National Council on Disability Calls for Federal Legislation to Prohibit Telecommunications Discrimination for People With Disabilities

"These statutes are rapidly becoming outdated because the analog technologies upon which they were premised are being substituted with technologies that are digitally and Internet-based."

by / January 3, 2007
The National Council on Disability (NCD) last week released a policy paper calling on Congress and the Administration to end telecommunications and information services discrimination for people with disabilities.

The Need for Federal Legislation and Regulation Prohibiting Telecommunications and Information Services Discrimination explores the need to adopt legislative and regulatory safeguards to guarantee equal access by people with disabilities to evolving high-speed broadband, wireless and Internet-based technologies.

Market forces will not be sufficient to ensure such access, said NCD in a release. Rather, Congress, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other federal agencies will need to step up to ensure that these communications technologies remain accessible to and usable by all Americans with disabilities.

"Our nation already has in place a string of federal laws and regulations designed to guarantee various levels of access to telecommunications products and services," said NCD Chairperson John R. Vaughn. "But in addition to leaving gaps in coverage, these statutes are rapidly becoming outdated because the analog technologies upon which they were premised are being substituted with technologies that are digitally and Internet-based. As Congress, the FCC and other agencies take on the daunting task of defining regulatory measures that will govern the deployment of these next-generation communication technologies, they should include safeguards to ensure that people with disabilities will not be left behind."

Recommendations include:
  • Communications Access -- FCC or Congress: Extend the telecommunications accessibility requirements of Section 255 of the Communications Act to Internet-based services and equipment. Disability safeguards under the new legal protections should include, among other things, accessible and compatible user interfaces on end-user equipment; a common standard for reliable and interoperable text and video IP and wireless communications; redundant ways of controlling devices and services; and access to user guides and technical support.
  • Video Programming Access-- FCC or Congress: Clarify that existing captioning obligations apply to IPTV and other types of multi-channel video programming services that are Internet-based.
  • Universal Service-- FCC or Congress: Allow Universal Service Fund (USF) support for broadband services to low-income individuals with disabilities, so that these individuals can choose between public switched telephone network or broadband services when they are entitled to Lifeline and Link Up-type funding. Require all IP-based providers (not only interconnected Voice over Internet protocol providers, as is currently required) to contribute to the USF treasury.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act-- FCC or Congress: Require IP-based providers to contribute to interstate relay funds. U.S. Department of Justice or Congress: Clarify that Web sites are covered under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: Legislative Change-- Expand Section 508's coverage to entities that are otherwise covered under Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.