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COAT Members Urge Action by Wireless Industry to Improve Disability Accessibility

WASHINGTON, Aug. 14 —Consumers with disabilities are taking their concerns about lack of accessibility of cell phones to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this month, with multiple complaints against numerous companies submitted by representatives of the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT). The FCC is the federal agency that enforces Section 255, an eleven-year-old law that requires phones designed to be accessible for people with disabilities. Complaints are filed against both cell phone carriers and manufacturers.

"Wire line, wireless and VoIP companies and manufacturers are required to make services and products disability accessible and usable," says Jenifer Simpson, Senior Director of Telecommunications Policy at the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), a COAT affiliate organization that helps consumers file their complaints. "Companies scoff at federal law when they fail to design at the front end for the needs of people with all kinds of disabilities. We urge the industry to take more action now so that people with disabilities, including the growing population of seniors, can purchase wireless phones and services without becoming exasperated and frustrated by unusable phones and unresponsive customer service."

"Millions of Americans use hearing aids, for example," states Brenda Battat, Associate Executive Director at the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), another COAT affiliate, "and this number will grow rapidly as the baby boomers age. It is unfathomable to HLAA why there are new cell phones coming into the marketplace that do not address this need."

"These complaints illustrate a market failure on the part of the cell phone industry to address accessibility," adds Paul Schroeder, VP of the Programs and Policy Group at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), another COAT affiliate, which assisted over a dozen individuals in submitting complaints to the FCC recently. "While some companies have taken steps, consumers with vision loss have few good options for accessibility, and almost no reliable information about accessibility."

The complaints from consumers with disabilities include:

  • Cell phones not providing for audio output of information displayed on the screen for users with vision disabilities;
  • Cell phones not built for compatibility with hearing aids;
  • Visual displays difficult or impossible to navigate for persons with fine motor disabilities;
  • No easily-found disability 'point of contact' at the company as required by FCC regulations;
  • Number and control keys hard to distinguish by touch;
  • Product manuals not available, and not available in alternate formats such as braille or large print;
  • No easy-to-find descriptions of accessibility features;
  • Phone bills and customer contracts not available in braille, large print, or other easily readable formats; and
  • Customer service personnel ill-equipped to handle concerns of consumers with disabilities.

The Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) is a new coalition of disability organizations, launched in March 2007, to advocate for legislative and regulatory safeguards that will ensure full access by people with disabilities to evolving high speed broadband, wireless and other Internet protocol (IP) technologies. COAT consists of over 100 national, regional, and community-based affiliates dedicated to making sure that as the nation migrates from legacy public switched-based telecommunications to more versatile and innovative IP-based and other communication technologies, people with disabilities will benefit like everyone else. More information about the disability coalition is available at www.coataccess.org.

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CONTACT: Jenifer Simpson of AAPD, +1-202-457-0046, or Brenda Battat of HLAA, +1-301-657-2248, or +1-301-657-2249 (TTY), or Adrianna Montague-Gray of AFB, 1-212-502-7675

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