On August 4, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted new rules to ensure people with hearing loss have full access to wireless devices. As the FCC noted, the action taken “will modernize existing hearing aid compatibility (HAC) rules while maintaining the balance between fostering accessibility and promoting innovation and investment.”
The FCC provides information about hearing aid compatibly on their website. They say:
Hearing aids operate in one of two modes – acoustic coupling or telecoil coupling. Hearing aids operating in acoustic coupling mode receive and amplify all sounds surrounding the user; both desired sounds, such as a telephone’s audio signal, as well as unwanted ambient noise. Hearing aids operating in telecoil coupling mode avoid unwanted ambient noise by turning off the microphone and receiving only signals from magnetic fields generated by telecoil-compatible telephones … .
A telecoil is a small, tightly-wrapped piece of wire inside the hearing aid that, when activated, picks up the voice signal from the electromagnetic field that leaks from compatible telephones. While the microphone on a hearing aid picks up all sounds, the telecoil will only pick up an electromagnetic signal from the telephone. Thus, users of telecoil-equipped hearing aids are able to communicate effectively over the telephone without feedback and without the amplification of unwanted background noise … .
Many people report feedback (or squealing) when they place the handset of the telephone next to their hearing aid. When placed correctly, telecoils can eliminate this feedback because the hearing aid microphone is turned off and the hearing aid only amplifies the signal coming through the telecoil. Some hearing-aid users may need to place the ear-piece slightly behind the ear rather than directly over the ear to obtain the clearest signal.
A telephone that is hearing aid compatible has an internal feature that allows the use of telephone compatible hearing aids. Thus, telephones can be used effectively by persons with hearing aids.
HLAA filed comments in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC) Wireless Phones. We were joined by the Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (TDI), and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) (the “consumer groups”) and the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (DHH Tech RERC).
Historic Changes Coming for Access to Hearing Aid Compatible Wireless Phones
In November 2014, representatives from HLAA, TDI, and Gallaudet University met with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) staff in the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau to discuss hearing aid compatible (HAC) wireless phones. At that meeting we were able to report on the results of our HAC Survey: “Can You Hear Me Now, Revisited,” as well as compare that to a similar HAC survey released in 2011.
HLAA applauds the FCC’s release of its Public Notice on hearing aid compatible wireless phones. The issues the FCC raises are of vital importance to people with hearing loss who depend on wireless phones, particularly in an emergency.
The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (Bureau) seeks updated comment on the operation and effectiveness of the Commission’s rules relating to hearing aid compatibility of wireless handsets.
There are many different wireless mobile phones available, and some of the wireless mobile phones work better with some hearing aids than others. The FCC has requirements for some, but not all, wireless phones to be hearing aid compatible.