
Understanding the rating system requires a bit of knowledge about the modes that hearing aids can operate in. There is an M mode (which stands for microphone) and a T mode (which stands for telecoil). In M mode, your hearing aid uses its built-in microphone to pick up audible sounds from the environment and amplify them so that you can hear 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 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. No mobile phone or cordless handset sold in the United States can be sold as hearing aid compatible (HAC) unless it has a rating of at least 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 sum of 6 or more makes a solid pairing. That hearing aid and cell phone combination should work well for you. If the combined rating is 5, this combination is considered normal and suitable for most regular phone use. A combined rating of 4 is considered usable for brief calls, but may not be suitable for extended phone use.
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.