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January 2015 Technology and Disability Policy Highlights

In January, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules implementing provisions of the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA) became effective and enforceable.  Specifically the rulemaking addressed, (1) rules requiring digital apparatus to make appropriate built-in functions (i.e., if used for the reception, play back, or display of programming) accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired, and (2) rules requiring navigation devices to make on-screen text menus and guides for the display or selection of multichannel video programming audibly accessible.

In what some advocates may consider to be a stall in accessibility regulations, the FCC approved a waiver extension for eReaders, exempting them from the requirements of the advanced communications services (ACS) accessibility rules.  However, this waiver only applies to basic eReaders, lasts one year and comes with many stipulations.  Future reviews of this waiver extension will take into consideration not only if ACS is a prominent feature of the eReader, but the context in which it is used, i.e. educational and employment environments may necessitate greater regulation.

In other news, the Wireless RERC filed comments in response to the FCC’s Public Notice, Request for Updated Information and Comment on Wireless Hearing Aid Compatibility (HAC) Regulations [WT Docket Nos. 07-250 and 10-254], reaffirming that the accessibility of information and communications technology (ICT) and services are essential to enhancing inclusion and independence for people with disabilities. Among other things, the comments supported requiring that all mobile handsets to be compliant with HAC regulations. The Wireless RERC acknowledged the difficulty of crafting these regulations due to the sometimes competing priorities of industry and consumers and the complexity of interaction between increasingly sophisticated and powerful wireless handsets.  Nevertheless, they also maintained that people with hearing loss deserve and are entitled to having parity of access to telecommunications services, wireless, or otherwise. 

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The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center for Wireless Technologies is sponsored by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under grant number 90RE5007-01-00. The opinions contained in this website are those of the Wireless RERC and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or NIDILRR.