Searching for the best smartphone is one of the challenges that we face when having a hearing loss. With 63% of the world population using mobile phones, they are becoming a commodity for all of us on this planet Earth.
When we talk about cell phones, smartphones or mobile phones, the name called 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 mobile phones that have keypads and a small screen still available to buy online. Also, there are mobile phones designed for seniors too. Hence, the options for smartphones are plenty. You can always find a smartphone 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.
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 cell phones and smartphones. Before there were no cell phones 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 cell phones became mainstream from 1988. One of the rules enforced was that mobile phones had to be hearing aid compatible. Another regulation was that mobile phones needed internet access to allow for electronic messaging and video conferencing services. Now new developments will allow for future smartphones to have video relay services, captioning on all the calls, and an emergency response system that will make it easier deaf and hard of hearing people to make emergency calls.
As for hearing aid compatible phones, manufacturers had to produce some phones to be hearing aid compatible. Smartphone manufacturers are required to ensure that one-half to one-third of their mobile phone 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 smartphones with our hearing aids. Smartphones for hard of hearing have become much better in quality because of the regulation.
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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 smartphone 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 mobile phone devices that are compatible with both the microphone and the telecoil. The FDA has created a ranking system to identify which mobile phones 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 mobile phone, and the other is the ‘T’, the telecoil feature on our hearing aids when used with a mobile phone. 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 smartphones. If your hearing aid along with the smartphone receives a total score of 4 and above, you have a hearing aid that will work with that particular smartphone. 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 smartphone, and 6+ means you will have excellent performances.
Another requirement that makes a good mobile phone for the hard of hearing is the type of radio channel that the phone uses. Mobile phones 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) mobile phone allows you to use your mobile phone 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.
One of the criteria for a mobile phone 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 mobile phones 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.
The design of the phone plays a huge part in making a phone hearing aid compatible. One type of phone design that are perfect mobile phones for hard of hearing is the flip phones. These are the mobile phones that fold in half when not in use. Flip 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.
Many smartphones 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.
Sending text message is an application available on all smartphone. 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.
Being hard of hearing means that we don’t often hear our phone give off noises. Therefore, 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 smartphones. We can use the visual and vibrating features to help alert us to incoming calls, appointment notifications, and alarms, to name a few.
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 smartphones and mobile carriers offer the ability to do peer-to-peer phone calls without incurring additional charges.
Smartphones 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.
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.
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 smartphone can help make it easier to listen to the caller from only one channel or speaker.
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.
I quickly counted 160 different mobile 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. Firstly, I’ll be highlighting only brands that understand what it takes to make a mobile phone for hard of hearing people: mobile phones that meet our needs. The next time you are looking for a mobile phone, 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. Therefore, 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.
All of Apple smartphone devices are hearing aid compatible. iPhones operate well with many hearing aids manufacturers to ensure that your hearing aids work well with their phone.
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. In other words, whether you have a t-coil or Bluetooth feature on your hearing aid, it doesn’t matter that much when it comes to mobile phones. 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. However, you can’t use Bluetooth anywhere else but paired devices. For instance, 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.
When you are looking at the link below to view the various smartphones for the hard of hearing, telecoil technology is robust. Above all, 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 suggest don’t buy a hearing aid without telecoil. Get the benefit of both world.
A list of the best types of mobile phones for the hard of hearing are on the Pioneer website. It provides all the latest and up to date list of mobile phones 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 mobile phones for hard of hearing people. In conclusion, you will now be able to have critical elements to look for when you are shopping for your next mobile phone. We want to connect with our family, friends, and community. A mobile phone plays an essential part in that.
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