Telco Accessibility 101: What’s Now Covered by U.S. Legislation

In a word, everything.

Name a telecommunications product or service and chances are it has a legal requirement to comply with federal accessibility laws. Let’s see…

  • Mobile connectivity services for smartphones, tablets, and computers? Check
  • Smartphones, tablets, and computers? Check
  • Internet services (e.g., cable, satellite)? Check
  • Television services (e.g., cable, satellite, broadcast)? Check
  • Televisions, radios, DVD/Blu-ray players, DVRs, and on-demand video devices? Check
  • Email, texting, and other text-based communication? Check
  • VoIP communications and online video conferencing? Check
  • Fixed-line phone services? Check
  • Fixed-line telephones, modems, answering machines, and fax machines? Check
  • Two tin cans attached by a string? Check

All of these products and services are covered by U.S. accessibility legislation (except the cans and string).

Toy tin-can telephone

What laws are we talking about here?

Mainly Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, for products and services that existed before 1996, and the Twenty-­First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) of 2010, which picked up where Section 255 left off, defining accessibility regulations for broadband-enabled advanced communications services.

Web accessibility legislation, while not telco-specific, is also relevant. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t explicitly define commercial websites as “places of public accommodation” (because the ADA predates the Internet), but the courts have increasingly interpreted the law this way. Therefore, as “places of public accommodation,” company websites—and all associated content –must be accessible to people with disabilities. For more insight on this, try searching on “Netflix ADA Title III” or reading this article. (By the way, a web-focused update of the ADA is in the offing.)

Last but not least, we come to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, which spells out accessibility guidelines for businesses wanting to sell electronic and information technology (EIT) to the federal government. If your company doesn’t do that, then Section 508 doesn’t apply to you.

What this means for businesses

Not unreasonably, telecommunications companies must ensure that their products and services comply with accessibility regulations and are also usable by people with disabilities. This usability requirement means that telecom service providers must offer contracts, bills, and customer support communications in accessible formats.

For product manufacturers, usability means providing customers with a full range of relevant learning resources in accessible formats: installation guides, user manuals, and product support communications.

To comply with the legislation, telecommunications companies must find and implement cost-effective technology solutions that will allow them to deliver accessible customer-facing content. Organizations that fail to meet federal accessibility standards could leave themselves open to consumer complaints, lawsuits, and, possibly, stiff FCC fines.

Meeting the document challenge with accessible PDF

Telecommunications companies looking for ways to comply with federal regulations should consider a solution that can transform their existing document output of contracts, bills, manuals, and customer support communications into accessible PDF format.

Why PDF?

PDF is already the de facto electronic document standard for high-volume customer communications such as service contracts and monthly bills because it’s portable and provides an unchanging snapshot, a necessity for any kind of recordkeeping.

But what about HTML? Why not use that?

While HTML is ideal for delivering dynamic web and mobile content such as on-demand, customizable summaries of customer account data, it doesn’t produce discrete, time-locked documents. Plus, HTML doesn’t support archiving or portability, meaning HTML files are not “official” documents that can be stored and distributed as fixed entities.

Document content is low-hanging fruit

Document inaccessibility is not a problem that organizations need to live with because it can be solved immediately — and economically — with OpenText’s Automated Output Accessibility Solution, the only enterprise PDF accessibility solution on the market for high-volume, template-driven documents.

This unique software solution enables telecommunications companies to quickly transform service contracts, monthly bills, product guides, and other electronic documents into WCAG 2.0 Level AA-compliant accessible PDFs. Whatever the data source, our performance numbers are measured in milliseconds so customers will receive their content right when they ask for it.

OpenText has successfully deployed this solution at government agencies, as well as large commercial organizations, giving them the experience and expertise required to deliver accessible documents within a short time frame, with minimal disruption of day-to-day business.

Fast, reliable, compliant, and affordable, our automated solution can help you serve customers and meet your compliance obligations.

Learn more about the OpenText™Automated Output Accessibility solution.

Stannie Holt

Stannie Holt is a Marketing Content Writer at OpenText. She has over 20 years' experience as a journalist, market research analyst, and content marketing expert in the fields of enterprise business software, machine learning, e-discovery, and analytics.

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