By Melanie Hamilton-Basich, Chief Editor, The Hearing Review

Technology to improve the hearing experience of people with hearing loss is continually evolving. But it often takes the government a while to catch up with related laws, rules, and regulations. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has worked with a group devoted to making more mobile phones hearing aid compatible for many years, with the goal of ensuring those with hearing loss have equal access to communications services as required by section 710 of the Communications Act. 

The difference is that the Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) Task Force has determined that 100% compatibility is now achievable, and that the definition of “hearing aid compatible” stands to change with the addition of Bluetooth connectivity technology.

Bringing in Bluetooth

The document “Achieving 100% Wireless Handset Model Hearing Aid Compatibility,” available on the FCC website, states that, in addition to requiring all wireless phone handsets offered in the United States or imported for use in the United States to be compatible with hearing aids, the commission plans “to require at least 15% of offered handset models to connect to hearing aids through Bluetooth technology as an alternative to or in addition to a telecoil.” 

The types of Bluetooth technology this will include, such as Bluetooth LE and Auracast, and how this will be written into the rules have not yet been established. Which means there is still room for debate. 

Further reading: Why Hearing Care is a Top-Tier Career

Some Reservations

I recently spoke with Ruth Reisman, AuD, a full-time university doctoral lecturer and the founder and co-owner of Urban Hearing based in Brooklyn, NY, about the FCC’s proposal. She is all in favor of offering hearing aid compatibility in more mobile phones to promote accessibility for people with hearing loss. But, she has reservations about the logistics, and brings up some good points about how many people these changes might actually benefit. 

“There are ways to improve accessibility for patients regardless of Bluetooth, and not all hearing aids are Bluetooth compatible,” she points out. “It’s also important to note that some individuals and cultures don’t have a ‘smartphone’ and use flip phones to limit internet exposure so it won’t apply in that arena, because the Bluetooth of non-smartphones are typically not compatible with hearing aids.” 

She also expresses concern about getting locked into being required to use specific technologies, since “the future of wireless and hearing aid compatibility is constantly evolving and so what might be applicable today may not be applicable in the future.”

I agree with Dr Reisman that it’s important for the FCC to not lean too heavily on Bluetooth technology(ies) to reach this goal. I hope the commission will continue to adjust rules and language to adapt to technology so that people with hearing loss can have truly equal communications accessibility. For now, I think this is a step in the right direction. The difficulty is determining the best approach, so I encourage you to help the FCC do so. 

Melanie Hamilton-Basich, Chief Editor, The Hearing Review

Make Your Voice Heard

The FCC is seeking comments on revising the definition of hearing aid compatibility to include Bluetooth connectivity technology as well as what Bluetooth technology it should utilize to meet this requirement and how it should incorporate this requirement into its wireless hearing aid compatibility rules.

If you haven’t already, now is your chance to submit your comments. The deadline for filing comments is February 26, 2024, and the deadline for reply comments is March 11, 2024. 

— Melanie Hamilton-Basich

Photo: Dreamstime

Original citation for this article: Hamilton-Basich H. Making All Phones Hearing Aid Compatible. Hearing Review. 2024;31(2):6-7.