Telecommunications Access for People with Disabilities

Telecommunications Access for People with Disabilities

The FCC has rules requiring telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities, if such access is readily achievable. These rules implement Section 255 of the Communications Act. Where access is not readily achievable, Section 255 requires manufacturers and service 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 such compatibility is readily achievable.

The FCC has determined that interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers must comply with Section 255.

Products and Services Covered Under Section 255

The FCC’s rules cover all hardware and software telephone network equipment and customer premises equipment (CPE). CPE is telecommunications equipment used in the home or office (or other premises) to originate, route or terminate telecommunications. Examples of CPE are telephones, wireless handsets, fax machines, answering machines and pagers. CPE that provides both telecommunications and non-telecommunications functions is covered under Section 255 only to the extent it provides telecommunications functions.

The FCC’s rules cover basic and special telecommunications services, including regular telephone calls, call waiting, speed dialing, call forwarding, computer-provided directory assistance, call monitoring, caller identification, call tracing and repeat dialing. In addition, the rules cover interactive voice response (IVR) systems and voice mail. IVR systems are phone systems that provide callers with menus of choices.


Accessible: A product or service is deemed accessible if it provides accessible input, control and mechanical functions, as well as accessible output, display and control functions. For example, a pager that has both audio and visual controls for inputting information, as well as both audio and visual methods for retrieving messages, would be accessible to a person who is blind or deaf.

Usable: For a product or service to be usable, people with disabilities must be able to learn about and operate the product’s or service’s features effectively. This requirement includes providing access to information and documentation for the product or service, including instructions and user guides. In addition, companies must provide functionally equivalent access to support services, such as technical support hotlines and databases, call centers, service centers, repair services and billing services.

Compatible: The FCC requires that, where accessibility is not readily achievable, a product or service must be made compatible with peripheral devices or specialized customer premises equipment (SCPE), if compatibility is readily achievable. Peripheral devices are devices that help make telecommunications products and services accessible to individuals with disabilities. Examples are teletypewriters (TTYs), visual signaling devices and amplifiers. SCPE includes equipment, commonly used at the premises of a person with a disability, to achieve access in the origination, routing or termination of calls and other telecommunications contacts. Direct-connect TTYs (TTYs that connect directly to the telephone network) are considered to be SCPE. Assistive technology devices, such as hearing aids or eyeglasses, that have a broad application outside the telecommunications context, are not themselves peripheral equipment or SCPE, even if they are used in conjunction with peripheral equipment or SCPE. To achieve compatibility, the FCC rules require:

external electronic access to all information and control mechanisms; a connection point for external audio processing devices;
the ability to connect with TTYs; and
the ability to use TTY signals.

Identifying Access Needs

Companies should engage in a number of activities to identify barriers to accessibility and usability.

For example:

When conducting market research, product design, testing, pilot demonstrations and product trials, companies should include individuals with disabilities in target groups for such activities;

Companies should work cooperatively with disability-related organizations; and
Companies should undertake reasonable efforts to test access solutions with people with disabilities.

When Must Manufacturers and Service Providers

Evaluate Access Needs?

Manufacturers and service providers must evaluate the accessibility, usability and compatibility of their equipment and services as early and consistently as possible throughout their design, development and manufacture. In addition, companies must review their products for accessibility at every “natural opportunity,” including when they re-design products, upgrade services, or significantly change the way they group together product and service packages.

Cosmetic changes that do not change the product’s actual design, such as changes in the color, make, model name or designation of a product, may not trigger the need to reevaluate access.

Do Companies Need to Review All of Their Products and Services for Accessibility and Usability?

Yes. Accessibility and usability must be assessed for individual products and services. Accessibility features that can be incorporated into the design of products or services with very little or no difficulty or expense must be put in each and every product or service. When it is not readily achievable to incorporate accessibility features into every product or service, companies may distribute access features across product or service lines, so long as the companies implement all features that are readily achievable.

How Will the FCC Determine Which Actions Are Readily Achievable?

The “readily achievable” standard requires companies to incorporate access features that are easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense. In determining what is readily achievable, companies must balance the costs and nature of the access required with their available resources. Companies that have great resources will need to do more to achieve access than companies with smaller budgets.

The FCC will make readily achievable determinations on a case-by-case basis. A company may not need to provide access when the access feature would so fundamentally alter the product that it would substantially reduce the functionality of the product, make some features unusable, substantially impede or deter use of the product by other individuals, or substantially and materially alter the shape, size or weight of the product. Similarly, a company is not obligated to incorporate an access feature that is not technically possible. Companies wishing to use these defenses, however, must provide evidence to back up their positions.

Is Network Architecture Covered by the FCC’s Section 255 Rules?

In addition to covering equipment and services, the FCC’s rules require network architecture to be designed in a way that does not hinder access by people with disabilities. Network architecture covers the public switched telephone network, and includes hardware or software databases associated with routing telecommunications services.

How Can I Contact Manufacturers and Service Providers About Access Concerns?

Although not required to do so, you may want to contact a manufacturer or service provider before filing a complaint with the FCC. Telecommunications service providers and equipment manufacturers must provide the FCC with the name and contact information of the person (or persons) in their companies who are authorized to resolve accessibility complaints. The FCC makes this information available to consumers who want to contact the company’s customer care representative directly about accessibility questions, concerns, or complaints. You can find this contact information on the FCC’s website, by sending an email to, or by calling 202-418-2517 (voice) or 202-418-2922 (TTY).

Filing a Complaint with the FCC

To implement the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), the FCC changed the way it handles complaints about access to telecommunications services and equipment.

Before an informal complaint can be filed, consumers with disabilities (or their representatives) must request assistance from the FCC Disability Rights Office. The Disability Rights Office will work with the consumer and the company for at least 30 days to try to resolve the accessibility problem. There is no charge for this assistance.

The best way to provide the information that the Disability Rights Office needs to assist you, is to complete the Request for Dispute Assistance (RDA Form) online. You may also download or print the RDA Form. If you use the latter method, complete and submit your downloaded/printed request and any supporting documentation to the Disability Rights Office by email to, by fax to 202-418-0037, or by mail to:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Disability Rights Office
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

If you are unable to obtain or use an RDA Form, your request for assistance should include the following:

your contact information
your name, address, telephone number, and email address
if communication by telephone or email is not accessible to you, your preferred method of communication information about your accessibility problem
the name of the manufacturer or service provider
the type of device, model number, and any software involved
when you purchased, acquired, or used (or tried to purchase, acquire, or use) the service or equipment when you became aware of the accessibility problem
the way the service or equipment is not accessible to or usable by you
if you contacted the company about your accessibility problem, how the company responded what you want the company to do to resolve your accessibility problem
any other information or documentation you think may help describe or resolve your accessibility problem

Your Request for Dispute Assistance will be assigned a case number. If your accessibility problem is not resolved in 30 days, you have two choices:

You may request an additional 30 days for assistance to try to resolve your accessibility problem; or you may file an informal complaint about the accessibility problem with the FCC Enforcement Bureau.

To request an additional 30 days or file an informal complaint, contact the Disability Rights Office at 202-418-2517 (voice) or 202-418-2922 (TTY), by email to, by fax to 202-418-0037, or by mail to the address above. You will need to provide your last name, zip code, and your Request for Dispute Assistance case number.

If you take no action for 60 days after the 30-day time period ends, your case will be closed.

For More Information

For more information about FCC programs to promote telecommunications services for people with disabilities, visit the FCC’s Disability Rights Office website. For information about other telecommunications issues, visit the FCC’s Consumer website, or contact the FCC’s Consumer Center by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; faxing 1-866-418-0232; or writing to:

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20554

For this or any other consumer publication in an accessible format (electronic ASCII text, Braille, large print or audio), please write or call us at the address or phone number above, or send an email to

This document is for consumer education purposes only and is not intended to affect any proceedings or cases involving this subject matter or related issues.

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Telecommunications Access for People with Disabilities Guide (pdf)

Updated: October 30, 2013
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Elyssa D. Durant. Ed.M.
DailyDDoSe © 2009-2014
Research & Policy Analyst

An Ivy League Grad on Welfare? by Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M. © 2007-2014

Published withOUT permission by @Yahoo –

Yup! That’s right, I’m on welfare… I’m milking the system for all its worth! I had better go get in line before those Louisiana people and immigrants suck up all our resources (which have never once been available when I have needed them) That’s right, just another Ivy League grad too smart to go to work! I am just waiting on my next free meal ticket, subsidy, or voucher. The opportunities to exploit the government are endless! Where do I begin???

I remember how difficult it was for me to obtain benefits when I first applied several years ago. I am deeply concerned about how the most recent decision to eradicate yet another class of TennCare / Medicaid recipients (the Daniels class made up of SSI recipients by way of a pending federal waiver) will affect the poor and disabled residents in Tennessee. Without my current level of benefits, I simply do not function.

Before my benefits were stabilized, learning to navigate the system consumed every waking moment of my life. I was unable to work or attend school on any substantial level and I am frightened to see at might happen if I were to stray from my established, stabilized, treatment plan. If I lose my benefits, will I still be able to work? To function? To be productive?

Any new public program requires careful planning if it is to be effective. Recent discussions have not focused on the true impact these changes will have on the “street-level.”

Has anyone asked recipients how they feel the new program (safety- net) should be designed, implemented, or evaluated? How will this impact the community and other social service or welfare agencies??? I want access, quality, and outcomes. I want… I want… I want!!!

The massive number of people being dis-enrolled or limited in their access to medical care and other social services will no doubt create significant anxiety, confusion, and chaos for everyone involved in the social service and health care industries.

I remember when Mr. Brian Lapps was somewhere very high up on the corporate TennCare ladder in 1999 when they adjusted the prescription formulary over Memorial Day in 1999. I see Mr. Lapps quite frequently since he now works at the local gas station down the street from where I live.

To this day, he insists that cell phones and TennCare are somehow contraindicated. Perhaps he knows nothing of the population he claims to know just all-too-well… housing conditions that may or may not have electricity, broken families-some riddled with community violence and domestic disturbances. In the hood, your cell phone is your very best friend. 9-1-1.

These people plagued by domestic violence and community instability makes a cell phone the only logical option. How can you find a job with out a phone? How can you find a home with out a job? Yet even 6 years later, Mr. Lapps uses cellular phones as an example how the TennCare program is being abused by lazy, cheap, and unscrupulous second hand citizens who are just shiftless lazy bums waiting around for their next free hand-out.

Anyone who has EVER applied for or relied upon any kind of government subsidy to have their basic needs met, e.g., food, shelter, medical care, dental treatment, etc… let me personally assure you that there has never been a single time where I felt I was “pulling one over” on the government. I am not just one of the poor saps who believed what they told me they in school, I bought it hook, line, and sinker for the mere price of $279,982.00 and not a shred of financial security to show for it.

Even after consolidating my student loans, the interest alone is $10 less than my monthly income from social security.

So what happens now that the state of Tennessee will begin to cut off social security recipients from TennCare? I honestly do not think I can survive yet another re-certification process– God knows the first one almost killed me. After three years of appeals, my condition had deteriorated so severely that I was forced to drop out of school, lost my home, lost my sanity, and lost hope. In short– I lost my dignity and my belief in the social welfare system.

By the time my benefits were approved, I had already checked myself in to NYU Psych Ward because simply could not cope with the reality of what my life I had become. I weighed 94 pounds and suffered in excruciating pain that has only gotten worse with time. My extremities were ice cold, and my hands were numb since I went without medical treatment for the spinal injury that was first discovered when I was 22.

I am now 35 years old. My spinal cord is now damaged from years of delayed, sub-standard medical treatment. I owe the federal government $279,982.00 in student loans and when I am able to work, I make $10.46 / hour as a substitute teacher in an urban school district. That job comes with no security and no benefits. It does however offer the flexibility I need to receive the bi-monthly epidural injections and other procedures necessary to manage my pain and alleviate the numbness I feel because of the damage to my nerves. And even though I cannot afford the gas money to get my appointments, pay for all of my medication, or even to get back and forth to work, it does allow me a few weeks of mobility so I can drive, use my mouse or hold a pen.

I have an advanced master’s degree from an Ivy League Institution. I am 12 credits shy of a PhD in public policy. And despite maintaining a 3.83 grade point average while completing an advanced masters in social and educational policy at an, “Ivy League” institution; a 3.2 GPA during the 3 years I spent working on my doctorate at a not-quite-so-prestigious Graduate School; The Powers That Beat in that damn Ivory Tower don’t will not grant me any leniency by extending the amount or time permitted to complete my degree– a rule that was changed while I was on a formal leave of absence tending to my health (and my Medicaid appeals!). Not only did they decide 8 years was the rule instead of the 10 it had been previously, I was also told that I could not even transfer the credits I had earned toward a different degree towards another program at the same institution. It has been just over ten years since I first enrolled. What a mistake that was!

The “Harvard of the South” no longer offerers the degree to which I was admitted– and enrolled so they actually suggested that I pay for a 3rd application to the school (I was admitted into two degrees– the MPP as well as the PhD program in a separate college) requiring two independent applications, fees, transcripts, test scores, even way back when I was still considered a promising candidate. Now “they” think it is reasonable to ask that I do it all over again??? It goes without saying that I do not have the financial resources available to finish my last semester, take the GREs or GMATs one more time, or even the money to release my transcripts from the Graduate School into any other program at the same University, I guess I am just shit out of luck.

To be clear, WE ARE ALL PAYING for that student debt because I can assure you that their endowment is far greater than any income or earning potential I have given my current financial status and student loan debt! To be clear, YOU ARE ALL PAYING to keep me on Welfare. Yes, all of us are paying some price….. We I want to work. I want to be productive. I want to be a part of something greater than myself. I want to share what I’ve learned.

So throughout the years I struggled to stay in school, believing somehow that social justice would prevail, and my heart and dedication towards the greater good would show through to whomever, wherever, or whatever that could make my degree worth while– the Medicaid and disability applications managed to take front seat. So as I filed appeal after appeal after appeal, I managed to acquire well over 1/4 million (yes– MILLION) dollars in debt due to uninsured medical expenses and student loans.

My life will never be the same. My heart will never be the same. I want to pay my bills on time. I want to get off welfare, but no one ever taught me how to be poor.

So after all this– now I face losing my healthcare once again? Where is the safety net? Where is the American Dream that I so diligently chased after for so many years? What was the point spending so much on an education that will never be utilized? I understand the how; I just don’t understand why.

Maybe one of these days Vanderbilt University or and the Department of Education will realize it might just be cheaper to hire me that harass me, because unless I find a real paying job soon, their collections department will no longer be able to reach me on that extravagant lifeline my friend, Brian Lapps, refers to as a luxury.

If anyone on your staff would like to “trade places” with me for one month-I will gladly assume his/her responsibilities for that position if you can find a writer who is willing to endure and write about the reality of social services in our fine state. I do not want a paycheck from your organization; I just want the opportunity to put the myth of freeloading welfare mother s to rest. Live in my shoes for 30 days. Can you find the out? Can you balance my budget and make it work? Can you get the bill collectors of my back? Can you afford Internet service to file state job applications and apply for services online? Can you maintain pride and dignity without feeling the least bit sorry for yourself and the choices you have made?

When I go to the pharmacy, I am humiliated that I do not have the $3.00 necessary for the co-pay on my covered TennCare prescriptions. At least when it was $40 dollars, I was not so damn embarrassed by my lack of funds.

Remind me again why I went to school. Remind me once more why I bother to speak out. Then remind me right now that that there is somebody listening. I cannot be the only one who actually gives a crap. My contact information is listed below.

Live & not so well in Nashville, Tennessee…

Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.

(Former doctoral student in public policy)

Elyssa D. Durant. Ed.M.
DailyDDoSe © 2007-2014
Research & Policy Analyst

Elyssa D. Durant, Ed.M.
DailyDDoSe © 2007-2014


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