FCC's Next Gen 911 Disability Committee Met in December: Recommendations to Influence the Next Decade

On Friday December 14, 2012, the FCC’s Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC) met again.  Its job is to look at the best technologies and methods that will allow people with disabilities to access the next generation of 911 services (“NG911") and involves broadband Internet technologies. This committee is required under Section 106 of the 21st CVAA and its membership includes many advocates who were active in ensuring passage of this landmark legislation. Driving this agenda is the growing use of wireless access with 40% of adults now using the Internet, email or instant messaging on a mobile phone according to a recent Pew report.  The EAAC has met multiple times since December 2010 and since that time has surveyed people with disabilities and released a report in June 2011. Following the survey report, the EAAC developed recommendations, which it submitted to the FCC on December 7, 2011. Read the EAAC Report and Recommendations online here.

NG911 work focuses a lot on video, real-time text and audio access to 911 services. These tools of access are valuable for everyone but especially for many individuals with disabilities who require communication modes other than voice, whether it be for example in sign language, text, voice or any combination of these. The report's underlying theme or principle for access to NG911 by people with disabilities is that it should involve devices and services typically used and would not require something different or special to reach 911 services. The EAAC December report and recommendations -- which are quite extensive -- addressed several areas:

  • Scope, that is, since any new rules would fall under the 21st CVAA, everything involving accessibility would have to be (1) “achievable” and (2) “technically and economically feasible,” as those terms are defined by the FCC;
  • How actions taken by the FCC would apply prospectively to new equipment and services and would also take into consideration any current or ongoing proceedings or rules development;
  • The need for further research on topics like network congestion, quality of service, multimedia, TTY migration (or phase out!), interoperability testing, test calls by individuals with disabilities, and relay service standards among others; and
  • How technical standards and operational procedures should be developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies whenever possible. The report listed many such technical standards that may be considered, including some European schemes.

The work of the EAAC impacts many organizations and individuals in the 9-1-1 ecosystem. This includes manufacturers and service providers of telecommunication equipment and advanced communications services, IP Relay and Interpretation Service providers (including VRS and Sign Language Assistance Services), Emergency Service Network manufacturers and providers and Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs). This ecosystem involves multiple different standards and protocols, use of different equipment and procedures and a myriad of other factors affecting implementation. 

At the EAAC’s December meeting members discussed draft reports from EAAC subcommittees and looked at other activities needed to ensure access to 911 by individuals with disabilities. The EAAC meets at the FCC HQ building, 445 12th Street SW, Washington DC, usually from 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM, with meetings open to the public. For further information on these meetings, please contact Cheryl King, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, tel 202-418-2284 or TTY 202-418-0416 (TTY) or Email Cheryl.King@fcc.gov; and/or Patrick Donovan, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, tel 202-418-2413 or Email  Patrick.Donovan@fcc.gov.


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