Technology and Disability Highlights - December 2017 - January 2018

Date of Publication: 
2018 February
The turn of the year saw much regulatory activity concerning emergency communications.  Given the intensity of natural disasters in 2017, including the hurricanes and wildfires, concentrating efforts on identifying emergency communications access barriers and advancing rulemakings that address the same is apropos. To that end, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) released the Hurricane Response Public Notice [17-344] requesting stakeholder input about the effectiveness of emergency communications technologies, procedures, and policies that were employed in response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. The information will identify trends in communications access issues and where improvements to the systems can be made. Of note, the FCC poses a series of questions regarding the Communications Service User Experience, to collect data on the accessibility of emergency alerts for people with disabilities, issues related to disrupted cell coverage, and 9-1-1 access. 
Regarding the latter, in efforts to address 9-1-1 access disparities, the FCC is moving forward with the transition from legacy TTY (teletype) to real-time text. RTT, when available on mobile devices and adopted by call centers, will provide people with hearing and speech disabilities a way to communicate with 9-1-1 operators expediently and conversationally (i.e., more equivalent to a voice call). The FCC’s Final Rule [16-145; 16-169] regarding TTY to RTT transition guidance was published in the Federal Register, thereby receiving approval of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Final Rule covers information collection requirements, waiver conditions and reporting requirements, and consumer outreach guidelines. 
The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system made headlines in the wake of the California wildfires as many residents questioned why they did not receive a mobile alert. Emergency managers across the nation have stated a hindrance to their adopting WEA centers on issues with geotargeting. In response, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released the WEA Second Report and Order and Second Order on Reconsideration [15-91; 15-94] proposing to improve geographic targeting of alerts to raise community awareness and encourage the use of WEA in crisis situations. The WEA Second Report and Order mandates that wireless providers deliver emergency alerts to targeted geographic areas, with no more than a 0.1-mile overlap over non-crisis coverage areas. The proposal also aims to help first responders more accurately and quickly target messages to populations in the impact zone through the improved geographic targeting. Many more activities of the FCC, Congress, and the U.S. Department of Justice are detailed in the newsletter.
In Wireless RERC news, Technology and Disability Policy Highlights (TDPH) editors completed a content analysis of the Top 25 Topics covered in 2017. The top five most cited words for 2017 were disabilities, wireless, information, technology, and FCC (Federal Communications Commission). Under the “disabilities” keyword, the most covered disability type was vision, followed by deaf, mobility, and cognitive. A sampling of the disability-type-specific coverage included WayBand, a running assistant for users that are blind; smart glasses as an object and print-reading technology for people that are blind; telecommunications relay services; American Sign Language (ASL) interpreted emergency messages; Ava App, that facilitates group discussions for people who are Deaf or hearing impaired; and statistics on smartphone use by adults with physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities. Improvements in sensor and wearable technology and internet communication this past year are rapidly accelerating the pace of research, development, and deployment. Content covered under the wireless, information, technology, and FCC topics reflect these advancements, covering artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), the internet of things (IoT), 3D printing, robotics, wearables, emergency communications access, and autonomous vehicles. For more on the Top 25, go to the Wireless RERC Updates section of the newsletter.
This issue also includes news about smart glasses, 3D printed teaching aids, Seeing AI, a star wars inspired prosthetic hand, a “wide-eyed” robot, and more.


The contents of this website were developed under a grant from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR grant number 90RE5025-01-00). NIDILRR is a Center within the Administration for Community Living (ACL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The contents of this website do not necessarily represent the policy of NIDILRR, ACL, HHS, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.