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Equipment Accessibility

Equipment accessibility under the Telecom Act of 1996

Although telecommunications accessibility has been the subject of many Congressional actions, until 1996 no law covered the accessibility of telecommunications equipment.

Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment must be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities, if it is readily achievable for a manufacturer to make it so.

If it is not readily achievable for a manufacturer to make the equipment accessible, then it must be compatible with "specialized" customer premises equipment (such as TTYs, assistive listening systems, etc.) – again, if readily achievable to make it compatible.

The Act ordered the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB or "Access Board") to develop guidelines for equipment accessibility. The Access Board established a Federal advisory committee composed of 35 organizations, of which Gallaudet was one. This group, the Telecommunications Access Advisory Committee (TAAC) met for 18 days in 1996-97 and delivered a comprehensive report to the Access Board. The Access Board then wrote a proposed guideline which was finalized in the fall of 1997.

The Federal Communications Commission is charged with overseeing compliance with Section 255. On April 20, 1998, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The due date for comments is June 30, 1998; reply comments are due August 14, 1998.

Links

Access Board guidelines
This site contains the final (February, 1998) Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines of the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board). (Homepage: http://www.access-board.gov/)

Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act Of 1996
This links to the full text of Section 255 of the Telecom Act, Access By Persons With Disabilities.

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