Technology Helping the Disabled

According to remarks by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at the “M-Enabling Summit” held in June, “The FCC has forged ahead with research and development efforts to better understand the communications challenges encountered by people with disabilities. As a result, the FCC has approved a new way to provide relay services”.

Advances in fully Automated Speech Recognition (ASR) now enables this technology to generate captions on Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) calls. Consumers will find that the delay is reduced between the times that words are spoken and captions are displayed.

In another step forward, the FCC is working to improve the interoperability of Video Relay Services (VRS). Last year, the FCC adopted rules requiring VRS providers to make it easier for VRS consumers to call each other regardless of the VRS service or equipment they use. This also enables consumers to switch between VRS providers and last year, the FCC produced a centralized database of VRS users.

Today, the FCC is encouraging both government and the private sector to include Direct Video Calling in their customer call centers. This would allow American Sign Language (ASL) users to directly call agencies and businesses with the need for a relay intermediary. In addition, the FCC has launched an ASL video library that is available on the FCC website and You Tube channel

Another program, the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, also called “iCanConnect” is now in place to ensure that people who are deaf-blind have access to communication products and services.

The FCC is also helping people who have difficulty hearing over mobile phones. To move forward, the FCC has updated the rules requiring wireline and wireless phones to be hearing-aid-compatible and equipped with volume control.

This will mean that in the not too distant future, volume control will produce better amplification and people who use hearing aids will be able to access phones using advanced communication services like Voice-over-Internet Protocol.

Over the past year, the FCC has looked closely at how to ensure accessible emergency communications for people with disabilities. The agency is accomplishing improvements to 911 capabilities by providing for wireless emergency alerts and is able to provide immediate responses to communication breakdowns caused by severe weather and hurricanes.

On June 22, 2018, Representative James R. Langevin (D-RI) with several co-sponsors introduced a bill to require the Secretary of HHS to establish a National Advisory Committee to discuss how to help individuals with disabilities navigate hazards and emergencies.

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