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Deaf or Hard of Hearing

The wireless industry is committed to providing accessible wireless devices to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

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Deaf or Hard of Hearing

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AccessWireless.Org can help you learn more about the wireless devices that are accessible for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. On this page, you will find information about hearing aid compatibility, closed captioning, video and text communications, and visual displays.

For people who prefer to communicate with video using sign language or speech reading, use the Mobile & Wireless Forum’s GARI database 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.

Features

The following accessibility features can be built-in to wireless devices for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing:

  • Audio, Visual, and Vibrating Features – You can assign specific audible, visual, and vibrating alerts for functions like incoming calls or messages, calendar events, and keyboard input confirmation. You can also assign, create, purchase, and download distinctive ringtones at frequencies you can hear more easily.
  • Bluetooth, Loopsets, Neckloops, or Silhouette Compatible – Wireless handsets 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 wireless handset. A silhouette looks like a very thin hook that plugs into a wireless handset, 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 wireless device through a remote control/streamer. Many wireless hearing aids can be paired directly to a device or can be paired with the remote streamer that connects to external devices.
  • 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 and in the wireless networks to function.
  • Hearing Aid Compatibility – Many wireless handsets are rated hearing aid compatible (HAC) for voice calls. Check out “HAC Overview” and “HAC FAQs” below for more information.
  • Hearing Aid Menu – The telecoil function on some wireless handsets 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 available on many wireless devices and can greatly ease communications for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Apps with similar text-based web services can also be downloaded.
  • TTY Compatibility – Wireless devices 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 wireless devices 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 wireless devices 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 to enhance public safety. WEAs must be available on both wireless handsets and in the wireless networks to function. Look for a special WEA symbol on the device packaging to determine whether a device supports WEA.

Resources

Tips for Real-Time Text (RTT)

Benefits: RTT is faster than a text or SMS (Short Message Service). During RTT calls, each participant sees each individual character (letter, number, or symbol) as it is typed by the sender, mirroring spoken conversation. Faster communication can be beneficial during high stress situations—such as an emergency—when you need to quickly relay critical information about your location and state of wellness.

Other benefits of RTT include:

  • Operability with modern smartphone keyboards, allowing users to communicate in multiple languages, use emojis, or type symbols such as the “@” key.
  • Ability to communicate with the same ten-digit phone number that is used to conduct a voice call.
  • Avoiding costly supplemental devices such as TTYs because communication can be conducted solely through your wireless device.
  • Backward compatibility with TTY.
  • Applicability of TTY protocol such as abbreviated text.

Availability: How do I know if RTT works on my device? It is best to follow up with your wireless provider directly to learn about RTT availability for your plan and options for your device. Although RTT features vary based on your wireless provider and the type of device you are using, most of the latest models of smartphones should have RTT capabilities.

Safety: Can I call 911 with RTT? Yes, RTT can be used to connect with first responders during an emergency. If the PSAP (Public Safety Answering Point) you are connecting to is RTT-ready, then RTT communication will operate both ways. In some instances, RTT can also substitute for a TTY.

Usability: Accessing RTT settings on your device varies based on your wireless provider settings and the device that you are using. Some providers install RTT features directly into the software of certain devices. Other providers offer the service via an app that you can download to your smartphone. RTT is a new feature, and the wireless industry is committed to regularly enhancing and expanding the service.

Cost and Billing: The billing structure for RTT calling varies based on your individual plan with your wireless provider. Some providers offer unlimited voice calling as part of an accessibility plan, while others may offer RTT as part of their overall phone plan without additional charge. It is best to follow up with your service provider directly to discuss how RTT fits into your wireless plan. You can find helpful contact information for your provider at AccessWireless.org – Carriers & Services.

Additional Resources on RTT: 

Hearing Aid Compatibility Overview

The FCC, accessibility advocates, the hearing aid industry, and wireless industry representatives created a rating system to help consumers who use hearing aids and cochlear implants find compatible wireless handsets. HAC ratings show how the wireless handset and hearing aids can work together in microphone mode (M) and in telecoil or T-coil mode (T) on a scale of 1-4. Hearing aid devices should have a HAC rating. For both wireless handsets and hearing aids, a higher “M” rating means it’s more likely that your hearing aid will work with a wireless handset 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 wireless handset when your hearing aid is set to the telecoil mode. The FCC considers mobile handsets to be HAC for microphone mode if they are rated at least M3 and HAC for telecoil mode if they are rated at least T3.

Information about whether a wireless handset is rated for hearing aid compatibility can be found on wireless handset packaging, on the handset vendor’s and wireless provider’s website for the particular device model, and on gari.info. Hearing loss and hearing aids are highly individualized, so always try a wireless handset to see how it works before you buy it.

A hearing healthcare professional or wireless provider representative can also answer questions about accessible options and which devices work best with Assistive Technology like TTYs, neckloops, and relay services.

Hearing Aid Compatibility FAQs

Why do I get interference on my hearing aid from my wireless handset?

The digital electronics revolution has greatly improved wireless communications. However, when used together, 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.

Today, wireless handset manufacturers and service providers offer many wireless handsets that are Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC), which are less likely to generate interference when used with hearing aids. If you have a hearing aid or cochlear implant, you should look for a wireless handset with this feature, and try the handset with your hearing device before you buy it.

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What is a telecoil?

Some hearing aids use a small device called a telecoil (or T-coil) made for telephones 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.

In order to function correctly, the telecoil setting must be enabled, either by switching a hearing aid to the “T” position or pushing a button to select it.

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What is T-coil coupling?

Some hearing aids have a T-coil device, which picks up low-level magnetic signals from a phone or assistive listening loop system. When a T-coil is used with a compatible wireless handset (“coupled”), 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 handsets are designed for T-coil coupling.

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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 rated as highly. A higher number means a higher rating.

Since 2003, the FCC has required that a specific number or percentage of digital wireless telephones be accessible to people who use hearing aids. The Commission requires wireless handset manufacturers and service providers to reduce interference. Today, wireless manufacturers and service providers offer a wide range of wireless handsets with a variety of features and prices to meet the needs of hearing aid wearers. Check out the FCC’s information on Disability Rights Office and Wireless Bureau for information about hearing aid compatibility for wireless handsets.

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Do hearing aid compatible (HAC) wireless handsets look any different from other wireless handsets?

No. The features are built in to wireless handsets. Wireless manufacturers and service providers offer a wide range of HAC wireless handsets.

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Are hearing aid compatible (HAC) wireless handsets more expensive than wireless handsets without HAC features?

No. The total range of features and functions of a 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 that can meet your needs and budget.

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Do the FCC hearing aid compatible (HAC) regulations guarantee that I will be able to use a wireless handset with my hearing aid(s)?

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. If you typically use your wireless handset with a telecoil on your hearing aid or cochlear implant, be sure to use the telecoil feature while testing the handset.

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How do I know if my hearing aid(s) will work with my wireless handset?

First and foremost, you should try before you buy. If you typically use your wireless handset with a telecoil on your hearing aid or cochlear implant, be sure to use the telecoil feature while testing the handset.

Many hearing aids contain Radio Frequency (RF) immune circuitry and/or a telecoil. This means they are designed to work with wireless handsets with lower RF emissions and magnetic coupling ability. While 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.

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Hearing Aid Compatibility Videos

Choosing a Cell Phone That Works For You

The Wireless Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (Wireless RERC) and CTIA 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 and wireless devices as told by a certified audiologist.

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Part 1 - Introduction To Hearing Aid Compatibility

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Part 2 - How To Use Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) Ratings To Choose Your Wireless Device

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Part 3 - Helpful Tips Before Beginning Your Search

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Part 4 - Beginning Your Search For The Right Wireless Device

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Part 5 - Testing Your New Cell Phone

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