The ability of VoIP technology to connect data, audio and visual elements all into one platform allows access to assistive and accessibility features that were not once achievable. With things like audio-to-text conversions and automated voicemail transcriptions, VoIP software has been supplying hearing impaired and deaf individuals with effective and essential communication tools for years. The VoIP software industry has proven to help provide Assistive and Accessible Technology for those with disabilities.
The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 (HAC Act) requires that all telephones manufactured in, or imported by, the U.S. for general use, and all “essential telephones”, must be hearing-aid compatible. Essential telephones are generally defined as coin-operated phones, phones made for emergency use and phones for those that require hearing-aids.
In 2017, the FCC released an order that made modifications to hearing-aid compatibility and volume control requirements for wireless and wireline telephones. Through this order, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act was designed to ensure that all of the FCC’s hearing-aid requirements are applied to all “wireline telephones used with advanced communication services, including phones used with Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) services.”
With those revisions in place, all wireline telephones used with a VoIP service in the U.S. on or after February 28, 2020, must be hearing aid compatible.
So, what does this mean for you and your company? How can you be sure that all of your employees have access to vital and up-to-date VoIP communication software? The first step is to be able to identify and understand what wireline telephones and wireline telephone services are and how the FCC’s new requirements apply to VoIP services.
Wireline Telephone Services and Hearing-Aid Compatibility Requirements
The FCC refers to a “wireline” service that includes both traditional telephone services, such as those you see in homes and businesses (known as “landline”), and traditional telephones that are connected to a VoIP network.
The commission states that there must be an adequate range of volume, and appropriate volume control settings, for wireline and wireless telephone services. Individuals with hearing-devices often experience unwanted and bothersome noises and static. These requirements and settings help to eliminate that issue, ensuring quality audio for all that use it.
The FCC also requires that all employers must supply telephones and handsets (that are hearing-aid compatible) to employees with hearing disabilities so that they may properly perform their duties. These too must meet the volume control requirements.
How to Ensure that Your VoIP Software is Hearing-Aid Ready
All wireline telephones that are hearing-aid compatible will have a ‘HAC’ label. It is important to look at the standards that a specific phone may meet. This means that a phone should meet the volume control and technical guidelines suitable for those that require hearing-aid devices.
‘T’ and ‘M’ Ratings
When searching for the best hearing-aid compatible phone, look for the ‘T’ and ‘M’ ratings on the device. According to the FCC, a wireless handset is considered hearing aid compatible if it meets a “‘T3’ or ‘T4’ rating and an ‘M3’ or ‘M4’ rating. The ‘T’ is representative of how well the magnetic coil in the hearing aid will work with the wireless handset, thus reducing feedback and background noises. The ‘M’ rating is representative of how well the handset will work when held up to the ear using the microphone setting. The higher the ‘T’ and ‘M’ rating, the better the compatibility and quality with VoIP phones. The best rating one can find is a T4 and M4 score. For individuals with severe hearing loss or complete deafness, be sure that telecoil, or ‘T’-mode, in the hearing-aid device is turned on.
Check With Your VoIP Provider
It is highly encouraged that you visit your provider’s website, or call your provider’s customer support line, to see which phones or devices are hearing-aid compatible. Many providers will have a list of products that are best suited for those with hearing-aid devices or with hearing loss. Also, be sure to ask your provider about the proper setup and software onboarding processes for hearing-aid compatible devices.
The FCC requires that all wireless manufacturers must annually report all of the hearing-aid compatible handsets that they provide. A list of all manufacturers compatible wireless handsets offered during the most recent annual reporting period can be found on the FCC’s website.
It is crucial to ensure that all of your employees receive access to modern and critical communication software. Supplying VoIP telephones that are compatible with hearing devices for employees with hearing loss or impairment is essential to being able to perform their duties.
If you are interested in learning more about VoIP software, TrustRadius’ free Buyer’s Guide to VoIP Providers gives VoIP buyers an in-depth look at the 7 leading products on the market. We also encourage you to reach out to your VoIP provider’s customer support to learn more about VoIP products’ accessibility and assist features for those with disabilities.