Georgia Tech Research Institute
 

What is Section 255?

Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities. This is required to the extent access is "readily achievable," meaning easily accomplishable, without much difficulty or expense. If manufacturers cannot make their products accessible then they must design products to be compatible with adaptive equipment used by people with disabilities, where readily achievable. What is "readily achievable" will be different for each manufacturer based on the costs of making products accessible or compatible and their resources.

The Access Board was given the job of developing guidelines that spell out what makes telecommunications products accessible. The Board's final guidelines, published in February 1998, were developed with help from an advisory committee the Board created for this purpose. The Telecommunications Access Advisory Committee included product manufacturers, service providers, disability groups, and experts in communication access. The final guidelines are based on this committee's recommendations.

Telecommunications products covered by Section 255 include:

  • Wired and wireless telecommunication devices, such as telephones (including pay phones and cellular phones), pagers, and fax machines.
  • Other products that have a telecommunication service capability, such as computers with modems.
  • Equipment that carriers use to provide services, such as a phone company's switching equipment.

The possible functions of a product are key in determining coverage. If a product can provide telecommunication services, then that portion is covered. For example, televisions generally are not covered by Section 255, except where a set-top-box enables e-mail communication or Internet access, and then only that device is covered.

The Federal Communications Commission is responsible for rules and policies to enforce the law. Although Section 255 does not permit consumers to file Section 255 complaints in the federal courts, consumers may file informal or formal Section 255 complaints with the FCC.

For more information, see the FCC's Factsheet on Section 255, which can be found at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/section255.html. The Access Board published a list of FAQs about Section 255 at http://www.access-board.gov/telecomm/FAQ.htm.