The Center for An Accessible Society Disability Issues Information









Website access rules

Commentary by Deborah Kaplan

Executive Director of the World Institute on Disability.

Each of us has heard -- time and again -- that we have entered the 'information age'. Countless news and magazine articles remind any of us who havenít already figured it out that information has become the most important commodity. It follows, then, that access to this information will determine who survives and who thrives in the 21st century.

With the plethora of sources available to us -- from the print and broadcast media to the Internet -- it would seem that all of us have access to more information than we could possibly take in. Surprisingly, though, there are many Americans who donít have ready or easy access to one of the most important tools used today to convey information -- the telephone and its various ancillary services.

Imagine you are deaf and you hold a job in a typical office. An important client has just left you a voicemail message. A large contract is involved, and the information is time-sensitive. The problem is, the only way to retrieve the voicemail is through a co-worker, and right now everyone is tied up in a top-priority meeting.

This could happen, because when you're deaf, your company's voicemail system is probably inaccessible to you. Yes, you have a TTY (teletype telecommunications device) at your desk; yes, you can call an 800 number to reach an operator who can type most spoken conversations into text for you. But most relay operators can't type fast enough to keep up with today's voicemail systems.

This kind of problem besets deaf people in white-collar professions across the country, and affects the job prospects of countless deaf and hearing impaired job seekers.

Commentators have questioned the effectiveness of the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While there is no question that this is an important issue, there are numerous other factors also affecting the employability of people with disabilities. New groundbreaking rules just issued by the Federal Communications Commission will help eradicate some of these factors.

The new rules implement Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. They will result in communications systems deaf people can use. This won't even require much re-working of existing technology. But it will make a profound difference for deaf people who want to hold jobs, which in return can increase overall employment and productivity, which is good for all Americans.

The new rules will make telecommunications products and services more usable for people with other kinds of disabilities, too. FCC Chairman William Kennard deserves much of the credit for making the connection between access to technology for persons with disabilities and their ability to compete for jobs. His leadership has been instrumental in steering these important regulations through the FCC.

Some industry interests are grumbling about the new rules -- the additional expense, the need for redesign. But experience has demonstrated time and again that accommodations required


Deborah Kaplan is Director of the World Institute on Disability






Expert sources

The Digital Divide

Section 508

The Web Access Initiative


About The Center for An Accessible Society