Hearing Aids and Cell Phones Fast-Track Work Underway to Boost Compatibility Features
Features  |   November 01, 2003
Hearing Aids and Cell Phones
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Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / Features
Features   |   November 01, 2003
Hearing Aids and Cell Phones
The ASHA Leader, November 2003, Vol. 8, 1-9. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.08202003.1
The ASHA Leader, November 2003, Vol. 8, 1-9. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.08202003.1
To make cell phones more compatible with hearing aids, ASHA is participating in the ATIS Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) Incubator program to develop fast-track solutions and testing protocols in response to a recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling.
In July 2003, the FCC modified the exemption for wireless phones from hearing aid compatibility requirements and established compatibility rules for wireless service providers and handset manufacturers. Within two years, each handset manufacturer and each carrier must provide at least two handsets for each air interface that meets the U3 level for acoustic coupling. Within three years, handset manufacturers must offer at least two handsets that meet the U3T performance level for telecoil coupling as measured using the cited ANSI C63.19 measurement procedure.
To meet the challenge, the HAC Incubator initiative—which is part of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS)—held its first meeting on Sept. 5, bringing together wireless service providers, handset and hearing aid manufacturers, audiologists, professional associations, members of the ANSI accredited standards committee (ASC) C63 (developers of the C63.19 standard), and universities.
The work of the incubator “is integral to preserving access to wireless telecommunications to individuals with hearing disabilities,” said FCC Chair Michael Powell in a press release. This initiative “will significantly advance the commission’s commitment to ensuring that all Americans—whether or not they use hearing aids—have an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of wireless communications.”
The HAC Incubator is leading an industry solution on electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) issues between hearing aids and cell phones. ASC C63 is leading the refinement and improvement of their test standard. Among the incubator tasks will be to assess the current hearing aid compatibility standard, ANSI C63.19; develop suggested changes to the standard’s methodologies for lab and user testing of digital wireless phones and hearing aids; and encourage implementation of its findings into new products. The group will share the results of its investigation with ASC C63, which has representation by the FCC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as ASC C63 amends its document.
As the ANSI C63.19 standard undergoes its next revision, “There will be a number of refinements and improvements in the testing methodology recommended and inputs from the incubator group are welcome as are other inputs to this open process,” said Donald Heirman, vice chair of ANSI ASC C63, which is responsible for all modifications to the C63.19 standard. As the practice for all ASCs, the full set of C63 standards are periodically reviewed to ensure that their content is technically current. “This will be the case if it is necessary to accommodate changes in cell phones and hearing aids that may affect their EMC assessment,” Heirman noted.
While hearing aids are not required to provide immunity to radio frequency interference from cell phones, the FDA encourages manufacturers to label products according to the ANSI C63.19 standard and will determine whether the package labeling is compliant, noted Teri Cygnarowicz, an audiologist and scientific reviewer with the FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “If the manufacturer labels their product as digital cell phone compatible, the FDA will look at how that determination was made.”
Wireless phone manufacturers are required to provide package labeling indicating the rating of the handset and include information in the user manual explaining the rating system. The FDA will work with industry, ATIS, and FCC to provide outreach to help consumers and audiologists identify hearing aid-compatible phones.
Real-World Solutions
“It is exciting to see people coming together to come up with a real-world solution,” Cygnarowicz said, “but there’s a lot of work to be done because the compatibility issue is so complex.”
The cell phone and hearing aid interface presents multifaceted challenges in developing standardized testing to measure compatibility, Cygnarowicz noted. Cellular technology is continually evolving. When the phone is in use, the signal strength changes from one location to another, and the hearing loss and amplification technology may present added variables.
“A consumer may be wearing a really old hearing aid that may or may not be compatible, or a newer hearing aid that may or may not be compatible,” she said. “Because of all of the factors involved, it’s difficult to know what the result will be.”
In developing test protocols to measure compatibility, the fit of the hearing aid must be verified if speech intelligibility through the wireless phone is measured, said Gail Linn, ASHA’s director of audiology practice in industry and private practice. During an informal presentation, Linn provided the ATIS Incubator with information about the process of hearing aid fitting, including the audiological evaluation, selection, physical and acoustic fit, and verification, and how these issues affect hearing aid use with cell phones. “If the consumer doesn’t have a hearing aid with good physical fit, it’s difficult to tell where the interference is coming from,” Linn said.
ASHA played a key role in educating the telecommunications industry about the role of audiologists and the need for audiologists to be on hand while measuring cell phone compatibility, she added, emphasizing the need for collaboration and education.
For more information on wireless compatibility with hearing aids, contact Linn by e-mail at glinn@asha.org or through the Action Center at 800-498-2071, ext. 4112.
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November 2003
Volume 8, Issue 20