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Blog

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May 7, 2018

5G Will Spur New Opportunities for Americans with Disabilities .

5G Will Spur New Opportunities for Americans with Disabilities

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Kara Graves
Director, Regulatory Affairs

We speak often about how next-generation 5G wireless networks and technologies will revolutionize our world, from enabling autonomous cars and remote surgery to powering new advances in education and public safety.

But what often gets missed is that 5G will also spur new opportunities for consumers with differing needs, including millions of older adults and people with disabilities.

Today the wireless industry offers an array of products and services that meet consumers’ diverse needs.  As CTIA recently highlighted in comments to the FCC, this includes not just unlimited data, text, and messaging plans that are useful for people who are deaf or hard of hearing or speech-limited, but innovative devices with consistent accessible features that can be customized for different levels of vision, hearing, physical, cognitive, and speech abilities.

For people who are blind or visually impaired or who have cognitive or mobility limitations, the impact of personal digital assistants like Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s Bixby and Google Assistant – which have become nearly ubiquitous in wireless handsets – has extended beyond the phone screen to include control over connected home appliances and other previously inaccessible tasks.

The wireless industry is also continuing to lead the rapid deployment of Real Time Text (RTT).  RTT, which replaces antiquated and underused wireless TTY machines, is a communications evolution that will enable consumers of a variety of abilities to conversationally engage without the need for specialized equipment or external plug-in devices.  It also allows users to take advantage of modern smartphone keyboards, meaning they can type in multiple languages or use emojis.  As RTT is made available on more networks and devices, consumers with hearing and speech-related disabilities will benefit from a more conversational communications experience.

With the next generation of wireless, 5G, we’ll see faster speeds and lower-latency, which will spur even greater technological advances and disruptions of sectors like healthcare, education, transportation, and public safety.

Virtual and augmented reality technologies, for instance, will dramatically improve economic and social opportunities for people living with learning or social disabilities, allowing them to learn life skills – like reading facial expressions or navigating crowded streets – in a safe, controlled environment.

5G connected self-driving cars meanwhile offer to reduce transportation obstacles for the accessibility community and seniors aging in place, creating new opportunities for employment and civic engagement.  A recent study by the Ruderman Family Foundation estimates that autonomous vehicles could open two million employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The increased densification of 5G networks will also support enhanced geo-location and navigation services for people who are blind or visually impaired, making it easier for users to navigate their communities, identify their destinations, find a seat on the next bus, and more.

And with networks up to 100 times faster than 4G and up to five times more responsive, video conferencing will improve immensely, which will benefit those who communicate in American Sign Language (ASL).  Notably, it will also allow users of various abilities to utilize video applications for telecommuting, creating a more competitive and diverse workforce and helping to level the economic playing field for people with disabilities.

To realize these benefits, we need regulatory policies that will ensure the wireless industry can continue to offer innovative products and services to the benefit of all consumers, including those with disabilities.  That includes more spectrum in the high and mid-band ranges, and modernized infrastructure policies to support rapid deployment of networks.

As a 5G world moves closer to reality, the wireless industry looks forward to collaborating on innovative solutions and proactive outreach that will benefit all consumers, including the accessibility community.

We are committed to this mission and eager to continue our active engagement.  Catch us in the coming weeks at the M-Enabling Summit and HLAA Convention, where we’ll be further discussing the 5G-related opportunities for Americans with disabilities!

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