Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project

Accessibility: FCC

Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY
- Accessibility
- Sec 504
- Sec 508
- FCC Sec 255
- Education
- Assistive Tech Act 
- Accessible Design
- Accessibility Law Chart

This page describes the general obligations under Title IV of the ADA, and under Sec. 255 of the Communications Act.  The FCC IP TRS Proceedings page describes the effort of the FCC to declare IP TRS eligible under the FCC TRS program.  Consideration of whether VoIP services fall under Sec. 255 obligations is found on the VoIP Sec. 255 page.

See 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Derived from Section 255: Telecom Access for People with Disabilities, FCC CGB FAQ


The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rules requiring telecommunications equipment manufacturers and service providers to make their products and services accessible to people with disabilities, if such access is readily achievable. These rules implement Section 255 of the Communications Act. Where access is not readily achievable, Section 255 requires manufacturers and service providers to make their devices and services compatible with peripheral devices and specialized customer premises equipment that are commonly used by people with disabilities, if such compatibility is readily achievable.

Products and Services Covered Under Section 255

The FCC's rules cover all hardware and software telephone network equipment and customer premises equipment (CPE). CPE is telecommunications equipment used in the home or office (or other premises) to originate, route, or terminate telecommunications. Examples of CPE are telephones, fax machines, answering machines, and pagers. CPE that provides both telecommunications and non-telecommunications functions is covered only to the extent it provides telecommunications functions.

The FCC's rules cover basic and special telecommunications services, including regular telephone calls, call waiting, speed dialing, call forwarding, computer-provided directory assistance, call monitoring, caller identification, call tracing, and repeat dialing. In addition, the rules cover interactive voice response (IVR) systems and voice mail. IVR systems are phone systems that provide callers with menus of choices.

1. Accessible:
A product or service is deemed accessible if it provides accessible input, control, and mechanical functions, as well as accessible output, display and control functions. For example, a pager that has both audio and visual controls for inputting information, as well as both audio and visual methods for retrieving messages, would be accessible to a person who is blind or deaf. 

2. Usable:
For a product or service to be usable, people with disabilities must be able to learn about and operate the product's or service's features effectively. This requirement includes providing access to information and documentation for the product or service, including instructions and user guides. In addition, companies must provide functionally equivalent access to support services, such as technical support hotlines and databases, call centers, service centers, repair services, and billing services.

3. Compatible:
The FCC requires that, where accessibility is not readily achievable, a product or service must be made compatible with peripheral devices or specialized customer premises equipment (SCPE), if compatibility is readily achievable. Peripheral devices are devices that help make telecommunications products and services accessible to individuals with disabilities. Examples are TTYs, visual signaling devices, and amplifiers. SCPE includes equipment, commonly used at the premises of a person with a disability, to achieve access in the origination, routing, or termination of calls and other telecommunications contacts. Direct-connect TTYs (TTYs that connect directly to the telephone network) are considered to be SCPE. Assistive technology devices, such as hearing aids or eyeglasses, that have a broad application outside the telecommunications context, are not themselves peripheral equipment or SCPE, even if they are used in conjunction with peripheral equipment or SCPE. To achieve compatibility, the FCC rules require:

  • external electronic access to all information and control mechanisms;
  • a connection point for external audio processing devices;
  • the ability to connect with TTYs; and
  • the ability to use TTY signals.
  • Identifying Access Needs

    Companies should engage in a number of activities to identify barriers to accessibility and usability. For example:


    When Must Manufacturers and Service Providers Evaluate Access Needs?

    Manufacturers and service providers must evaluate the accessibility, usability, and compatibility of their equipment and services as early and consistently as possible throughout their design, development, and manufacture. In addition, companies must review their products for accessibility at every "natural opportunity," including when they re-design products, upgrade services, or significantly change the way they group together product and service packages. Cosmetic changes that do not change the product's actual design, such as changes in the color, make, model name, or designation of a product, may not trigger the need to reevaluate access.

    Do Companies Need to Review All of Their Products and Services for Accessibility and Usability?

    Features that can be incorporated into the design of products or services with very little or no difficulty or expense must be put in each and every product. In some, but not all, products and services, incorporating access features may be readily achievable. In these instances, companies have the flexibility to distribute access features across product or service lines, so long as the companies implement all features that are readily achievable.

    How Will the FCC Determine Which Actions are Readily Achievable?

    The "readily achievable" standard requires companies to incorporate access features that are easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense. In determining what is readily achievable, companies must balance the costs and nature of the access required with their available resources. Companies that have great resources will need to do more to achieve access than companies with smaller budgets. The FCC will make readily achievable determinations on a case-by-case basis. A company may not need to provide access when the access feature would so fundamentally alter the product that it would substantially reduce the functionality of the product, make some features unusable, substantially impede or deter use of the product by other individuals, or substantially and materially alter the shape, size or weight of the product. Similarly, a company is not obligated to incorporate an access feature that is not technically possible. Companies wishing to use these defenses, however, must provide evidence to back up their positions.

    Is Network Architecture Covered by the FCC’s Section 255 Rules?

    In addition to covering equipment and services, the FCC's rules require network architecture to be designed in a way that does not hinder access by people with disabilities. Network architecture covers the public switched telephone network, and includes hardware or software databases associated with routing telecommunications services.

    Filing a Complaint

    Consumers encountering accessibility problems may file an informal complaint with the FCC by e-mail to fccinfo; on the Internet at; telephone to 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322) voice or 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322) TTY; fax to 1-866-0232; or mail:

    Federal Communications Commission
    Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
    Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
    445 12th Street, SW
    Washington, DC 20554.

    The complaint should include:
  • name, address, and telephone number of the person complaining;
  • name and address of the manufacturer or service provider;
  • details about the product or service;
  • date the complainant purchased, acquired or used the product or service, or attempted to purchase, acquire, or use the product or service;
  • statement of facts supporting the allegation that the product or service is not accessible;
  • specific relief requested; and
  • complainant's preferred method of response from the company, such as letter, fax, TTY, Braille, etc.
  • The FCC can impose a variety of penalties on companies that do not comply with Section 255, including proposing fines (against telephone companies only), cease and desist orders, and in extreme cases, requiring retrofitting products to make them accessible to people with disabilities.

    Is There a Way for Consumers to Contact Manufacturers and Service Providers About Access Concerns?

    Manufacturers and Service Providers are under an obligation to designate an agent for service of informal and formal complaints received by the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission”).  47 C.F.R. §§ 6.18 & 7.18.

    Although not required to do so, consumers may first wish to contact a manufacturer or service provider before filing a complaint with the FCC. Manufacturers and service providers have provided the FCC with contact information for the individuals and offices within their companies that are responsible for handling accessibility concerns and grievances. Consumers can find this contact information on the FCC's Disability Rights Office Web site at


    Government Activity

    Released: 05/06/2011. Consumer And Governmental Affairs Bureau Announces Extension Of Expiring Certifications For Providers Of Internet-Based Telecommunications Relay Services. (DA No. 11-849). (Dkt No 10-51 03-123 ). CGB .PDF WORD TXT