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Accord reached on hearing-aid compatible cellphones

Industry and disability groups reached agreement on an alternative approach to a federal mandate requiring half of the cellphones offered by national wireless carriers to be hearing-aid compatible (HAC) by Feb. 18, 2008.
The consensus accord calls for additional microphone-rated and telecoil-rated HAC handsets than is currently required, support for refreshing HAC product availability, a study on audio output and volume control and a re-examination of HAC milestones in February 2010.
The Federal Communications Commission’s 2003 wireless HAC ruling set in motion a phased-in implementation plan that included manufacturing labeling and carrier reporting requirements, but failed to increase the number of T-rated phones needed by consumers with the greatest hearing loss.
Various technical challenges conspired to make meeting the 2008 deadline extremely difficult for mobile phone operators, especially those deploying GSM technology. GSM phones generally cause more electromagnetic interference to hearing aids than do CDMA phones.
“This is a momentous agreement achieved through the hard work of the wireless industry and consumer advocates for individuals with hearing loss,” said Susan Miller, president of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions. “ATIS is pleased with the outcome of the consensus agreement and is equally pleased in the role it has played in facilitating this important proposal.”
The number of people with hearing loss is estimated at 31 million and is predicted to reach 40 million by the end of the decade. More than 6 million people have hearing aids.
Issues remain for mobile phone HAC implementation by small- and medium-sized wireless carriers.
Disability advocates have been fighting since the mid-1990s to get cellphones covered by the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988. It was not until 2003 that the FCC voted to make that possible.

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