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Three points hearing aid users need to know before purchasing a cell phone

Man On Phone

Not all hearing aids and cell phones are compatible.  The transmitter and antenna on the cell phone emit radio frequencies, RF, or waves that create an audible interference when using a cell phone with a hearing aid.  No hearing aid is immune from the interference including hearing aids with telecoils.  Some hearing aids have more immunity to the RF interference than others.  In the past, there were no regulations controlling hearing aid labeling for RF interference; however, the Hearing Industry Association and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) worked together to create RF immunity ratings for hearing aids similar to those required for cell phones.

1. T and M Ratings for Cell Phones

The FCC required cell phone manufacturers to give their phones a rating according to their compatibility with hearing aids.  Hearing aids without a telecoil need cell phones with an M3 or M4 ratings.  A rating of M4 has the lowest RF emissions when coupled with a hearing aid that does not have a telecoil.  Hearing aids with a telecoil* need cell phones with T3 or T4 ratings.  A rating of T4 has the lowest RF emissions when coupled with a telecoil-enabled hearing aid.  The FCC requires the M or T ratings to be visible on all hearing aid compatible cell phone packaging and on the in-store price cards.

2. Voluntary Ratings for Hearing Aids

Cell Phone Art

Hearing aids have RF immunity ratings.  The rating assigns a ranking of 1M-4M for hearing aids without a telecoil and 1T-4T for hearing aids with a telecoil.  Like the cell phone ratings, the higher the number the better the RF immunity.  A hearing aid with a rating of 4 will be more immune than a hearing aid with a rating of 3.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates hearing aid manufacturer and with the FCC work with hearing aid manufactures to publish RF hearing aid ratings

3. Putting It All Together

Using standards published by American National Standards Institute (ANSI), buyers can combine cell phone and hearing aid rating to choose the most compatible cell phone and hearing aid.  A hearing aid rated M2 and a cell phone rated M3 combine to make a rating of 5 and would provide “normal” performance, as shown in the table below.  A combined rating of 4 is considered “usable” performance.  A combined rating of 6 or better is considered “excellent” performance.

Expected Combined Performance of Hearing Aid and Cell Phone

Hearing Aid Rating + Cell Phone Rating = 4


Hearing Aid Rating + Cell Phone Rating = 5

Normal Performance

Hearing Aid Rating + Cell Phone Rating > 6

Excellent Performance

Example: (Hearing Aid) M2 + (Cell Phone) M3 = 5  or Normal Performance

Today the M3/T3 is common on nearly all cell phones.  Check the hearing aid compatibility rating listed on the in-store price card or on the carrier’s website.  Two online sources include  www.phonescoop.com   and www.accesswireless.org.


About Other Types of Telephones

Landline/Wired Phones

With all the changes and improvements made to improve cell phone and hearing aid compatibility, you may be wondering about landline and cordless telephones compatibility with hearing aid?  Here is information on landline phones:

    • Since 1989, landline phones in public places were required to be hearing aid compatible.
    • Since  2001, landline phones were also required to have a volume control and to reset to a low volume if they contain more than 18 decibels of volume.  This protects the hearing of those who do not have a hearing loss.

Cordless phones also have published guidelines.  2.4 or 5.8 GHz cordless phones have a similar problem as cell phones with hearing aid.  Cordless phone interference comes from electromagnetic fields created by the handsets. Since 2008, the larger cordless phone manufacturers voluntarily committed to make 100% of their phones hearing aid compatible.  When purchasing a landline phone or cordless phone look for a “HAC” or hearing aid compatible logo on the box.

Final Comments

Remember to try out your new cell phone before you buy it.  The FCC requires cellular retailers to allow all hearing aid compatible phones to be available for in-store testing.  Know the return policy for in-store testing and after purchasing a cell phone.  Advances in technology are helping to make purchasing a hearing aid compatible cell phone easier and trouble-free.

For additional information about telecoils and a .pdf version of this page, please visit the download area here for a document titled:  Cell phones, telephones, and hearing aids.

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