2004 Conference Proceedings

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SPEAKING OUT ABOUT INACCESSIBLE TECHNOLOGY

Presenters

Deborah Bursa
Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC)
490 Tenth Street, NW
Atlanta, GA 30318
Phone: 404-894-4621
Fax: 404-894-9320
Email: deborah.bursa@ittatc.org

Tim Creagan
Information Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC)
1700 N. Moore Street, Suite 1910
Arlington, VA 22209
Phone: 703-528-0883, ext. 32
Fax: 703-528-8419
Email: tim.creagan@ittatc.org

As a consumer, you can and should speak out when you encounter technology that is inaccessible. Businesses, non-profits, and governmental organizations take notice when their (potential) customers complain about (or praise) their products. Given that, the most effective approach - typically - is to communicate your concerns directly to the organization that is delivering the inaccessible product or service. If, however, you cannot resolve the accessibility problem by dealing directly with the organization, you may need to pursue the legal remedies that are available to you.

THE BASICS OF SPEAKING OUT

Before you speak out about an inaccessible product or service, make sure you address the following basic considerations.

A. Understand the accessibility problem. Clearly identify the inaccessible features or functions of the product or service so you can articulate your concerns to the organization that can make the changes.

B. Consider the solutions. Think about what you need to make the product or service accessible to you. There may be multiple ways to address the problem - from minor changes to radical reengineering - so try to determine how different types of changes could allow you to use the product or service more effectively.

C. Gather documentation. If applicable, find the receipt, warrantee, and model number of the inaccessible product. Once you start complaining, keep documentation of your interactions with the organization, e.g., copies of letters or emails and records of phone conversations along with the dates and times of these contacts.

D. Figure out who should receive your complaint. If you are dealing with a business, you should start with the individual who sold you the product or the customer service department, if it exists. Some companies have accessibility program managers, who can be your internal champions within the businesses. If neither of these options is available, contact senior management. If your employer is asking you to use inaccessible technology, talk to your manager. For services delivered by a governmental organization, contact the manager of the department or agency that is most directly involved.

E. Understand your legal rights. When dealing with the organization most directly involved in providing the inaccessible product or service, it can be helpful to let them know that you are aware of your legal rights. Ideally, you will use that knowledge as leverage to press for changes without actually having to pursue legal remedies.

F. Be persistent. After you contact the organization, communicate your concerns, propose a deadline for their response, and then follow up with phone calls, emails, or other contacts.

G. Be polite but firm. Organizations are more likely to respond to complaints that are pursued in a clear, calm and firm manner. Although you may get angry or frustrated by the process, try to channel that energy into a persuasive argument about your right to accessibility.

H. Praise the good features. If there are certain aspects of the product or service that are particularly easy-to-use, point them out and commend the organization for including them in the technology.

I. Know when it is time to move on to legal remedies. When all else fails and you cannot reach resolution with the directly involved organization, consider using the legal complaint procedures that are available to you.

YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS

Following are brief explanations of some of the primary Federal laws that apply to the accessibility of technology products and services. The associated complaint procedures are explained in ITTATC's "Speaking Out about Inaccessible Information and Communication Technology" (which can be found at http://www.ittatc.org/technical/consumer_involvement.cfm).

** The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major overhaul of American telecommunications policy in nearly 62 years. Two provisions focus specifically on access to telecommunications products by individuals with disabilities: Section 255 and Section 713.

o Section 255 requires telecommunications manufacturers and providers of telecommunications services to make their products and services accessible to and useable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable. Where it is not readily achievable to provide access, Section 255 requires manufacturers and providers to make their devices and services compatible with peripheral devices and specialized customer premises equipment that are commonly used by people with disabilities, if readily achievable.

o Section 713 requires video programming shown on television to be shown with captions. This law applies to programming shown by broadcast, cable, satellite or other distribution methods. FCC rules require nearly all new programming to have captions by 2006. Seventy-five percent of older programming must be captioned by 2008. Spanish language programming must be captioned a few years after these deadlines.

** The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (amended in 1998) prohibits discrimination based on disability in Federal employment and federally funded programs and services, by Federal contractors, and in the availability and use of Federal agencies' electronic and information technology. Three sections that apply to the accessibility of technology are highlighted below: Sections 501, 504, and 508.

o Section 501 requires federal agencies to provide reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities unless doing so would impose an undue hardship. To be eligible, an employee must be able to perform the essential functions of the job with the accommodations. Reasonable accommodations may include technologies designed to facilitate completion of these essential functions.

o Section 504 states that "no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under" any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service. Requirements common to these regulations include reasonable accommodation for employees with disabilities; program accessibility; effective communication with people who have hearing or vision disabilities; and accessible new construction and alterations.

o Section 508 requires that when Federal departments and agencies procure, develop, maintain or use electronic and information technology, they must ensure that they comply with the accessibility standards developed by the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board), unless doing so would pose an undue burden on those Federal departments or agencies. The purpose of the law is to ensure that Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to the same information and data as employees and members of the public without disabilities.

** Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and communications. The ADA also requires the provision of nationwide relay services and captioning on federally assisted public service announcements.

** Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 (HAC Act) requires all telephones manufactured or imported for use in the United States to be compatible with hearing aids. This Act built upon the Telecommunications for the Disabled of 1982, which directed the FCC to establish uniform technical standards for HAC and required that certain "essential telephones" be internally equipped for use with hearing aids. The HAC Act now requires all wireless phones to be HAC and equipped with volume control. In addition, certain wireless phones must be built with compatible features over time, although there are no mandates for volume control in wireless phones.

** Television Decoder Circuitry Act of 1990 requires all televisions with screens larger than 13 inches (diagonally) to be built with internal circuitry that can receive, decode, and display closed captions. In addition, digital television receivers sold separately or with screens that are 7.8 inches or larger (vertically) must also have internal circuitry to display closed captions on digital television programming.

** FCC Emergency Programming Mandates require all video program providers to make their television programs on emergencies visually accessible to people with hearing disabilities and aurally accessible to people with visual disabilities. These requirements apply to regularly scheduled news programs as well as emergency news bulletins that interrupt regularly scheduled programming.

REFERENCES

Access Board. (n.d.) Rehabilitation Act - Section 501. Retrieved September 15, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.access-board.gov/enforcement/employment.htm.

Access Board. (June 21, 2001) Video and Multimedia Products (1194.24). Retrieved September 15, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/1194.24.htm.

FCC. (n.d.) Accessibility of Emergency Video Programming to Persons with Hearing and Visual Disabilities. Retrieved September 29, 2003, from the World Wide Web (link updated November 27, 2002): http://ftp.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/emergencyvideo.html.

FCC. (n.d.) Hearing Aid Compatibility Compliance for Telephone Equipment. Retrieved September 15, 2003, from the World Wide Web (link updated June 16, 2002): http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/hac.html .

FCC. (n.d.) The Telecommunications Act of 1996: Disability Access Provisions. Retrieved September 29, 2003, from the World Wide Web (link updated March 7, 2003): http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/dtftele.html .

ITTATC. (n.d.) Section 255. Retrieved June 3, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.ittatc.org/laws/255.cfm.

ITTATC. (n.d.) Section 508 Overview for Consumers. Retrieved June 3, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.ittatc.org/technical/consumer_involvement.cfm .

U.S. Department of Justice. (May 2002) A Guide to Disability Rights Law. Retrieved August 8, 2003, from the World Wide Web: http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/cguide.htm .

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