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Editorial #27-What Happened to Functional Equivalency? Are Our Rights being Taken Away?

I posted this before, and I am posting this again here. This is part of the FCC regulations that outline the functional equivalency standard for relay services (while it says “TRS Rules”, VRS applies here.)

TRS Rules 47 C.F.R. § 64.601 (a) (15) (emphasis added)

Telecommunications relay services (TRS). Telephone transmission services that provide the ability for an individual who has a hearing or speech disability to engage in communication by wire or radio with a hearing individual in a manner that is functionally equivalent to the ability of an individual who does not have a hearing or speech disability to communicate using voice communication services by wire or radio. Such term includes services that enable two-way communication between an individual who uses a text telephone or other nonvoice terminal device and an individual who does not use such a device, speech-to-speech services, video relay services and non-English relay services. TRS supersedes the terms “dual party relay system,” “message relay services,” and “TDD Relay.”

Imagine a scenario when a hearing person picks up the phone and makes a call, and the phone company interrupts and says you cannot make this kind of call. Of course, it wouldn’t happen to a hearing person. But it could happen anytime soon for deaf and hard of hearing people using VRS. The FCC has given instructions to NECA (the organization paying reimbursements for VRS services to VRS providers) to disallow reimbursement for certain types of phone calls.

I cannot imagine the government intruding on our right to communicate like a hearing person. The law or the regulation above is very clear. If they don’t do it to a hearing person, then they can’t do it to a deaf or hard of hearing person. It is up to the deaf or hard of hearing person to determine the kind of calls he or she wants to make. If NECA continues to deny reimbursement for calls such as conference calls between deaf people and hearing people which in its simplest form is a legitimate relay call, it could lead VRS companies to deny processing those calls. Dr. Z is upset and is urging the FCC to take a look at this. This is taking a leap backwards–black people fought to get their civil rights–we deaf and hard of hearing people fought to get our rights via the ADA and all this is taking some of our rights away.

Today several VRS companies filed this letter on this matter. (link to letter)

Let us hope that the FCC is going to reconsider some of this.

Dr. Z cares about your communication access.

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