Section 255 of the Communications Act, as amended by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities. Manufacturers must ensure that products are “designed, developed, and fabricated to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities” when it is readily achievable to do so.  Accessibility guidelines issued by the Access Board under Section 255 address the telecommunications products covered including:

  • 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 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for enforcing the Communications Act and has issued regulations that contain requirements based on the Board’s guidelines.

Refresh of the Section 255 Guidelines and the Section 508 Standards

On January 18, 2017, the U.S. Access Board published a final rule that updates the Section 255 Guidelines along with accessibility standards for information and communication technology in the federal sector covered by section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Captioning on Television

Captioning displays the spoken word and other audio of a television program as text on the TV screen, providing a critical link to news, entertainment and information for individuals with hearing loss. Congress requires video programming distributors —  cable operators, broadcasters, satellite distributors and other multi-channel video programming distributors — to close caption their TV programs.

The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) considers closed captioning for TV or closed captioning delivered using the internet an assistive technology that allows persons with hearing loss to access television programming under the Telecommunications Act.  For a TV to display closed captions, it must have integrated decoder circuitry, which is activated either on the TV’s remote control or through the menu.

Closed captioning is often critical to people to people with hearing loss; sometimes people can “hear” the words but can’t understand them. Television is the primary source of local information in an emergency for many. Both TV and movie captioning is clearly a source of information, education and entertainment. But, you don’t have to have a hearing loss to find closed captioning useful: people for whom English is a second language use captions to get a better grasp of English, children’s reading is enhanced with the use of captions, and hearing people in bars, gyms, airports, and other noisy places appreciate the value of captioning.

For more information about the FCC’s requirements: