1999 Conference Proceedings

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Update On Access to Telecommunications

Douglas Wakefield
Telecommunications Specialist
U.S. Access Board
Washington, DC 20004

Since the Access Board issued it's guidelines for Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, several exciting and innovative developments have happened within telecommunication industry that may improve access to for people with disabilities. And, by the spring of 1999, the FCC's rule making procedures should be completed. This means there are several new developments of which consumers and professionals need to be aware. The Access Board's presentation will first briefly discuss the Board's guidelines which were issued in February of 1998.

This will be followed by a discussion of some of the findings of the Board's first market monitoring report. While this report is still in its preliminary stages, there are significant examples of industry working with persons with disabilities to make their telecommunications equipment accessible. In addition, several companies are working to assure that their employees are aware of the mandate of Section 255, as well as how to best assist persons with disabilities.

Background--Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires that certain telecommunications equipment be accessible to individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable. Under the Act, the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board--the Access Board--was given the responsibility to develop and maintain accessibility guidelines for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment (the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, is responsible for regulations concerning services).

Telecommunications equipment is defined under the law as "equipment, other than customer premises equipment, used by a carrier to provide telecommunications services, and includes software integral to such equipment (including upgrades)," and customer premises equipment as "equipment employed on the premises of a person (other than a carrier) to originate, route, or terminate telecommunications." To develop the guidelines, the Board, which also authored the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), formed a federal advisory committee made up of 35 organizations that represent people with disabilities, telecommunications service providers, equipment manufacturers, and others.

Thereport of the advisory committee was submitted in January 1997. From this, the Board developed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Federal Register in mid-April 1997. Following a period of public comment, much of it electronically submitted, the Board approved a Final Rule in September 1997, an astonishing pace for a rulemaking on this frontier. The final phase will be for the FCC to incoporate the Access Baord's guidelines into the Commision's set of rules.


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