Helen Keller National Center and The American Association of the Deaf-Blind Seek Immediate Action to Prevent Service Disruption on November 14th That Threatens Ability of People Who Are Deaf-Blind to Make Phone Calls
Two-Pronged Effort Needed to Delay Cessation of IP Relay Service by Purple Communications; and for Sprint to Improve Accessibility and Function of IP Relay Service
The American Association of the Deaf-Blind (AADB) and the Helen Keller National Center (HKNC) have joined together to call for immediate action to stop the planned cessation of Purple Communications' IP Relay Service, a Federal Communications Commission-regulated service, on November 14, 2014.
IP-based relay services provide critical access to telecommunication services for Deaf-Blind consumers across the United States. Currently, people who are Deaf-Blind utilize IP-based relay services through an app on their smart phone or computer that allows operators, called communications assistants (CAs), to facilitate telephone calls between people with hearing and speech disabilities and other individuals. Access to this service enables people who are deaf-blind to affordably conduct telephone conversations many sighted people may take for granted, such as making appointments, requesting services, communicating with friends and colleagues, job interviews, and the ability to make emergency 911 calls.
Like many Americans, people who are deaf-blind have enjoyed the benefit of having a choice of carriers to provide these critical IP Relay Services. Sadly, over time, the number of providers has dwindled and with Purple Communications’ plan to halt IP Relay Service, Sprint will be the only telecommunications carrier in the United States offering this critical service. However, currently Sprint’s IP Relay Service is not considered accessible by people who are deaf-blind who rely on low-vision and Braille technology to accomplish their telephone calls. Despite efforts by people who are deaf-blind to inform Sprint of these problems, Sprint has not updated its IP Relay Service to accommodate for all people who are deaf-blind.
The short-term impact is that if Sprint IP Relay service does not improve its accessibility failings by November 14, 2014, deaf-blind consumers will have no access to telecommunications. Without access to critical services, such as 911, people who are Deaf-Blind are essentially at risk. The long-term effect is that even if Sprint does achieve accessibility by the November 14th date, consumers will be left with no choice of providers. In effect, people who are deaf-blind will be deprived of the same rights and privileges afforded to every other American. And there is no guarantee that Sprint will not follow the suit of other providers thus far.
AADB and HKNC jointly call upon the Federal Communications Commission to recognize this dire consequence and immediately implement aggressive actions to prevent the catastrophic loss of communication as well as implement measures to ensure that people who are deaf-blind are afforded access to competitive and quality service.
AADB and HKNC also jointly call upon the FCC to ensure a smooth transition to an effective solution, by working with its partners in the community. We are concerned that the short timeframe notice does not give adequate time to educate and inform the many thousands of people who are Deaf-Blind who have come to rely on this service to perform everyday tasks that contribute to quality of life, employment, and public safety.
As it is the FCC's responsibility to regulate the standards and guidelines for the IP Relay industry, it is incumbent upon the FCC to ensure that vital services remain at the highest quality standards for all Americans, including Americans who are deaf-blind.
Mark Gasaway, President of AADB
Susan Ruzenski, Executive Director of HKNC