The Federal Communications Commission (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 (47 USC 255). 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.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.
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, fax machines, answering machines, and pagers. CPE that provides both telecommunications and non-telecommunications functions is covered 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.