To allow Americans with disabilities to experience the benefits of broadband, hardware, software, services and digital content must be accessible and assistive technologies must be affordable.
Accessibility for the Disabled
A month ago, Google started warning developers about a coming crackdown on apps that use the Android accessibility APIs for things other than accessibility. For years, the accessibility APIs have been a way for power-user apps to hook into the operating system, but Google apparently had a change of heart last month, telling developers they had 30 days to explain how an app using the Accessibility APIs was helping a user with disabilities or face removal from the Play Store.
The Federal Communications Commission approved updates to various Commission rules for hearing aid compatibility and volume control on wireline and wireless telephones. Under the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act, the Commission is required to establish rules that ensure access by people with hearing loss to telephones manufactured or imported for use in the United States.
With today’s action, the Commission continues its efforts to ensure that tens of millions of Americans with hearing loss have access to and can benefit from critical and modern communication technologies and services. With the Order, the Commission adopted a revised volume control standard for wireline handsets to provide a more accurate measurement of voice amplification. The Order also implements a provision of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act to apply all the Commission’s hearing aid compatibility requirements to wireline telephones used with advanced communication services, including phones used with Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) services. Compliance with these provisions must be achieved within two years.
As you visit the booths and exchange ideas, remember: we simply cannot afford to leave anyone behind in this 21st Century, internet-based economy. While there have been considerable improvements in accessibility to mainstream technology, too many Americans remain unable to utilize our most innovative advancements to their fullest potential. Collectively, we must work to change that reality.
There are more than 56 million people in our country, and over a billion people globally, with one or more disabilities and with advancements in medicine and our focus on fitness, those numbers will continue to climb as we live longer. So the time is now to close the digital divide that too many with disabilities face. We must ensure that technologies are accessible and that anyone and everyone is able to enjoy and benefit from the innovation over the horizon.
When I spoke to you in March, I noted that the Commission was about to vote on an order to improve VRS interoperability, quality, and efficiency. I am happy to say that this order has since been released, and we have made several other important strides since then. And at our upcoming Commission meeting on October 24, we will vote on an order to apply hearing aid compatibility requirements to wireline phones using Voice over Internet Protocol. The order also would require volume control on cell phones – something the community has requested for over a decade. This would help ensure that people using hearing aids—as well as those without such aids – are better able to select cell phones that meet their communication needs. In particular, this is sure to benefit our growing population of seniors.
In order to expand direct communications for deaf callers, we also are continuing our efforts to educate government agencies on the federal, state and local levels about Direct Video Calling. Finally, people who are blind or visually impaired are gaining better access to television, program guides, and menus because of the Commission’s accessible user interface rules, which went into effect just this past December.
The Federal Communications Commission announced it will host an Accessibility Innovations Expo from 10 a.m. to noon on Oct. 23, 2017, featuring technologies that advance accessibility for people with disabilities. The Expo, which is co-hosted by the FCC’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau and Connect2HealthFCC (C2H) Task Force, coincides with National Disability Employment Awareness Month and will highlight how technology can provide opportunities for people to be fully engaged in an increasingly technological workforce.
The Federal Communications Commission reached a settlement with Sorenson Communications following a preventable service outage that affected a communications service utilized by Americans with disabilities. Under the terms of the settlement, the company has agreed to provide enhanced notices to consumers during outages, and pay $2.7 million to reimburse the Telecommunications Relay Services Fund and a $252,000 penalty.
The Federal Communications Commission proposed revisions to its wireless hearing aid compatibility (HAC) reporting rules to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, particularly for non-nationwide service providers. All handset manufacturers and wireless service providers are currently required to file annual status reports with the FCC on their HAC deployment and compliance efforts. The FCC is proposing rule changes to provide relief from these reporting obligations to small, rural, and regional service providers while maintaining other safeguards to ensure that all consumers enjoy the benefits of having available hearing aid compatible handsets. Specifically, the item seeks comment on, among other things, whether to amend the FCC’s HAC reporting requirements to exempt non-nationwide, wireless service providers from the annual reporting requirement. It also asks about the feasibility of reliance on informal complaints and other required sources of information to ensure industry compliance. Finally, it seeks details on the costs and benefits of the proposed reporting exemption, as well as additional ways to streamline or simplify these requirements for service providers generally.
Passed 27 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities. Title III of the ADA specifically mandates that all public and private institutions and spaces render themselves accessible to those with sensory, cognitive, and physical limitations–think of Braille on store signs, sound-enabled walk signals, on-ramps carved into sidewalks. But over the past year and a half, a string of lawsuits filed on behalf of people with disabilities against companies indicates that one crucial space has been bypassed in effectively interpreting the purpose of the ADA: the internet.
It makes sense that the ADA’s mandates around internet accessibility would be fuzzy. In 1990, when the law was passed, the web was a fringe pastime. Why concern yourself with e-commerce accessibility when Americans were still doing their shopping in brick-and-mortar stores? Now, however, 79% of people in the U.S. shop online; in that and so many other ways, including access to financial services, the internet has effectively transitioned from a privilege to a necessity. And Mark Lacek, a marketing CEO who was tipped off to the string of web-accessibility related lawsuits by his business attorney, saw an opportunity to help companies build ADA compliance into their online operations.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the September Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, September 26, 2017:
Amendment of Parts 74, 76 and 78 of the Commission’s Rules Regarding Maintenance of Copies of FCC Rules – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to eliminate rules requiring certain broadcast and cable entities to maintain paper copies of FCC rules. (MB Docket Nos. 17-105; 17-231)
Cable Television Technical and Operational Standards – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that modernizes its cable television technical rules to reflect the cable industry’s use of digital transmission systems. (MB Docket No. 12-217)
Revitalization of the AM Radio Service – The Commission will consider a Third Report and Order that will relax or eliminate certain rules pertaining to AM broadcasters employing and maintaining directional antenna arrays. (MB Docket No. 13-249)
Updating Rules for Non-Geostationary Satellites in the Fixed-Satellite Service – The Commission will consider a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that recommends updating and streamlining the Commission’s rules to facilitate the licensing of the next generation of non-geostationary, fixed-satellite service systems. (IB Docket No. 16-408)
Revisions to Reporting Requirements Governing Hearing Aid-Compatible Mobile Handsets – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on revisions to the wireless hearing aid compatibility annual reporting requirement to provide relief to non-nationwide service providers. (WT Docket No. 17-228)
Toll Free Assignment Modernization – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to amend the Commission’s rules to allow for use of auctions to assign certain toll free numbers and considers other means by which to modernize the administration and assignment of toll free numbers. (WC Docket No. 17-192; CC Docket No 95-155)
911 Access, Routing, and Location in Enterprise Communications Systems – The Commission will consider a Notice of Inquiry that seeks comment on the provision of 911 by enterprise communications systems that serve businesses, hotels, educational institutions, and government entities. The NOI seeks comment on the capabilities of these systems to support direct calling to 911, routing to the appropriate 911 call center, and transmission of the caller’s location information, as well as to ensure that the 911 capabilities of these systems keep pace with technological developments and public expectations. (PS Docket No. 17-239)
20th Mobile Wireless Competition Report – The Commission will consider a Report analyzing the state of competition in the mobile wireless industry. (WT Docket No. 17-69)
Remarks Of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai At Telecommunications For The Deaf And Hard Of Hearing, Inc. Biennial Conference
The Federal Communications Commission is determined to be Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’s (TDI) partner and meet this moment. I’d like to walk through the Commission’s multi-part strategy for improving the lives of Americans with disabilities through communications technology. The first part of this strategy is pretty straightforward: to uphold our legal obligations to promote accessibility and to advance new rules when appropriate. Part two of our accessibility strategy is encouraging the private sector to make accessibility a priority, rather than an afterthought. A third way that the FCC aims to promote accessibility is to lead by example. We are seeing real success with our direct video calling program—also called DVC. Bottom line: When it comes to accessibility, the FCC is practicing what we preach. The fourth and final piece of our accessibility agenda might not strike you at first as relevant to accessibility. But our work to bridge the digital divide is critically important to Americans with disabilities. We are aiming to connect every American with digital opportunity regardless of who they are or where they live.