Section 2: Accessibility of telecommunications and office equipment
What are accessible telecommunications products?
According to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, telecommunications refers to the spread of information of the user's choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received. Telecommunications can be changed for people who are deaf or have hearing loss.
Some examples of telecommunication products include:
- TTYs ("text telephones")
- Cell phones
- Voice mail
- Fax machines
What challenges can someone with a disability have with telecommunication equipment?
All people have the right to equal information access. Telecommunication equipment gives people access to knowledge and builds communication. Use of telecommunications is not always accessible for people and may be a barrier.
Telecommunication equipment barriers:
- Economic: Assistive telecommunication equipment, such as a TTY, can be more expensive than standard devices.
- Communication is delayed: Communication may be delayed when using relay services or when using devices that are slow or confusing.
- Low vision: Lights, labels and directions can be inaccessible to people who have low vision or are blind.
- Mobility: Devices may not be ergonomic and it could be hard for some people to reach, grip and control them.
- Too many choices or options: Devices that are hard to use may be challenging to a user.
Features that can be added to telecommunication equipment to provide accessibility include:
- Repeat dialing: Redials a busy line when the caller needs to get through. This is helpful for people who have a hard time dialing the phone or remembering phone numbers.
- Voice dialing: Allows the user to dial by using voice commands instead of the keypad.
- Distinctive ring: Plays different ring patterns for different phone numbers. This is useful for keeping separate voice/TTY numbers on the same phone.
- Talking Caller ID: Talking Caller ID announces the phone numbers of callers before the phone is picked up.
- TTY Caller ID: TTY Caller ID is a unit that attaches to the user's current phone or TTY. It shows the names and numbers of callers before the phone is picked up.
- Voice mail: Can be programmed with important numbers.
- Stutter tone: When the receiver is picked up, a tone lets the user know that there are new voice messages. The tone is different from the standard dial tone. This different tone is helpful to people with low vision.
- Bump on the 5 key: Provides tactile point on keypad. This tactile point is useful for people who cannot see the keypad.
- Flashing light or vibration: Enables a user to sense an incoming call through vibrations from the phone or visual alerts.
What are relay services?
A telecommunications relay service (TRS) is an interpreting service for people with communication needs. It enables a TTY user to talk to a non-TTY user. Operators serve as third parties to conversations by typing or speaking. Another type of relay service is IP Relay service, which is accessed using a computer and the internet. Relay services are available free of charge 24 hours a day. These and other TRS provisions are under Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
What standards exist for developing or purchasing telecommunications equipment?
Standards for buying telecommunications equipment can be found in Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
The Telecommunication Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act require:
- Manufacturers and providers make their equipment and services accessible and usable by people with disabilities.
- IT and EIT are accessible to all users who access information.
- Standards are applied to equipment such as telephones, fax machines and services, such as voice mail and caller identification.
For the technology to be considered accessible, it must work for many different abilities. The following are some guidelines from the Access Board regarding accessible telecommunications:
(a) Telecommunications products which allow voice communication, but do not use a TTY function, should provide a connection point for TTYs. Microphones should be able to be turned on and off to let the user have both speech and TTY functions.
(b) Telecommunications products that have a voice function should support all commonly used TTY signal protocols.
(c) Voice mail, auto-attendant and interactive voice response telecommunications systems should be usable by TTY users with their TTYs.
(d) Voice mail, messaging and interactive voice response telecommunications systems that require a response from a user within a time interval, shall give an alert when the time interval is about to run out.
(e) Where provided, caller identification and similar telecommunications functions shall also be available for users of TTYs and for users who cannot see displays.
(f) For transmitted voice signals, telecommunications products shall provide volume adjustable up to a minimum of 20 dB. For volume adjustment, at least one step of 12 dB of gain shall be provided.
(g) If the telecommunications product allows a user to adjust the volume, a function shall be provided to automatically reset the volume to the default level after use.
(h) Where a telecommunications product delivers output by an audio mechanism normally held up to the ear, a means for effective wireless coupling to hearing technologies shall be provided.
(i) Interference to hearing technologies (including hearing aids) shall be reduced to the lowest possible level that allows a user who has low hearing to use the telecommunications product.
(j) Products that transmit information or communication shall pass through standard manufacturer codes, protocols or formats to provide the information in a usable format. Technologies which use encoding, signal compression, format transformation or similar techniques shall not remove information needed for access or shall restore it upon delivery.
(k) Products which have mechanical controls should be operable with one hand; be distinguishable through tactile indications; and have a key repeat delay of at least two seconds. These products should also give users the ability to lock or change key controls, which should be visually or audibly indicated.
For more information about these guidelines, visit www.access-board.gov/sec508/guide/1194.23.htm.
Are there accessibility standards for office equipment?
Accessibility information for fax machines, photocopiers and similar IT devices can be found in the "Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards." These standards were developed by the Federal Access Board. Section 508 standards for office equipment apply to the federal government and cover any EIT or IT developed, maintained, purchased or used by the federal government. Section 508 standards are also used as accessibility standards by other organizations, including states and educational groups.
Obtained from Access IT's "Are there standards for developing or purchasing accessible fax machines, photocopiers, and other office equipment?" at www.washington.edu/accessit/articles?97.