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PSAP Accessibility under ADA

Robert Mather

Senior Trial Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice

 

Today I'd like to talk about the Department of Justice's Title II regulation that applies to 9-1-1 centers, otherwise known as Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs).

 

We really enjoy and appreciate your involvement here in dealing with new issues going forward, including the fact that it seems phone services are moving to VoIP, with implications for TTY.  We're aware that that issue has arisen to this point, but we really were not aware that that was the big change until just recently.  It remains our challenge to ensure direct access to 9-1-1 centers. 

 

A bit of background on the Title II regulation:  The ADA was passed in 1990, and it established the standard that said that all 9-1-1 centers must provide direct access for people who use TTYs.  That's basically it.  That's all.  That's the only language that was given to that issue.  Congress made it clear that 9-1-1 centers must change whatever they have to, in order to provide direct access to people who use TTYs.  So that established the policy under Title II of the ADA, and of course the Department of Justice had to figure out what kind of information we needed to get out to the public.  What kind of requirements should the Department of Justice establish for the direct access mandate?

 

One concept was establishing a technical standard, just as the FCC has established a variety of technical standards.  For example, is there is a specific kind of equipment, perhaps, or a specific speed, a time requirement, things like that, that should be detailed? 

 

At that time, we determined that 9-1-1 was in the process of changing, and it was not appropriate for us to establish a technical standard.  Instead, what we established was a performance standard to allow the 9-1-1 technology to make that change, still with the goal that the 9-1-1 centers would provide direct access.  In the final rule, we decided not to tell them how to provide 9-1-1 access, but instead, we stated to them, "You must find a way to provide direct access."

 

You must know that a lot of 9-1-1 centers didn't have a lot of call-taker positions; for example, out in the country perhaps they might have a small office, with only two or three call-taker positions there, ranging all the way up to a big city like Chicago or Los Angeles where they would have over 50-100 call-taker positions.  It really varied.  So it was very difficult for us to establish that single technical standard that worked for all the 9-1-1 centers.

 

In issuing the final regulation, we stated that all 9-1-1 centers must take appropriate steps to provide direct access for TTY users, and then we waited to see what would happen. 

 

A lot of centers thought, they could just have one TTY per center and that was enough -- no matter how many call-taker positions were there, two, 20, or 50.  But through the years our experience showed us that one TTY per center was not enough.  It didn't work.  They could not answer TTY calls promptly.  Experience showed us that it required one TTY per call-taker position, and compatible equipment so that the center would be able to respond to all types of TTY calls.

 

One of the biggest issues that arose at that time was the issue regarding silent calls.  A lot of 9-1-1 centers’ operating procedures require that when they picked up the phone, to speak vocally; if there was no answer, to repeat, “Are you there?  Are you there?”  If there was no answer they would automatically dispatch the police to the location of the call maker, based on the ANI, automatic number identifier, or ALI, automatic location identifier.  Later, we issued guidance that required 9-1-1 centers to treat silent calls as potential TTY calls and to handle them accordingly.  For instance, the 9-1-1 centers are required to modify their SOP by answering the silent calls in the following manner:  When they answered the phone, say, "Hello, is someone there?" and then repeat the question; and if nobody answered, to put the phone on the TTY and to proceed with the call-taking procedure.

 

9-1-1 is required by Title II to evaluate the center's response so that they would treat TTY and voice calls equally.  It also required the 9-1-1 centers to provide training on TTY use in order that the call-takers would be familiar with the TTY commonly-used language.

 

To this point, things have greatly improved.  We've entered into numerous compliance reviews and settlement agreements with 9-1-1 centers to provide appropriate equipment, training, and testing.  Normally 9-1-1 centers test their equipment regularly to make sure that their equipment works.  And we require them to test TTY every morning if they did test every morning on their regular equipment.  They have to test their TTY equipment on an equitable basis.

 

The Department of Justice has worked with the National Emergency Number Association, NENA, for many years, and they informed us that many PSAPs wanted to ensure that there was access to their centers for TTY calls.  

 

And so now the issue is, well, what do the 9-1-1 centers do with VoIP?  So at that point I will turn it over to Greg Hlibok.

 

Direct Access to 911  (Link to Gregory Hlibok’s paper)

Related Proceedings and Rules of the FCC

Gregory Hlibok, FCC, Consumer & Governmental Affairs

 

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