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Hearing loss group complains to FCC about iPhone

They want Apple to make it usable for those with hearing aids

September 20, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A group representing people with a hearing loss filed complaints with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission last month, accusing Apple Inc. of not making its iPhone compatible with hearing aids.

The Hearing Loss Association of America, a Bethesda, Md., advocacy group, filed formal complaints with the FCC in August, Brenda Battat, the HLAA's associate executive director, said in e-mailed comments about Apple's iPhone. "The phone [is] not usable with a hearing aid, either on the microphone or telecoil setting," said Battat. "Clearly, it was not designed to be hearing aid compatible. It should have been."

Under its Section 255 regulations, the FCC requires phone manufacturers, including those selling mobile handsets, to make their products accessible to people with disabilities, if such access is "readily achievable." That standard is defined by the agency as "easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense."

The FCC has also set benchmarks that spell out what percentage of a handset maker's line must be HAC. Currently, each manufacturer must offer at least two HAC models.

People with hearing loss often rely on an induction coil, dubbed a telecoil, in their hearing aids to use telephones, including cell phones. The telecoil detects magnetic energy and converts it into sound, amplifying the conversation as well as shutting out external noise. When the telecoil is switched on, the hearing aid's microphone is generally switched off.

In its complaint, the HLAA said Apple, when designing the iPhone, should have tested it for HAC standards so that it could be used by hearing aid and cochlear implant users. "It was probably tested for HAC prior to release," said Battat. "As soon as they got the results, they would have known it was not accessible to hearing aid and cochlear implant users."

Battat has met with Apple representatives twice since the iPhone's debut, including one meeting where the company demonstrated the iPhone. The demo left a poor impression, said Battat. "When held up to a cochlear implant and a hearing aid, it gives out a loud buzzing interference," she said.

Apple's designated FCC Section 255 contact, Mike Shebanek of the company's worldwide product marketing group, did not reply to a request for comment.

"Apple is well aware of the accessibility problems, not just for hearing aid users, but for people with low vision or who are blind," said Battat. "They state a willingness to get up to speed with accessibility. Too bad they did not do it prior to release and not after."

Several bloggers have called on hearing aid users to complain to Apple, either by calling its public relations section or by posting comments on the company's iPhone support forum. Some followed the latter advice.



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