The Communications Act of 1934, as amended over time, including amendments made by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, provides several mandates to require accessible telecommunications equipment and services, including television closed captioning. Some of these mandates are summarized below.
Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT):
Bringing the Communications Act into the 21st Century
In 2007, the NAD co-founded the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT). A coalition of over 230 national, state, and community-based disability-related organizations, COAT advocates for legislative and regulatory safeguards that will ensure full access by people with disabilities to evolving high speed broadband, wireless and other Internet Protocol technologies.
The NAD, working with other affiliates of COAT, is seeking introduction and passage of the “Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.”
Section 225 (Relay Services)
Title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 mandated a nationwide system of telecommunications relay services to make the telephone network accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have speech impairments. Title IV of the ADA added Section 225 to the Communications Act of 1934.
Related Issue: Telephones and Relay Services
Section 255 (Accessible Equipment and Services)
Section 255 of the Communications Act requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities if readily achievable; without much difficulty or expense. If manufacturers cannot make their products accessible, then they must design products to be compatible with adaptive equipment, such as peripheral devices and specialized customer premises equipment that are commonly used by people with disabilities, where readily achievable. For example, this requires the ability to use TTYs with telephone equipment.
Statute: 47 U.S.C. § 255 available at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/
Related Issue: Telephones and Relay Services
Section 710 (Hearing Aid Compatibility)
The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act of 1988 (the HAC Act) statute requires all essential telephones and all telephones manufactured in or imported into the United States to be hearing aid compatible. The mandates apply to all wireline and cordless telephones and certain wireless digital telephones. Hearing aid compatible telephones provide inductive and acoustic connections that allow individuals with hearing aids and cochlear implants to communicate by phone. To achieve inductive coupling, the telephone must emit sufficient electromagnetic energy to couple with a telecoil in the hearing aid or the cochlear implant processor. When activated, the telecoil converts the magnetic field into sound and the hearing aid or cochlear implant microphone is simultaneously turned off or reduced to eliminate or decrease any background noise or feedback that can make it difficult to hear speech. Acoustic coupling uses the microphone in the hearing aid or cochlear implant to pick up and amplify sounds from the telephone’s receiver. Under FCC rules, in order to be considered hearing aid compatible, telephones with digital wireless technologies must also minimize electromagnetic interference, which has the effect of creating additional noise that makes it difficult to understand speech.
Statute: Section 710 of the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. § 610, available at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/.
Related Issue: Hearing Aid Compatible Telephones
Section 713 (Video Programming Accessibility)
Authorized the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue rules requiring closed captioning on television programs (video programming) and to conduct an inquiry about the provision of video description services for people who are blind.
The FCC issued rules requiring video programming distributors to provide closed captioning on 100 percent of new, non-exempt English video programming. Exemptions are available for certain categories of video programming, and when compliance with the rule would result in an undue burden. Requirements also are in place for pre-rule (before January 1998) programming and Spanish language programming.
The FCC also issued rules requiring broadcasters and cable operators to make local emergency information accessible to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and to persons who are blind or have low vision. This rule means that televised audio emergency information must be provided in a visual format.
Statute: 47 U.S.C. § 612
Regulations: 47 C.F.R. § 79.1 available at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/captioning_regs.html (closed captioning); 47 C.F.R. § 79.2 available at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/dro/emergency_info_regs.html (accessible emergency information)
Related Issue: Television and Closed Captioning