Chapter Eleven continued...
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Congress directed the Access Board, in conjunction with the FCC, to issue guidelines for achieving compliance by telecommunications equipment manufacturers. To obtain assistance in creating these guidelines, in June, 1996 the Access Board developed a federal advisory committee comprised of consumer and industry representatives, called the Telecommunications Access Advisory Committee (TAAC). TAAC presented its recommendations to the Access Board in January of 1997. The Access Board used these recommendations to develop its Section 255 guidelines, which were released on February 3, 1998. Approximately one and a half years later, the FCC issued its own rules, designed to enforce compliance with Section 255 by both equipment manufacturers and service providers. For the most part, these rules mirror the Access Board's guidelines.

The FCC's rules require telecommunications manufacturers and service providers to identify and address the accessibility needs of individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing throughout the product design, development, and fabrication of their products, as early and consistently as possible. The rules recognize the need to incorporate access early in design processes, to avoid expensive and burdensome retrofits later on. In developing processes to identify accessibility barriers, manufacturers and service providers may engage in a number of actions. If, for example, a company conducts market research, product testing, or pilot demonstrations for a particular product, it should include individuals with disabilities in these activities to help it identify the needs of these individuals. By consulting with deaf individuals, manufacturers will get a better of idea of the need to provide visual cues or vibrations for products (e.g., pagers) that may otherwise provide only aural cues.

The FCC's rules also require new telecommunications equipment and services to be compatible with peripheral devices and specialized equipment that are commonly used by individuals with disabilities. Examples of such devices are TTYs, visual signaling devices, and amplifiers. Under this mandate, products that offer voice communication (such as wireless phones) must provide a standard connection point for TTYs.

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