United States Laws
Overview of Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996

Description of Section 255

In 1996 the Access Board (Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) was charged with developing accessibility guidelines in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under section 255(e) of the Act for telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment. They issued the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines that were published in the Federal Register on February 3, 1998. The Summary section of this document states, "The Act [Telecommunications Act of 1996] requires manufacturers of telecommunications equipment and customer premises equipment to ensure that the equipment is designed, developed, and fabricated to be accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if readily achievable." Cynthia Waddell further describes the importance of this law in the book Constructing Accessible Web Sites, p. 342:

"This was the first product design law to attempt to drive the market to create accessible products. It is not a traditional civil rights law since it is an accessible design law that does not depend on the filing of a complaint for its requirements to be enforced."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent federal agency in Washington, D.C., enforces the Telecommunications Act. Accessibility complaints can be filed with the FCC, but lawsuits are not authorized and there is no provision for damages.

Commentary is provided on Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in the report Access to Telecommunications Equipment and Customer Premises Equipment by Individuals with Disabilities.