DA # 00-2162
September 22, 2000
On September 29, 1999, the Commission released a Report and Order establishing rules and policies to implement sections 255 and 251(a)(2) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. 255 and 251(a)(2). Section 255 requires manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and providers of telecommunications service to ensure that such equipment and services are accessible to persons with disabilities, if readily achievable. Section 251(a)(2) provides that each telecommunications carrier has the duty not to install network features, functions, or capabilities that conflict with the guidelines and standards established pursuant to section 255. The Report and Order, along with the rules and guidelines adopted, was published in the Federal Register. See 64 FR 63235 (Nov. 19, 1999).
In the Report and Order, the Commission determined that in order for it to implement meaningfully the accessibility requirements of section 255, comparable requirements should apply to two information services that the Commission deemed critical to making telecommunications accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Therefore, the Commission asserted ancillary jurisdiction under section 4(i) of the Act, 47 U.S.C. § 154(i), and extended the section 255 accessibility requirements to the providers of voicemail and interactive menu service and to the manufacturers of the equipment that perform those functions. See Report and Order at ¶¶ 93-108. Requirements applicable to voicemail and interactive menu services and equipment, which mirror those applicable to telecommunications equipment and services in 47 C.F.R. §§ 6.1 - 6.23, are contained in 47 C.F.R. §§ 7.1 - 7.23.
FCC staff has informally received information suggesting that many consumers with disabilities may be continuing to have difficulties accessing and using voicemail and interactive menu services. For example, these systems may remain largely inaccessible to users of text telephones (TTYs) who wish to interact with these systems directly. In addition, we understand that TTY users who seek to use telecommunications relay service (TRS) to access interactive and voice menus may be frequently encountering lengthy delays or are frustrated by their inability to complete calls to schools, banks, employers and other public and private institutions that use these systems. It also appears that many interactive menus may not allow adequate time for a TTY user to have the information from the automated device relayed to the caller's TTY and a response from the caller relayed back to the device through TRS. We have also received reports that the sounds or instructions provided with some interactive and voice menus may often be so fast that a person who is hard of hearing or is cognitively delayed cannot process them quickly enough. Similarly, we have been informed that the speed of these menus may not provide persons who are blind or have a motor disability with enough time to input the numbers or other information needed to select from a list of menu choices. These difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that interactive menus frequently may not offer an option to connect the caller with a human operator.
As the Commission noted in its Report and Order, the access barrier created by inaccessible and/or unusable voicemail and interactive menus makes it ``extremely difficult for people with hearing, vision, or physical disabilities to reach the party to whom they have placed the call or to obtain the information they seek in their phone call.'' Report and Order at ¶101. Manufacturers and providers of voicemail and interactive menu services and products are reminded of their obligations to take the appropriate measures to ensure that their products and services are accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities, if readily achievable. Failure to take appropriate steps to enable such access may lead to monetary forfeiture orders or other enforcement action by the Commission.
By: the Chief, Enforcement Bureau; Chief, Consumer Information Bureau; and Chief, Common Carrier Bureau.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Enforcement Bureau: Thomas Wyatt at (202) 418-0963; TTY (202) 418-8233 or Suzanne Perrin at (202) 418-2874; Consumer Information Bureau: Jenifer Simpson at 418-0008; Common Carrier Bureau: Ellen Blackler at (202) 418-0491.