The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 (HAC Act) generally requires that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ensure that telephones manufactured or imported for use in the United States after August 1989, and all “essential” telephones, are hearing aid-compatible. When Congress passed the Act in 1988, it specifically exempted “telephones used with public mobile services” (wireless telephones) from these requirements. To ensure that the HAC Act kept pace with the evolution of telecommunications, however, Congress granted the FCC a means to revoke or limit the exemption for wireless telephones. On August 14, 2003, the FCC determined that continuation of a complete exemption for wireless telephones would have an adverse effect on individuals with hearing disabilities, and that limiting the exemption was technologically feasible and in the public interest. Based upon these findings, the FCC established rules for the hearing aid compatibility of digital wireless phones.
These requirements are enshrined in 47 CFR 20.19 which requires both services providers and manufacturers of phones to provide a number of devices that are compatible with 47 CFR 20.19 (b). For manufacturers this number of models varies based on the total models offered to service providers – cellular network companies – in the United States:
- If the manufacturer offers four to six models, at least two of those handset models must comply with the requirements
- If it offers more than six models, at least one-third of those handset models – rounded down to the nearest whole number – must comply with the requirements
These requirements apply separately to each air interface for which the manufacturer or service provider offers handsets.
For phone models that are provided which support the hearing aid compatibility requirements of 47 CFR 20.19 the test standard for phones is American National Standard Methods of Measurement of Compatibility Between Wireless Communication Devices and Hearing Aids (C63.19-2011). The report and order governing these regulations provides for validation of hearing aid compatibility with both the 2011 and 2007 versions of this standard, but references the 2011 standard as the principal adopted standard.
The regulations provide for compatibility testing and rating for both radio frequency interference and inductive coupling. For radio frequency interference, a wireless handset must, at a minimum, meet the M3 rating associated with C63.19-2011. For inductive coupling, a wireless handset must meet, at a minimum, the T3 rating associated with C63.19-2011. Finally, handsets operating over multiple frequency bands or air interfaces must meet the applicable technical standard for all frequency bands and air interfaces over which it operates.
Wireless Phone Hearing Aid Compatibility Regulations
- FCC 03-186 – First Report and Order – Section 68.4(a) of the Commission’s Rules Governing Hearing Aid-Compatible Telephones
- FCC 10-145 – Second Report and Order – Amendment of the Commission’s Rules Governing Hearing Aid-Compatible Mobile Handsets
- FCC 12-550 – Third Report and Order – Amendment of the Commission’s Rules Governing Hearing Aid-Compatible Mobile Handsets
While the three rule making activities above directly relate to wired and wireless phones as part of the CVAA, the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act requirements were also extended to cover “All customer premises equipment used with advanced communications services that is designed to provide 2-way voice communication via a built-in speaker intended to be held to the ear in a manner functionally equivalent to a telephone.” No specific discussion or rulemaking related to these devices, however, was included in the report and order or, currently, seems contemplated by the FCC. Thus, to the extent an organization provides a handset peripheral intended to be used with voice ACS, it should be aware this will need to be compatible with the relevant requirements.