Ever since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) partially modified the original exemption for wireless (cell) phones from hearing aid compatibility (HAC) requirements, consumer organizations for individuals with hearing loss have worked, through advocacy, toward the goal that all cell phones would become accessible to and usable by hearing device users. Over the last eight months, there have been both policy activity at the FCC and consensus building work between consumer organizations and the wireless industry that may achieve this goal.
In November 2015, consumer and industry stakeholders jointly submitted a letter to the FCC outlining the terms of a consensus proposal, which included:
- Enhanced benchmarks for HAC cell phones,
- A task force process for assessing the achievability of 100% HAC compliance for cell phones, and
- A means for enabling innovation to achieve HAC in cell phones.
Currently, the FCC is considering comments provided in response to its notice of proposed rulemaking on this proposal and other matters. The Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (DHH-RERC) provided technical advising to consumer organizations throughout the consensus building effort and signed onto comments to the FCC in support of the consumer’s goal. It’s expected the FCC will establish rules based on the consensus proposal by year’s end.
Cell Phone HAC Standards
The C63.19 standard provides the method for measuring the compatibility between cell phones and hearing aids. The American National Standards Institute-Accredited Standards Committee-C63® (ANSI-ASC-C63) is the United States standards development organization for this type of electromagnetic compatibility engineering work. The most recent (and fourth) revision of the standard occurred in 2011.
The work for this fifth revision of the standard got underway at the May 2016 meeting of ANSI-ASC-C63. The DHH-RERC is participating in the working group addressing the revision. Volunteer participation in the working group is open and free, and volunteers are expected to attend meetings and actively participate in the work effort.