NPRM discussed that the Board intends to compile a market monitoring report on a regular basis and make it available to
the public. USTA commented that the Board did not offer what type of information
it will specifically monitor, how often, and to what end. UCPA supported a market
monitoring report and suggested that the Board specify an annual report.
UCPA recommended that the report should be structured for rapid turnaround after
the close of the monitoring period and that successful access solutions be
The Board intends to compile a market
monitoring report after the guidelines are published and make it available
to the public. At this point, the Board does not have a schedule for when the
first report will begin or when it will be issued, since it must be incorporated
into the Board's on-going research and technical assistance program. The report
will address the state of the art of customer premises equipment and
telecommunications equipment and the progress of making this equipment
accessible and identify successful access solutions. Since the Board is required
to review and update these guidelines periodically, information from this report
will assist the Board in determining what provisions of the guidelines may need
to be revised or whether new provisions need to be added. In particular, some
issues will be targeted for examination, such as redundancy and selectability,
the effect of hearing aid interference on bystanders, and whether persons with
hearing impairments continue to report having trouble using public pay
telephones. These issues are discussed further in the section-by- section
In addition, the Board intends to investigate whether the report might be compiled in cooperation with another government entity or private sector organization. For example, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) funds a variety of research projects and centers, including a research center devoted to telecommunications. Also, some private sector organizations have begun highlighting accessible products in reports and trade shows. The Board intends to explore whether it would be appropriate to produce the market monitoring report in conjunction with one of those groups or companies.
This section proposed that products incorporate multiple
modes for input and output functions and that the user be able to select the
Manufacturers objected to this provision on the basis that it added unnecessary
and potentially unwanted functions to a product, which could affect its
marketability and even result in a "fundamental alteration" of the
product. It would also, in their view, cause the product to be too complicated.
Response. Although this provision was supported by persons with disabilities, it may run contrary to section 1193.41 (i), which intends to make products accessible to persons with limited cognitive skills. As a result, the provision is being reserved at this time, with a recommendation for redundancy and selectability placed in the appendix. The Board intends to consider this provision further and highlight it for evaluation in its market monitoring report. If the Board's market monitoring report shows that redundancy and selectability can be provided without unnecessary complexity, it will re-evaluate the "reserved" status of this provision.
This section provides that no change shall be undertaken
which decreases or has the effect of decreasing the net accessibility,
usability, and compatibility of telecommunications equipment or customer
This provision was uniformly supported by disability groups, many of whom cited
examples of an accessible feature or design which was later defeated by an
alteration. Manufacturers, on the other hand, uniformly objected to it. Several
pointed out that it was not a part of the TAAC recommendations and that it
unnecessarily restricted design and innovation. For example, it seemed to
prevent a manufacturer from even discontinuing an obsolete product if it had an
accessibility feature unless the same feature were incorporated in its
replacement. This was unreasonable, they claimed, because a newer technology
might be better and more efficient but it might not be readily achievable to
incorporate the same accessibility feature. Products are discontinued from time
to time because they do not sell, but this provision as proposed may have
required any product with an accessibility feature to be continued in
Providing that no change shall be undertaken which decreases or has the effect
of decreasing accessibility is a common principle in disability access codes and
standards and was borrowed from both the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)
and the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). Both of these prohibit
alterations which reduce or have the effect of reducing accessibility below the
requirements for new construction. Those provisions were intended to apply to
alterations to buildings and facilities which have a relatively static base.
However, where technology is constantly changing, the principle in this rule,
which is analogous to the alterations provisions of ADAAG and UFAS, may need
TIA suggested adding language that would refer to the
"net" accessibility, usability and compatibility of products. As
previously discussed, the statute does not require that a new product be both
accessible and compatible, and establishes accessibility as the first priority.
Since an alteration never establishes a requirement which is greater than for
new construction, the same concept holds true for section 1193.39. For example,
it might not be readily achievable to provide accessibility in the first
iteration of a particular product, but compatibility is readily achievable.
However, in an upgrade, technology or other factors may have changed so that
accessibility is now readily achievable. Since the statute does not require a
new product to be both accessible and compatible, a change which increased
accessibility but decreased compatibility would not be prohibited. The provision
has been modified accordingly.
The Board agrees that it would be unreasonable to require obsolete or unmarketable products to be maintained beyond their useful life. Since any new product introduced to replace another would be subject to the statutory requirement to provide accessibility or compatibility if readily achievable, a specific exception has been added to allow for product discontinuation. The Board does not believe this change will significantly affect the availability of accessible products. The Board intends to highlight this item for attention in its market monitoring report to determine if this provision needs to be modified in the future.
The majority of comments from persons who are hard of hearing reported having
trouble using public pay telephones because of inadequate receiver amplification
levels. These commenters supported the proposed provision that products be
equipped with volume control that provides an adjustable amplification ranging
from 18-25 dB of gain. However, TIA and several manufacturers cited the National
Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1996, which requires the Federal
government to make use of technical specifications and practices established by
private, voluntary standards-setting bodies wherever possible. Furthermore, TIA
claimed that the higher range will result in signals encroaching on the acoustic
shock limits of telephone receiver output. TIA recommended that this section be
revised to reflect a general performance standard, similar to the recommendation
in the TAAC report. Some comments pointed out that there was no baseline signal
against which the gain is to be measured. That is, for a weak signal even 18-25
dB of gain may be ineffective, while for a strong signal, the present ADAAG and
FCC requirement of 12-18 dB may be sufficient. Also, industry commenters said
that increasing gain may not be the only, or even the best way to provide better
access since amplifying a noisy signal also amplifies the noise.
Information submitted by SHHH indicates that the proposed gain of 25 dB is not a
problem for current telephone technology. The information was based on testing
conducted by two independent laboratories (Harry Teder Ph.D., Consulting in
Hearing Technology and Harry Levitt, Ph.D., Director, Rehabilitation Engineering
and Research Center on Hearing Enhancement and Assistive Devices, Lexington
Center). High gain phones without special circuitry currently on the market were
tested which put out 90 dB and 105 dB at maximum volume setting. This is a 20 dB
gain over the standard 85 dB. The sound was clear with no distortion. SHHH said
that this shows that a 90 dB and 105 dB clean speech level is achieved with
phones commercially available with no worse distortion levels than on public
phones at normal levels. With special circuits and transducers, telephones could
generate even higher amplification levels, above 25 dB, without distortion.
The current FCC standard for 12-18 dB of gain was adopted
from ADAAG which requires certain public pay telephones to provide a gain of
12-18 dB. However, this provision is frequently incorrectly applied so that the
gain only falls somewhere within this range but does not reach the 18 dB level.
In fact, the requirement is to provide gain for the entire range of 12-18 dB.
The Board is currently reviewing all of its ADAAG
provisions and will be issuing a NPRM in 1998 which will propose a new ADAAG.
The changes to ADAAG will be based on recommendations of the Board's ADAAG
Review Advisory Committee. That Committee recommended increasing the gain for
public pay telephones from 12-18 dB to 12-20 dB. Recently, the ANSI A117.1
Committee released its 1997 "Accessible and Usable Buildings and
Facilities" standard. This voluntary standard-setting body issues
accessibility standards used by the nations model building codes. The ANSI
standard requires certain public pay telephones to provide 12 dB of gain minimum
and up to 20 dB maximum and that an automatic reset be provided. The 1997 ANSI
A117.1 document and the Board's new ADAAG are being harmonized to minimize
differences between the two documents.
Therefore, in accordance with the National Technology
Transfer and Advancement Act, the final rule has been changed to adopt the
provision as currently specified in the private, voluntary ANSI standard, with
wording to clarify its meaning. For example, the ANSI provision was written
under the assumption of an incremental, stepped volume control. If a volume
adjustment is provided that allows a user to set the level anywhere from 0 to
the upper requirement of 20 dB, there is no need to specify a lower limit. If a
stepped volume control is provided, one of the intermediate levels must provide
12 dB of gain. Although the final rule does not provide the higher 25 dB level
as proposed in the NPRM, the Board intends to highlight this provision for
evaluation in its market monitoring
report. If the Board's market monitoring report shows that persons with
hearing impairments continue to report having trouble using telephones because
the level of amplification is not high enough, the Board will re-evaluate this
Recently, the FCC issued an order postponing until January
1, 2000, the date by which all telephones covered by Part 68 must be equipped
with a volume control. This order was issued as a response to a request for
reconsideration asking that the requirement only be applied to new equipment.
That request was denied but the time for compliance was extended to take into
account its application to telephones already registered under Part 68.
The guidelines only apply to telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment designed, developed and fabricated after [insert date 30 days after publication]. Therefore, the guideline provision does not conflict with the FCC order. New telephones will be covered by these guidelines and existing telephones will have until January 1, 2000, to comply with the FCC Order.
Persons with hearing impairments uniformly supported this provision.
Manufacturers, however, said it posed problems with respect to wireless
telephones. They pointed out that the provision as written specified zero
interference whereas, that was not physically possible. Interference could only
be reduced so far, they said, and both the telephone and the hearing aid played
a role. They urged the Board to defer any such requirement until the ANSI C63
Committee had finished its work. Some manufacturers also objected to the
requirement's coverage of bystanders as outside the Act's jurisdiction. Also,
the Trace Center viewed interference as a compatibility issue which should be
addressed in Subpart D where it is repeated.
The Board agrees that interference levels are a complex issue and cited the work
of the ANSI C63 Committee in the NPRM. Interference is a function of both the
hearing aid and telephone, and the C63 Committee is seeking to define
"acceptable" levels of interference with respect to types of hearing
aids and classes of telephones. The standard would also prescribe testing
protocols. The Board does not believe, however, that it should defer a
requirement until the ANSI Committee has finished its work, but it does expect
the Committee's work to help clarify what is readily achievable. Therefore, the
provision has been modified slightly in the final rule to emphasize that
products are to produce the least interference possible. In subsequent revisions
to these guidelines the Board will propose standards for RF emissions and will
consider the results of the ANSI C63 Committee, if they are available, in
developing such standards.
For now, the reference to bystanders has been removed
because a device which has reduced the interference to a level which is
acceptable to the user is likely to have reduced it for a bystander as well.
However, what is not known at this time is the effect another nearby wireless
telephone might have on a person's ability to use a properly designed wireless
telephone. That is, a person with a hearing impairment may have purchased a
telephone which produces minimal interference with his or her hearing aid but
finds that telephone cannot be used when in the vicinity of another wireless
telephone user. The Board intends to specifically address this issue in the market
monitoring report to see whether the prohibition of bystander interference
should be reinstated.
Finally, this provision appears to be a compatibility issue, but it is really an accessibility one. If a hearing aid user experiences unacceptable levels of interference, the telephone is inaccessible to that person. The provision correctly belongs in Subpart C because the statute does not require telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment to be both accessible and compatible. That is, if the provisions of Subpart C are met, the manufacturer does not need to consider the provisions of Subpart D. Furthermore, since the provisions of Subpart C are applied first, if it is not readily achievable for a manufacturer to meet this provision here, it would not be readily achievable in Subpart D either. Therefore, the provision has been removed from Subpart D.