Cell Phones, Hearing Impairment

By: Christine Peppler

Cell phones are an integrated part of the lives of most Americans. They are used for both personal and business purposes. Even more importantly however, cell phones play a role in safety based on their portability. In many situations, cell phones are the only immediate access to emergency services such as 911. For this reason, the accessibility of cell phones is critical for all citizens, including those with hearing impairment.

There are over 6 million individuals in the United States who wear hearing aids and thousands of individuals with cochlear implants. Newer digital phones can create interference in the form of unwanted noise such as a high pitch whistling, buzzing, or static for those with hearing aids and cochlear implants.

In 2003, the FCC set forth regulations for the telecommunications industry in an attempt to assure access to the products and services offered for individuals with hearing impairment. The aim of the regulations is to assure that those with hearing impairment are able to learn about and operate products and services effectively.

The regulations are being phased in over a period of a few years and will reach an important milestone on September 26, 2006. The regulations require manufacturers to provide cell phones to service providers that reduce radio frequency interference by meeting certain ANSI standards (American National Standards Institute).

By the September deadline, Tier 1 cellular service providers such as Cingular, Sprint-Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless must provide at least 5 cell phones, or 25% of their models, which meet ANSI U3T or M3T ratings. This would assure the availability of cell phones that emit lower radio frequency and could provide telecoil coupling capability; both of which would reduce or eliminate unwanted noise. In addition, these cell phone models will need to be present in retail stores so that they can be tested by consumers. By February 18, 2008 fifty percent of all phones are expected to meet the required ANSI standards for hearing aid compatibility.

For those seeking additional information about the FCC regulations, more information can be obtained at: www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/section255.html

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