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Is the iPhone a Rotten Apple? Hearing Loss Group Files Complaint

Its a federal regulation. Youd think Steve Jobs, or at least Apples legal department, would know that but obviously, something slipped between the cracks during the early development phase of the iPhone. It doesnt work with a hearing aid! Ooops.

The Federal Communications Commission maintains a set of regulations, one of which requires that telephone manufacturers, including cell phone makers (thats the iPhone) must make their products accessible to people who experience hearing loss. Section 255 of the FCCs regs state that telecommunications products must be accessible to people with disabilities if that access is readily achievable, which is defined by the FCC as easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense. Okay, somewhat ambiguous but the intent is clear and clearly, Apple just plain forgot.

And that made some people mad. The Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) filed formal complaints with FCC officials in August, 07. HLAAs Associate Executive Director, Brenda Battat, stated The phone is not usable with a hearing aid, either on the microphone or telecoil [see below] setting. Clearly it was not designed to be hearing aid compatible. It should have been.

Telecoil Technology

People who enjoy the benefits that hearing aids provide rely on an induction coil, also called a telecoil, when used as part of a hearing aid to detect the electro-magnetic field (EMF) generated by any electronic device, including cell phones. The telecoil in the hearing aid detects the EMF and converts it to sound.

Further, the telecoil prevents feedback a painful offshoot that sometimes occurs when two electronic devices (a hearing aid and telephone, for instance) come within range of each other so, its an essential part of todays high-tech hearing aids something Apple seems to have forgotten.

The HLAA complaint states that Apple had a responsibility to test the iPhone to hearing aid compatibility (HAC) standards so that it could be used by hearing aid and cochlear implant users. Battat stated, It was probably tested for HAC prior to release [but] as soon as they got the results they would have known it was not accessible Battat has met with Apple reps twice since the much-touted launch of the iPhone. At one meeting, the company demonstrated the iPhone with a hearing aid device. Battat was less than impressed.

When held up to a cochlear implant and/or a hearing aid it gives out a loud buzzing sound, she stated. Apple is well aware of the accessibility problems, not just for hearing aid users but for people with low vision or who are blind. They [Apple execs] state a willingness to get up to speed with accessibility. Too bad they did not do it prior to release and not after.

Unfortunately, Apples iPhone may be off the hook on this one thanks to a loophole in the FCCs regulations that states, Handset manufacturers that offer two or fewer digital wireless handsets in the US need not comply with the hearing aid compatibility compliance obligations.

Apple had until the end of September, 2007, to respond to the HLAA complaint, though its hard to imagine that the FCC will require Apple to rework its product. And heres the kicker it would have been a snap to ensure hearing aid and cochlear implant compatibility with the iPhone if it had been part of the initial plan. Its not that high tech and, beside, who knows high-tech gizmos better than the creators of the iPhone, iPod, iPod Nano and other toys for big kids.

You have to wonder, with all of the hype generated by the announcement and release of the iPhone, why someone didnt see this coming.

Apple dropped the ball on this one. Now what are they going to do about it?

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