People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing
AccessWireless.Org can help you learn more about the accessible cell phone features for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. On this page, you will find information about hearing aid compatibility (“HAC”), closed captioning, video and text communications, and visual displays.
Check out the five-part video series Hearing Aid Compatibility: Choosing a Cell Phone that Works for You to learn more about searching for HAC rated cell phones.
For people who prefer to communicate with video using sign language or speech reading, use the Mobile Manufacturer Forum’s GARI feature to search for phones that support video conferencing. Click “Find a Phone” at the top left of your screen or “Phones” on the right side of your screen to get started with GARI.
These accessibility features can be built-in to a cell phone for individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf:
- Audio, Visual and Vibrating Features - You can assign specific audible, visual, and vibrating alerts for functions like incoming calls or messages, calendar events and confirming keyboard inputs. You can also assign, create, purchase and download distinctive ringtones at frequencies you can hear more easily.
- Bluetooth®, Loopsets, Neckloops, or Silhouette Compatible -Cell phones may be compatible with some Hearing Assistive Technology ("HAT") accessories like neckloops, inductive silhouettes or headsets. A neckloop is a wire worn around the neck that plugs into your cell phone. A silhouette looks like a very thin hook that plugs into a cell phone, and is worn behind your hearing aid. Both neckloops and silhouettes magnetically couple with the t-coils in hearing aids and deliver sounds directly from the phone, reducing background and ambient noise. Some hearing aids may also connect via Bluetooth® to your cell phone through a remote control/streamer.
- Closed Captioning for Video - Wireless devices that support video programming capabilities can also support open captions, closed captions or subtitling for video. When available, captions appear onscreen just like the closed captions on TV.
- HD Voice - Wireless handsets that support HD Voice provide a fuller, more natural sounding voice calling experience, plus noise cancelling technology that helps to reduce background noise. The HD Voice feature must be available on both wireless handsets to function.
- Hearing Aid Compatible - Many wireless handsets are rated for hearing aid compatibility (“HAC”) for voice calls. Check out "HAC Overview" and "HAC FAQs" below for more information.
- Hearing Aid Menu - The telecoil function on some cell phones requires user activation. It may be labeled “Hearing Aid Mode” or “Hearing Aid Compatible Menu.”
- Text Communications - Text-based communications such as email, short message service (SMS), instant messaging (IM) and other messaging services are vital for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Apps with similar text-based web services can also be downloaded.
- TTY Compatible - Cell phones usually work with certain Text Telephone (TTY) devices. This feature must be enabled on your wireless device and may require an adaptor (sometimes called a dongle).
- Video Conferencing - Some cell phones support two-way video conferencing services depending on the phone's capabilities and speed of available wireless service. Look for a “front-facing” camera in a wireless device that supports video conferencing.
- Visual Displays to Indicate Call Functions - Some phones use visual indicators like written characters, icons or flashing lights on the display screen to show the phone’s status, indicating the device is ringing, in use, busy or turned on or off.
- Volume Control - Most phones allow you to adjust the loudness of a ringer or speaker when talking on the phone.
- Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) - WEA is an alerting network designed to disseminate emergency alerts to mobile devices such as cell phones and smartphones to enhance public safety. Look for a special WEA symbol on the device packaging to determine whether a cell phone supports WEA.
- Customization- If a cell phone does not have a built-in accessibility feature, ask a wireless carrier representative if it can be customized by adding or downloading applications ("apps"). Third-party developers may offer wireless device apps that add relay services and Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) functions like screen readers and automatic dialing.
- Communication Service for the Deaf- CSD (also known as Communication Service for the Deaf, Inc.) is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to providing broad–based services, ensuring public accessibility and increasing public awareness of issues affecting deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Through global leadership and a continuum of quality communication services and human service programs, CSD provides the tools conducive to a positive and fully integrated life. www.c-s-d.org
- Hearing Loss Association of America - The Hearing Loss Association of America is the nation's largest organization for people with hearing loss. The Hearing Loss Association of America impacts on communication access, public policy, research, public awareness, and service delivery related to hearing loss. www.hearingloss.org
- National Association of the Deaf - The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) is the nation's premier civil rights organization of, by and for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in the United States of America. The advocacy scope of the NAD is broad, covering a lifetime and impacting future generations in the areas of early intervention, education, employment, health care, technology,telecommunications, youth leadership, and more – improving the lives of millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans. www.nad.org
- Telecommunications Access Program at Gallaudet University - The Technology Access Program (TAP) conducts research related to communication technologies and services, with the goal of producing knowledge useful to industry, government, and deaf and hard of hearing consumers in the quest for equality in communications. The program provides education to Gallaudet students through coursework and mentored research projects related to TAP's research mission. tap.gallaudet.edu
- Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. - TDI was established in 1968 originally to promote further distribution of TeleType machines (TTYs) in the deaf community and to publish an annual national directory of TTY numbers. Today, it is an active national advocacy organization that provides leadership in achieving equal access to telecommunications, media, and information technologies for 36 million Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing. www.tdi-online.org
- Wireless RERC - Funded since 2001, the Wireless RERC (Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center) has become a recognized leader on issues and solutions related to the accessibility and usability of mobile wireless products and services by people with disabilities. The Wireless RERC's mission is to promote equitable access to and use of wireless technologies by people with disabilities and encourage the adoption of Universal Design in future generations of wireless devices and applications. www.wirelessrerc.org
The FCC, accessibility advocates, hearing aid industry and wireless industry representatives created a rating system to help consumers with hearing aids find a compatible wireless handsets. HAC ratings show how the wireless handset will work with the hearing aid in microphone mode ("M") and in telecoil mode ("T"). Only handsets that meet the minimum rating for HAC, "M3" or "T3," and higher are labeled “HAC”. A higher "M" rating means it’s more likely that your hearing aid will work with a cell phone when your hearing aid is set to microphone mode. A higher "T" rating means a better chance that your hearing aid will work with a cell phone when your hearing aid set to the telecoil mode.
Information about whether a wireless handset is rated for HAC can be found in three places: 1) on the display cards next to devices in a wireless carrier’s retail stores; 2) on wireless handset packaging; and 3) on the handset vendor’s or wireless carrier’s website for the particular device model. Hearing loss and hearing aids are highly individualized, so always try a wireless handset in the store to see how it works before you buy it.
If you can’t find an accessible cell phone, talk with a hearing healthcare professional or wireless carrier representative about accessible options and which phones work best with Assistive Technology like TTYs, neckloops, and relay services.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why do I get interference on my hearing aid from wireless handsets?
The digital electronics revolution has greatly improved wireless communications. However, digital cell phone signals and hearing aids may unintentionally create interference or a buzzing sound for the hearing aid wearer, making it difficult or impossible to hear the telephone conversation. (The older-style analog phones transmitted the signal in a format that didn’t interfere with hearing aids.)
Today, wireless manufacturers and service providers offer many wireless devices that are Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC), which means they work better with hearing aids. If you have a hearing aid or cochlear implant, you should look for wireless devices with this feature.
What is a telecoil?
Some hearing aids use a small device called a telecoil made for telephone and assistive listening devices. The telecoil picks up magnetic fields generated by telephones or other assistive devices and converts these fields into sound. Telecoils let you turn up the volume of a hearing aid without creating feedback or "whistling," and can reduce background noise.
The telecoil setting must be enabled, either by switching a hearing aid to the "T" position or pushing a button to select it.
What is T-coil coupling?
Some hearing aids have a T-coil device, which picks up low-level magnetic signals from a phone. When a T-coil is used with a compatible wireless phone, the microphone on the hearing aid is turned off and the phone’s sound comes through magnetic signals. Because the microphone is off, T-coils help eliminate background noise so the user hears only the phone conversation. Not all wireless phones are designed for T-coil coupling.
What are hearing aid compatible (HAC) wireless handsets?
The wireless industry rates wireless handsets to show their compatibility with various hearing devices. Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC) ratings are listed as "M" or "T" to show how the wireless handset will work with the hearing aid in microphone mode ("M") and in telecoil mode ("T"). Wireless handsets rated “M3”, “M4”, “T3” or “T4” meet Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements, and are likely to generate less interference with hearing devices than those that aren’t labeled. A higher number means a higher rating.
Since 2003, the FCC has required that certain digital wireless telephones, like cell phones and smartphones, be accessible to people who use hearing aids. The Commission required wireless phone manufacturers and service providers to do things to reduce interference and to provide capability for T-coil coupling. Today, wireless manufacturers and service providers offer a wide range of wireless handsets with a wide range of features and prices to meet the needs of hearing aid wearers. Check out the FCC's Disability Rights Office and Wireless Bureau for information about HAC for wireless handsets.
How will I know if a wireless handset is hearing aid compatible (HAC)?
Only wireless handsets that meet the minimum rating for HAC are labeled. If you see an "M3," "M4," "T3" or "T4" on the box, the phone has been designated as HAC. The information is found in three places: 1) on the display cards next to the handsets in retail stores; 2) on wireless handset packaging; and 3) in the product's manual or packaging insert.
Visit a wireless carrier’s store or talk to a healthcare professional who can answer your questions and help you find the HAC rating for a wireless handset. AccessWireless.Org also has educational videos below to demonstrate a model in-store sales experience for a HAC wireless handset.
Do hearing aid compatible (HAC) wireless handsets look any different from other wireless handsets?
No. The features are built in to any HAC-rated wireless handset. Wireless manufacturers and service providers offer a wide range of HAC wireless handsets, allowing you to pick the phone you like best.
Are hearing aid compatible (HAC) wireless handsets more expensive than wireless handsets without HAC?
No. The range of features and functions of wireless handset will impact the price, but a wireless handset's HAC rating will not. Service provider owned and operated stores will offer a range of phones with varying features and prices.
Do the FCC hearing aid compatible (HAC) regulations guarantee that I will be able to use a wireless handset with my hearing aid?
While there is no guarantee; wireless handsets with a HAC rating should improve usability for hearing aid users. Hearing loss, hearing aids and cochlear implants are highly individualized so try a wireless handset with your hearing aid and/or cochlear implant before you buy
How do I know if my hearing aids will work with my wireless handset?
First and foremost, you should try before you buy. If you typically use your cell phone with a telecoil on your hearing aid or cochlear implant, be sure to use the telecoil feature while testing the phone in the store.
Most new hearing aids contain Radio Frequency (RF) immune circuitry and about half contain a telecoil. This means they are designed for wireless devices with lower RF emissions and magnetic coupling ability. Your hearing healthcare professional can tell you if your hearing aid is immune to RF interference; You may need to contact or visit the website for the manufacturer of your hearing aid to determine its immunity rating. Your hearing healthcare professional can also tell you if your hearing aid contains a telecoil.
Hearing Aid Compatibility Videos Choosing a Cell Phone That Works For You
The Wireless Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (Wireless RERC) and CTIA - The Wireless Association® present Hearing Aid Compatibility: Choosing a Cell Phone That Works For You.
This is a five-part video series to help consumers choose a hearing aid compatible wireless device that meets their needs. Each video breaks down the information consumers need into easy to understand segments.
The first segment presents information regarding Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) and wireless devices as told by a certified audiologist.
The second segment demonstrates a suggested "try and buy" process between a customer representative and a customer at an actual wireless carrier's retail store.
Introduction To Hearing Aid Compatibility
In This Video:
- Finding Useful Web Resources
- What Works: Understanding Hearing Aid Compatibility And The Rating System
- Understanding The Difference Between Microphone Mode And Telecoil Mode
- What Cell Phone Ratings Mean
Text Transcript for Part I Video
Top of Page
How To Use Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) Ratings To Choose Your Wireless Device
In This Video:
- Using Hearing Aids With Cell Phones
- Identifying Cochlear Implant Compatibility Issues
- About T-Coil Mode
- Choosing A Cell Phone By Combining Your Hearing Aid Rating And Cell Phone Ratings
- Using Different Carrier/Service Provider Technologies
Text Transcript for Part 2 Video
Top of Page
Helpful Tips Before Beginning Your Search
In This Video:
- Learning About The Design Of A Wireless Device: Clamshell Vs Candybar Styles
- Identifying Features Of Cell Phones: Ringtones, Vibration, Texting, Email
- Identifying Helpful Hearing Assistive Technology And Wireless Accessories: Neck Loop, Bluetooth Options
Text Transcript for Part 3 Video
Top of Page
Beginning Your Search For The Right Wireless Device
In This Video:
- Knowing What To Tell The Sales Associate
- Determining A Carrier Or Service Provider’s Return Or Exchange Policy
- Determining Which HAC Rating To Look For
- Looking For HAC Ratings On Display Cards
Text Transcript for Part 4 Video
Top of Page
Testing Your New Cell Phone
In This Video:
- Testing Your Phone In-Store
- Testing Helpful Accessories
- Testing Your New Phone At Home
Text Transcript for Part 5 Video
Top of Page