HLAA has long worked with industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the issue of Hearing Aid Compatible (HAC) phones. When mobile technology moved from analog to digital in the 1990s, it created a huge barrier for people with hearing loss in that suddenly people with hearing loss who could use wireless handsets were faced with interference when they held the phone to their ear.
It wasn’t until 2003 that the FCC determined that the complete exemption from HAC for wireless handsets would have an adverse effect on individuals with hearing loss and that limiting the exemption was technologically feasible and in the public interest. For all that time, people with hearing loss waited for access to hearing aid compatible phones.
Over time, consumer groups such as HLAA and the wireless industry have worked together on HAC issues. We have all been part of working groups under the auspices of ATIS, we have held ad hoc meetings, and we have met with the FCC; and progress has been made. HLAA is happy to know that at least 82 percent of mobile phones on the market have an M3 or M4 rating and 66 percent of wireless handsets are rated T3 or T4.
HLAA recently filed comments with the FCC regarding HAC wireless phones. We were joined in this filing by the Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TDI) and the National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Together we make it clear that our goal has remained unchanged: we want to see 100 percent of wireless handsets built to be hearing aid compatible. We also want this accomplished while still being committed to working with the wireless industry to ensure the path forward works for both consumers with hearing loss and the industry. Read our comments.
On November 19, 2015, during their Open Meeting, the FCC will consider rules that would strengthen accessibility by Americans with hearing loss to emerging and future technologies and services by expanding the scope of our hearing aid compatibility requirements to all forms of voice communication. If adopted, this action would cover emerging technologies such as Wi-Fi calling and VoLTE (Voice over Long-Term Evolution) as well as those that might develop in the future.
In addition to these rules, the FCC will lay the groundwork for future improvements by calling on stakeholders to work collaboratively to develop a consensus plan for dramatically expanding the kinds of devices that Americans with hearing loss can use. If there is a better way to consider and implement accessibility at the front end of the handset-design process, millions of Americans with hearing loss will benefit. The draft item makes clear that a consensus solution is the preferred path forward, but the FCC will also seek comments on whether there are other steps it might take to ensure 100 percent of handsets are hearing aid compatible at the same time as promoting innovation and investment.
For more information, Read Chairman Wheeler’s blog and feel free to post your comments.