2004 Conference Proceedings

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Timothy Creagan
Director of Consumer Training
Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC)
Phone: 703.528.0883, ext. 32
Email: tim.creagan@ittatc.org

Consumers purchase things all the time: food, clothing, cars, and many other materials used in daily living. Information technology is like any other consumer purchase. However, consumers with disabilities need to broaden their purchasing criteria to include what features will be most helpful to make the technology accessible. With these skills the knowledgeable consumer can make more successful purchase decisions, provide feedback to the company who makes or sells the product, or take action by understanding and pursuing their legal rights to accessible electronic and information technology (E&IT).

Goals of this Training

After attending this session, a consumer should be able to:

  1. Define their own access needs
  2. Identify specific design features in the technology they want.
  3. Find the technology in the marketplace, if it exists.
  4. Know what actions they can take if they cannot find the technology.

Define Personal Access Needs

Consumers with disabilities know a great deal about their own specific barriers to access, whether the focus is on the built environment or the use of technology. They need to buy accessible E&IT that minimizes the product usability demand with the functional limitation of the disability and allows optimal use of the technology. For example, if the user is hard of hearing and wears hearing aids, a telephone needs to be compatible with hearing aids and have a sufficient amplification range. Similarly, if the user is blind or visually impaired, a computer user checking email will benefit from an alternative way to read the written text, such as a screen reader or a screen magnifier.

Review Specific Features

It is helpful when determining what features are needed for accessible E&IT to examine some of the specific accessibility features that are available for people with disabilities. Here are a few features that address particular needs.

  1. Holding and manipulating. For telephones, some features that improve holding the phones and manipulating the keys include large buttons, lightweight phones, and speed dial. For computers, manipulation of the computer may be improved by the use of keyboard commands, which are used instead of a mouse or control stick, voice recognition software, which allows the computer user to vocalize commands rather than physically manipulate keys, and "Sticky Keys" (or latch key) which allows multiple-key function while depressing one key at a time.

  2. Seeing. Telephones may be made more accessible by the use of illuminated displays, high contrast labeling, and large buttons for use by people with visual impairments, including elders. Computers can be made more accessible by the use of zoom display screens, high contrast display settings, and a screen reader.

  3. Hearing. Telephones can be more useable by people with hearing loss by being compatible with hearing aids, having text capability so the user can read information, and by vibrating alerts rather than audible tones so the user can feel the phone signal. Computers that have video captions and visual alerts to supplement audible information can be more accessible for persons with hearing loss.

  4. Thinking and remembering. Telephones which have an automatic redial feature or voice-activated dialing can be very helpful to people with cognitive and information processing disabilities. Computers that have alternate input or output modes such as voice recognition and screen readers are more accessible.

Consumers need to think about some of the reasons they use technology, then consider what features would make it more usable. For example, if a consumer has a cell phone, would they use it for making phone calls? Accessing the web? Text messaging? Or just for emergencies? These uses will dictate what features are most crucial for consumers when selecting the right product for their needs.

Often the person with the disability can ask others what features make products easier to use. They might ask family, friends, and disability groups (e.g., United Cerebral Palsy, National Association of the Deaf, American Council of the Blind, the Arc, Independent Living Centers) for suggestions for what features may make the technology usable for people with the limitations associated with a specific disability.

Find the Product in the Marketplace


  1. In Retail Stores. Begin product research in a retail store.

    1. Keep in mind, however, that larger chains (e.g., Best Buy, Target) are more likely to have a wider array of products to try out.
    2. Many products such as computers, cell phones, and PDA's are often available in the store to try out.
    3. Sales clerks are unlikely to have much information about the accessibility features of products.

  2. By Telephone. Using the telephone may yield more information than a visit to a store, but the call must be directed. A good place to start is the general Customer Support number, then ask for the disability or accessibility information. This may require patience and persistence.

  3. Via the World Wide Web. Many companies have information about products' accessibility features on the company website. Consumers may want to put "accessibility" or "disabilities" into the search field to retrieve information on the accessible product features offered by the company. The local public library may be helpful, as many librarians are proficient in computer-assisted research.

  4. Other Resources:

    1. ITTATC (Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center). (http://www.ittatc.org), 1-866-948-8282 (toll free/TTY). Federally funded project, which provides training and technical assistance to consumers on Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

    2. State Tech Act Projects (http://www.resna.org/taproject/at/statecontacts.html). Federally funded programs in each state, which address the assistive technology needs of individuals with disabilities. A good source of information about assistive technology and the accessibility of mainstream information technology products.

    3. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Disability Rights

    4. Office (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/). Source of information on laws affecting accessible telecommunications technology, especially Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act. (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/telecom_language.html)

    5. Access Board (Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) (http://www.access-board.gov). Federal agency devoted to accessibility for people with disabilities. It develops and maintains accessibility standards for telecommunications equipment, and for E&IT, among other areas. It has developed accessibility standards for Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which requires access to electronic and information technology procured by Federal agencies.

    6. Job Accommodation Network (JAN) 1-800-526-7234 (V/TTY) This is a free consulting service that provides information on job work-site accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the employability of people with disabilities.

    7. Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) (http://www.ataccess.org). A network of community-based Resource Centers providing information and support services to children and adults with disabilities, and to increasing their use of standard, assistive, and information technologies.

    8. State Departments of Rehabilitation Services (Found in the Blue government pages of the local phone book)

What Actions can be taken if the product is not found in the Marketplace?

  1. Feedback to the retailer and the manufacturer to seek their help

    1. If a consumer was shopping for a product to be used by a person with a disability and did not find an accessible product in the store, the first step would be to tell the retailer what the problem was.

    2. Next, consumers would contact the manufacturer or tell the service provider (e.g., BellSouth, Verizon, AT&T) who controls the software that runs the communication network. They also make the decisions about which phones will work on their network (e.g., Motorola, Nokia, Erickson, etc).

  2. If an accessible product still cannot be found, be aware of potential legal remedies.

    1. Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act - requires telecommunications manufacturers and service providers to make their products accessible to people with disabilities, if it is "readily achievable" to do so. The Act provides for an informal and formal complaint process at the Federal Communications Commission. Check the FCC website for details of what to include in a complaint. (http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html)

    2. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act - requires that Federal Agencies and departments must comply with the standards developed by the Access Board when they procure, develop, maintain or use electronic and information technology (E&IT). Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities must have access to the same information as persons without disabilities. Check with the 508 Coordinator of the particular federal agency to find out how to register a complaint (http://www.section508.gov). Note that complaining about a lack of access to public information may result in providing the information in an alternative format designed to be accessible for a person with specific functional limitations.


Consumers with disabilities can define their own access needs to E&IT and identify design features they need. They can find the technology if it exists in the marketplace and they know what they can do if it does not. By advocating for themselves and others, consumers with disabilities not only make a difference in helping others to achieve access, but often make products more usable for everyone.

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