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Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 authorizes the FCC to implement and enforce rules requiring telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers, whenever possible, to make their products accessible to persons with disabilities. When it is not possible to make specific products accessible, the products should be made compatible with other common accessibility devices.

What kinds of devices and services are covered by Section 255? 

In general, these rules cover devices and services people would use in their homes or offices.


  • All hardware and software telephone network equipment
  • Telephones
  • Fax machines
  • Answering machines
  • Pagers
  • Services
  • Regular telephone calls
  • Call waiting
  • Speed dialing
  • Call forwarding
  • Computer-provided directory assistance
  • Call monitoring
  • Caller identification
  • Call tracing
  • Repeat dialing
  • Voice mail
  • Interactive voice response (phone systems that provide calles with menu options)

What does it mean to make these devices and servces accessible?

When possible, these devices and services should be able to be accessed by persons with different types of disabilities, particularly
visual or auditory disabilities. For instance, if a device such as a telephone or a pager would be considered accessible if it had both visual and audio controls for inputting information or retrieving messages.

When it is not possible to make the device or service fully accessible, companies should try to make them compatible with other devices or services that provide accessibility.  For instance, a telephones that provide only auditory output should be made
compatible with teletypewriters (TTYs), visual signaling devices, and amplifiers so that the may be utilized by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing.

In addition, Section 255 requires that product and service companies make their documentation, instructions and user guides, technical support hotlines, billing services, and other customer services accessible to all users.

What does Section 255 have to do with the internet?

The FCC has determined that Section 255 applies to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). VoIP refers to technology that allows users to make telephone calls or send faxes, text messages, or voice messages over the internet.

Last year, Congress passed the 21st Century Communications and Video Act, which provides important updates to Section 255.
It also expands accessibility requirements to many modern technologies, such as internet video and mobile devices. The AT Blog will be discussing these new rules in next month’s Wednesday blog posts.

Click on these links if you’d like to read the FCC’s guide to Section 255

[http://www.fcc.gov/guides/disabled-persons telecommunications-access-section-255]

or the U.S. Access Board’s guide to Section 255 [http://www.access-board.gov/telecomm/rule.htm].

Click here if you’d like to read the full text of Section 255 of the Communications Act, courtesy of the American Federation for the Blind [http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=4&TopicID=327&DocumentID=3574].

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