FCC Requires Wireless Phone Accessibility for Hearing-Impaired
On July 10, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that wireless manufacturers and service providers must make digital wireless phones accessible to more than 6 million individuals with hearing disabilities. Specifically, the commission modified the exemption for wireless phones under the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 to require that digital wireless phones be capable of being effectively used with hearing aids.
|July 15, 2003 at 12:00 AM
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On July 10, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Report and Order requiring wireless manufacturers and service providers to make digital wireless phones accessible to the more than 6 million individuals with hearing disabilities that use hearing aids. Specifically, the commission modified the exemption for wireless phones under the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 (HAC Act) to require that digital wireless phones be capable of being effectively used with hearing aids. The FCC found that modifying the exemption will extend the benefits of wireless telecommunications to individuals with hearing disabilities, thereby increasing the value of the wireless network for all Americans. The commission’s actions fulfill the Congressional goal of ensuring access to telecommunications services for individuals with hearing disabilities and are critical in light of the rising number of wireless calls to emergency services and the growing trend among wireless carriers to move away from analog services in favor of more efficient, feature-rich digital services. In order to make digital wireless phones accessible to individuals who use hearing aids, the commission found that digital wireless phone manufacturers and service providers should be required to take steps to reduce the amount of interference emitted from digital wireless phones and to provide the internal capability for telecoil coupling. BACKGROUND Hearing aids operate in one of two modes — acoustic coupling or telecoil coupling. Hearing aids operating in acoustic coupling mode receive and amplify all sounds surrounding the user, both desired sounds, such as a telephone’s audio signal, as well as unwanted ambient noise. Hearing aids operating in telecoil coupling mode avoid unwanted ambient noise by turning off the microphone and receiving only magnetic fields generated by telecoil-compatible telephones. In the United States, about 25-30 percent of hearing aids contain telecoils, which generally are used by individuals with profound hearing loss. Approximately six million Americans use hearing aids to improve their hearing. Although analog wireless phones do not generally cause interference problems for hearing aid users, digital wireless phones can cause interference to hearing aids and cochlear implants because of electromagnetic energy emitted by the phone’s antenna, backlight or other components. This interference can be significant enough to prevent individuals with hearing aids from using wireless phones. The HAC Act and Section 68.4 of the commission’s rules require most telephones to be compatible with hearing aids. However, the statute and rules exempt certain categories of telephones from the hearing aid compatibility requirements, including wireless phones. To make certain that the HAC Act kept pace with the evolution of telecommunications, Congress directed the commission to periodically assess whether the exemption for wireless phones should be revoked or limited. Specifically, the statute requires the FCC to “revoke or otherwise limit” the exemptions if the commission determines that specific requirements have been met. In the adopted Report and Order, the commission found that the statutory requirements for modifying the exemption have been met. Modifying the exemption for wireless phones will serve the public interest by facilitating access by individuals with hearing disabilities to digital wireless telecommunications services, including the ability to contact public safety agencies in an emergency. SPECIFICS OF THE ADOPTED REPORT AND ORDER The commission took the following actions in the adopted Report and Order:
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