U.S. Seeks Comments on Effort to Update Blind, Deaf Communication Standards

Current regulations require manufacturers and service providers to ensure that their equipment and services are accessible.
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The U.S. government is accepting comments on a “notice of proposed rulemaking” (NPRM) that seeks to update standards for communication technologies and services used by blind and deaf individuals.

On March 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) posted a Federal Register notice—Implementing the Provisions of the Communications Act of 1934, as Enacted by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010—which seeks “to update the commission’s rules to ensure that the 54 million individuals with disabilities are able to fully utilize advanced communications services and equipment and networks used for such services.” The deadline for comments on the NPRM is April 13, 2011, with the deadline for reply comments set for May 13, 2011.

The NPRM says current regulations require manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and service providers of telecommunications services to ensure that their equipment and services are accessible to, and useable by, people with disabilities, “if readily achievable.”

However, if that equipment and those services are not readily achievable, manufacturers and service providers “must ensure compatibility with existing peripheral devices or specialized” customer premises equipment (CPE)—which is any terminal and related equipment at a subscriber’s location and connected to a carrier’s telecommunication channel(s)—commonly used by individuals with disabilities, again, “if readily achievable.”

Among the internet-based, and digital technologies driven by the growth of broadband that are now pervasive and offering innovative ways to communicate and share information, electronic messaging services that provide real-time or near real-time non-voice messages in text form between individuals are among the equipment and services listed in the NPRM that the FCC is seeking comment on.

The FCC is also seeking comment on the use of “interoperable video conferencing” that “provides real-time video communications, including audio, to enable users to share information of the user’s choosing.” The NPRM says interoperable video conferencing is the same as video conferencing, but the FCC would like comment on “video relay services” (VRS)—in which deaf or hard of hearing individuals who use sign language and who communicate with a sign language interpreter over a video conferencing unit to make phone calls—to determine whether VRS systems are the same as interoperable video conferencing or video conferencing.

When submitting comments include the identification number FCC 11-37; CG Docket number 10-145 and/or CG Docket number 10-213; or WT Docket number 96-198. Comments can be submitted at paper or electronic documents. The address to submit paper comments is: FCC, 445 12th Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20554.

The addresses to submit electronic comments are through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov, or through the FCC’s website.