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Chapter 3. Accessibility in Law and Policy > The Telecommunications Act

The Telecommunications Act

In 1996, Congress amended Section 255 and Section 251(a)(2) of the Communications Act of 1934 with the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. This legislation requires manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications services to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. These amendments ensure that people with disabilities will have access to a broad range of products and services such as telephones, cell phones, pagers, call-waiting, and operator services that were often inaccessible to many users with disabilities.

The law provides exceptions for situations that cause “undue burden” or where businesses or other entities can document that compliance is not “readily achievable.” Section 255 defines “readily achievable” as “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” [5] Even within the exceptions granted by the legislation, however, telecommunications services and equipment must nevertheless be compatible with existing peripheral devices or specialized customer premises equipment. Section 255 therefore encourages manufacturers and service providers to consider access needs during the design and development of their products and services, so that expensive and burdensome retrofitting for access will not be necessary.

[5] From the text of Section 255, Subpart A, Section 1193.1, printed in the Federal Register, February 3, 1998. Accessed May 20, 2002, at http://www.access-board.gov/telecomm/html/telfinal.htm.


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