Evolving Mandates on Access to
Telecommunications and Information Technology

Two big items on the regulatory and legislative front:

Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act A new Section 508 strengthens accessibility requirement in all federal information technology purchases, both for employees or members of the public.  The Access Board based its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the committee it established to develop standards for accessible information technology: the Electronic Information Technology Access Advisory Committee (EITAAC).  EITAAC's report contains generic standards for all covered products, as well as technology-specific standards.

and the

Telecommunications Act of 1996 Section 255 of this Act mandates that all "telecommunications products and services be accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities" to the extent that it is "readily achievable" to do so.  The Access Board and the FCC are responsible for making sure these provisions have meaning and are enforced.  The Access Board has issued specific guidelines to industry in its Final Rules.  The FCC's Final Rules on Section 255 went into effect on January 28, 2000.

Here are other FCC's Section 255 Activities to date.   This Act also covers closed captioning and video description; here are the FCC's activities on those as well.

The federal government continues to increase the responsibility of industry to meet the needs of all citizens. This trend has a history and will likely continue:

Rehabilitation Act, 1973 and subsequent amendments mandates accessibility in all equipment purchased by the federal government or entities receiving federal dollars.

Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act, 1988 requires all federal telecommunications systems and services to be accessible to employees or members of the public with disabilities

Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 (HAC Act) -- requires telephone handsets to be compatible with hearing aids.  Here are the FCC activities on hearing aid compatibility.

Americans with Disabilities Act, 1990 requires public and private institutions to accommodate disabled employees and customers; establishes telecommunications relay service.

Television Decoder Circuitry Act, 1990 requires all televisions to include closed captioning decoders.  Although industry complained about this law when it was first passed, its costs have been lower and its benefits higher than anticipated.  If you've been to a sports bar or health club recently, you've probably seen captioning -- and educational uses of captioning for language instruction have been extremely effective.

Regulations and case law have extended the reach of these laws to cover more industries over time. We can help you determine the implications of these and new mandates, and to support the development and implementation of a plan to help you stay ahead of the curve on access issues.