Once seen as a foe, mobile phone industry to be honored by Hearing Loss Association

By David H. Kirkwood

BETHESDA, MD—Back in the late 1990s, few would have believed that advocates for people with hearing loss would ever have a kind word for the wireless phone industry.

That was the time that mobile phones were really starting to catch on in the U.S. The bad news, as users and manufacturers of hearing aids were discovering, was that these phones caused enormous interference problems for nearly all hearing aid wearers. Not only was it impossible for them to take advantage of this exciting new technology, but often their hearing aids would start buzzing just because they were in the proximity of someone nearby was using a cell phone. All in all, the dawn of the mobile phone era was looking like an unmitigated disaster for those with impaired hearing.

Initially, it seemed to many that the cell phone industry really didn’t care about the problems its products would cause for millions of Americans. After all, there would be plenty of customers for them who didn’t use hearing aids. At least as the Hearing Industries Association saw it, CTIA-The Wireless Association(R), which represented the mobile phone industry, felt that it was up to hearing aid manufacturers to come up with a fix that would make their products immune–or at least less sensitive–to the interference from phones.

Fortunately, in the years since then, the situation has improved greatly. Thanks to the cooperation and dedicated work of a host of individuals and organizations, including HIA, consumer advocacy groups, such as the Hearing Loss Association of America—HLAA (then known as Self Help for Hard of Hearing People), the Federal Communications Commission and, yes, CTIA, which showed that it did care about prospective customers with hearing aids, it became possible, if not always easy, for people with hearing loss to use mobile phones.

Just how much progress has been made was demonstrated this week when the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) announced that it would award its 2013 National Access Award to CTIA in recognition of its work in providing improved communication access for people with hearing loss.

In its June 4 announcement, HLAA hailed CTIA “for its efforts under the leadership of Steve Largent, president and CEO, to ensure that people with hearing loss can live more connected and meaningful lives through access to wireless products. Mr. Largent has championed HLAA’s cause to open the way for people with hearing loss to access the power of the communications technologies that are transforming our world.”

Largent, who was previously known for his NFL Hall of Fame career as a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks and then as a congressman from Oklahoma, responded to HLAA’s praise. He said, “On behalf of CTIA and our members, we appreciate HLAA for recognizing the wireless industry’s dedication to making mobile products and services accessible for all Americans, including people with hearing loss. We know wireless devices and services are vital to the accessibility community’s personal, business. and emergency communications, and we pledge to continue collaborating with HLAA and others in the accessibility community to ensure all Americans benefit from mobile technology.”

The award will be presented June 27 during the opening session at HLAA’s Convention 2013 in Portland, OR.

Other featured guests at the session will include the keynote speaker, Howard Weinstein, inventor of Solar Ear solar-powered hearing aids, and Jacob Landis of Jacob’s Ride.