Legal Rights:
The Guide for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People

by The National Association of the Deaf

from Chapter Eleven: Telephone Service

Telecommunications Act of 1996

In the 1990s, our nation entered a new era of telecommunications advances. Talk of the information superhighway and the release of new telecommunications devices, including wireless services, pagers, and interactive telephone systems, alerted consumers with disabilities to the need for a law that would ensure access to all of these new technologies.

After several years of negotiating with federal legislators, consumers got their wish. On January 8, 1996, Congress enacted Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which, for the first time in our nation's history, requires telecommunications manufacturers and service providers to make their equipment and services accessible to individuals with disabilities where it is readily achievable to do so. The new law also requires manufacturers and service providers to make their products and services compatible with peripheral devices and specialized customer premises equipment, such as TTYs, where it is readily achievable to do so. Readily achievable is defined as "easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense." In determining whether an access feature is readily achievable, the FCC will balance the costs and nature of the access feature against the resources available to a company on a case-by-case basis. Often it is readily achievable to provide access if such access is incorporated during the research and development stages of creating a product or service. Section 255 is expected to make a profound difference in the ability of new technologies and services to reach Americans with disabilities.

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