The FCC has extended the disability access requirements of Sections 225 and 255 of the Communications Act, which currently apply to traditional phone services, to providers of interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services and to manufacturers of specially designed equipment used to provide those services.
Section 255 of the Communications Act requires manufacturers of "telecommunications equipment or customer premises equipment" and providers of "telecommunications service" to ensure that such equipment or service is accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable. In adopting Section 255, Congress sought to ensure that all Americans, including people with disabilities, could benefit from advances in telecommunications services and equipment.
The FCC's existing Section 255 rules, adopted in 1999, among other things, (1) require manufacturers of telecommunications equipment or Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) to ensure that their equipment is designed, developed and fabricated to be accessible to individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable; (2) require telecommunications service providers to ensure that their service is accessible to individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable; (3) require manufacturers and service providers to evaluate the accessibility, usability, and compatibility of covered services and equipment; and (4) require manufacturers and service providers to ensure that information and documentation provided in connection with equipment or services be accessible to people with disabilities, where readily achievable, and that employee training, where provided at all, account for accessibility requirements.
In addition, the Commission said that interconnected VoIP providers were subject to the requirements of Section 225, including contributing to the Telecommunications Relay Services (TRS) Fund and offering 711 abbreviated dialing for access to relay services. Requiring the TRS Fund contributions will protect the stability and sustainability of the Interstate TRS Fund. (TRS is a service that allows persons with hearing or speech impairments to use the telephone. The TRS Fund is used to pay for the provision of TRS services and is funded by contributions from all carriers that provide interstate service.) Requiring 711 abbreviated dialing will ensure that anyone wishing immediate access to the local TRS provider need only dial 711.