FCC moves forward on cell phone accessibility rules

Cell phone accessibility
Cell phone accessibility

The Federal Communications Commission released new rules, and proposed others, November 19, aimed at making cell phones more accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

For more than a decade, FCC regulations have required cell phone makers to ensure their devices are accessible using traditional cellular services. However, the regulations have not kept up with rapid changes in the technology.

Under the new regulations, the FCC’s accessibility standards will cover newer wireless services, including Wi-Fi calling and Voice-over-LTE.

“Individuals with hearing loss should not be relegated to specific services based on the often technologically distinct but practically indistinguishable particulars of how such services are provided and deserve to have the same mobile communications options as other consumers,” FCC Commission Tom Wheeler said in a news release. “Most consumers who use hearing aids don’t care about the underlying technology specs. They just want their devices to be accessible and fully functional.”

In addition, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, creating a timeline for cellphone makers to ensure their devices are compatible with hearing aids and cochlear implants. Under the proposal, 66 percent of cell phone devices must be compatible within two years of the rules going into effect, increasing to 85 percent within five years and 100 percent within eight years.

The timeline was made in collaboration with industry and consumer and disability advocacy groups, including the National Association of the Deaf, the Hearing Loss Association of America and the Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, according to Law 360.

“Together, these two actions – expanding the scope to cover new technologies and enlisting stakeholders to make all devices compatible – will result in greater access to wireless technologies for the tens of millions of Americans with hearing loss,” Commission Wheeler said in a news release. “This approach reflects a vote of confidence in the American innovation economy.

“We are not forced to choose between innovative technologies on the one hand and devices accessible to people with hearing loss on the other. American innovation can enable – not limit— accessibility for all devices and technologies by those with hearing loss.”