The move was welcomed by consumers and the hearing aid industry, but the mobile telephone industry has filed a petition in opposition to the new rule.
Ninety percent of mobile phones sold in the US are digital, but most models are useless for people with hearing aids. In the past, mobile phones were exempt from regulations requiring phones to be hearing aid compatible.
It was this exemption that was lifted by the FCC. The decision would require each mobile phone manufacturer to offer a minimum of two hearing aid compatible mobile phone models by 2005.
Carole Rogin, executive director of the Hearing Industries Association, HIA, hailed the decision as a step forward for hearing impaired consumers. "This is a big decision - and an excellent one - both for the industry and the consumer", she said to The Hearing Review.
Most current digital phones emit electromagnetic energy, resulting in a loud buzz in the ear of a hearing aid user. The FCC decision requires changes in the phones to reduce the noise. The mobile phone industry, however, contends that hearing aid manufacturers have not adequately shielded their products from interference.
The FCC is now providing a 90-day period for commentary during which HIA and other professional and consumer advocacy groups may provide their views on the issue.
Telecoil users are in for improvements, as well. By the summer of 2006, a minimum of two types of mobile phones from each mobile phone manufacturer must be telecoil compatible.
The disputed mobile phone regulations require mobile phones and hearing aids to be labeled according to a uniform hearing aid compatibility scale. The labeling is intended to guide the hearing impaired consumer when choosing a mobile phone compatible with a specific type of hearing aid.
In the meantime, hearing impaired consumers may want to follow a few helpful guidelines until the new mobile phone products are introduced. For the best results with existing mobile phones look for the following features to minimize interference:
- An antenna located as far as possible from the hearing aid
- An option to switch off lights in display and keyboard
- A powerful volume control.
Sources: Hearing Loss, Nov./Dec. 2003, The Hearing Review, Vol. 10, No. 9, 2003, and The Hearing Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, 2004