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IV. Other Concerns

While section 508 is a separate and independent law, it is best understood in the context of other sections of the Rehabilitation Act. Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by federal agencies and in programs that receive federal financial assistance. Title V also requires affirmative action for persons with disabilities in federal employment in order that federal agencies may set an example for the rest of the country by being a model employer of people with disabilities and by giving customers with disabilities equal opportunities to enjoy federal programs. Section 501 prohibits employment discrimination by federal agencies on the basis of disability and requires affirmative action in the hiring and employment of people with disabilities. Section 504 requires federal agencies to make all of their services, programs, and activities accessible to individuals with disabilities.

A. Legal Framework

1. Federal Employment

Section 501 requires affirmative action and nondiscrimination in employment by federal agencies of the executive branch. The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act are the same standards developed to implement title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employment discrimination by other public and private employers.

Section 501 requires federal agencies to provide qualified individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others. For example, agencies may not engage in discrimination in recruiting, hiring, promotions, training, pay, and other privileges of employment. Section 501 restricts questions that can be asked about an applicant ’s disability before a job offer is made and once an individual becomes an employee, and it requires that employers make reasonable accommodation to the known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would result in undue hardship (i.e., significant difficulty or expense).

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued regulations that govern the implementation of the Rehabilitation Act ’s requirements that apply to federal employees and applicants. To obtain more information or to file a complaint, employees should contact their agency ’s equal employment opportunity office.

2. Federal Programs

Section 504 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in any program or activity that is conducted by any executive agency or the U.S. Postal Service (including the program of employment).

Each federal agency has its own section 504 regulation that applies to its programs. Under these regulations, agencies are required, among other things, to make reasonable modifications to programs, policies, and procedures to provide program accessibility for people with disabilities, unless certain defenses apply. Employees and members of the public with disabilities have rights under section 504.1

Each agency is responsible for enforcing its own regulations. Section 504 may also be enforced through private lawsuits.

3. Interplay among sections 501, 504, and 508

Even strict adherence to the Access Board ’s section 508 technical provisions will not ensure that all electronic and information technology (EIT) will be universally accessible to all people with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations will be required in some instances. However, as agencies pay more attention to accessibility when procuring or developing their EIT, they will find it increasingly easy to provide reasonable accommodations when requested to do so. In some instances, people with disabilities may not need accommodations at all, as the underlying technology will be fully accessible to them.

 

Example:

    When an agency is choosing among e-mail systems to buy for its employees, section 508 requires the agency to consider whether the systems will be accessible for people who are blind and who use screen readers (regardless of whether the agency has any current employees with disabilities), by requiring the agency to follow the Access Board ’s Standards as integrated into the Federal Acquisition Regulation. Sections 501 and 504 would require the agency to provide screen reading software to a specific individual who is blind, upon request, as a reasonable accommodation that would enable the person to perform his or her job functions. If the agency purchases an e-mail system that cannot be used with screen readers, it may not be able to provide a screen reader as a reasonable accommodation to future blind employees to enable them to use the shared e-mail system, because even the provision of a screen reader will not be an effective accommodation if the software to which it is supposed to provide access does not work well with screen readers. Even if the agency were not able to provide a screen reader to accommodate an employee with a disability, sections 501 and 504 may require other forms of accommodation.

While reasonable accommodations required by section 501 and reasonable program, policy, or procedural modifications required under section 504 are often triggered by an individual ’s request, agencies may take many affirmative steps to meet their obligations under sections 501 and 504. Many of the recommendations incorporated into the Attorney General ’s April 2000 Report to the President, Information Technology and People with Disabilities: The Current State of Federal Accessibility, were designed to assist agencies in implementing complementary parts of the Rehabilitation Act, including sections 501, 504, and 508. Other recommendations merely stated promising practices that agencies should engage in, but which are not required. The 2001 self-evaluation questionnaires for Designated Agency Officials included questions crafted to measure whether agencies have implemented some of these recommendations.

 

Update:

    The Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are currently working on preliminary guidance on the relationship between sections 501, 504, and 508. This guidance will be forthcoming soon.

 

B. Access to Federal Agency Programs Through Telecommunications

Prior to the late 1980s, people who were deaf or hard of hearing, as well as those who have disabilities affecting speech, were generally only able to call other people who had TTYs (teletypewriter, also known as a TDD, or “telecommunications device for deaf persons”).

 

What is a “TTY”?

    A TTY is a device with a keyboard that enables people with certain communication-related disabilities to use the telephone. To communicate by TTY, a person types his or her conversation, which is read on a lighted display screen and/or paper printout feature of the TTY by the person who receives the call. Both parties must have TTYs to communicate. When typing on a TTY, each letter is transmitted by an electronic code called Baudot, which is sent from the TTY on the sending end of the call through the telephone line in the form of tones to the TTY on the receiving end of the call, the same way voiced communications occur between two parties. The receiving TTY transforms the tones back to letters on a small display screen and/or on a paper printout.

    More recently, technology has advanced to enable people to use computers equipped with TTY modems and special software instead of traditional TTYs.

In 1990, title IV of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which amended section 225 of the Telecommunications Act of 1934, 47 U.S.C. § 225, established the Telephone Relay Services (TRS) nationwide.2 TRS enables telephone conversations between people who use TTYs and those who do not. Specifically, a TTY user may telephone a voice user by calling a TRS provider, where an operator will place the call to the voice user and relay the conversation by transcribing spoken content for the TTY user and reading text aloud for the voice user. Likewise, voice users may place calls to TTY users through the TRS.

In July 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) instituted a new 7-1-1 dialing option for TRS. This service, which was fully implemented October 1, 2001, allows callers to connect with the TRS system anywhere in the country by dialing 7-1-1. The FCC also recently required all TRS providers to implement speech-to-speech (STS) relay services and interstate relay services in Spanish. Specifically, starting March 1, 2001, the FCC required telephone companies to provide STS relay service. STS lets people with speech disabilities communicate through a telephone via a specially trained operator (called a communications assistant). This service should benefit individuals with cerebral palsy, Parkinson ’s disease, laryngectomies, Alzheimer ’s disease, stuttering, muscular distrophy, stroke, and other conditions affecting loudness or clarity of speech. On the same date, the FCC required carriers to provide services allowing Spanish-speaking persons with speech or hearing disabilities to access Spanish-speaking communications assistants to provide translation from Spanish into English. In the Matter of the Use of N11 Codes and Other Abbreviated Dialing Arrangements, (FCC Docket NO. 92-105)(August 9, 2000). This order and an explanatory press release are both available from the FCC web site at http://www.fcc.gov/cib/dro/trs.html, which also describes services available from TRS services (as distinct from the Federal Information Relay Service (FRS), administered by the General Services Administration).

The federal government has established the Federal Information Relay Service (FRS), which is its own relay system. Unlike TRS, which uses commercial phone lines, FRS uses the FTS2001 government network. It is available for members of the public seeking information from federal agencies, as well as federal employees making official phone calls. To place a call through the FRS, dial 1-800-877-8339 (voice or TTY). The FRS line will emit TTY tones and fax tones, and then a voice operator will come on the line to assist nondisabled callers.

The FRS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including federal holidays. It may be used for any federal government business. All calls are strictly confidential. The FRS does not maintain records of any conversations. For more information regarding FRS, please see GSA ’s FRS web site (http://fts.gsa.gov/frs_b/index.htm).

 

 

Other FRS Services

In addition to traditional TTY relay services, the FRS also provides:

  • an online TTY directory,
  • voice carry-over to voice carry-over calls,
  • voice carry-over to TTY calls,
  • hearing carry-over to hearing carry-over calls,
  • voice carry-over with privacy,
  • two-line voice carry over calls,
  • turbo code,
  • Spanish language relay service and translation service, and
  • voice mail message retrieval service.

These last two services are described below.

Spanish Relay Service
    FRS offers Spanish relay service for our Spanish-speaking customers. TTY users can type in Spanish and the conversations will be relayed in Spanish to the called party. In addition, TTY users can also request Spanish to English translation via relay.

    To request Spanish relay, type in area code with the telephone number and the name of the agency you are calling from or to, “SPANISH TO SPANISH GA” or “SPANISH TO ENGLISH GA.”

Excerpted from GSA ’s FRS web site (http://www.fts.gsa.gov/frs/howto/srs.htm ).

Answering Machine Message Retrieval

    TTY users can request FRS to retrieve messages from their voice answering machines or voice mail. To request answering machine retrieval, type in “AMR with instructions or password then GA”, the CA [Communications Assistant] will type “PLS PLACE YOUR HEADSET NEXT TO YOUR ANSWERING MACHINE AND TURN ON GA”. Place your headset on the speaker part of the answering machine and watch the answering machine number or light indicator. You will know when all the messages have been retrieved. Then place the headset back on the TTY and type “GA retrieve.” The CA will then type your message.

Excerpted from GSA ’s FRS web site (http://fts.gsa.gov/frs_b/additional/ansmachine.htm)

When agencies do not adequately train employees regarding how to use TTYs, as well as relay services such as the TRS and the FRS, members of the public, job applicants, and federal employees with disabilities can be cut off from telephone access to federal programs.

1. Employee Training for TTYs and Relay Services (Agency Question D-1)

 

Findings
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Agencies are not consistent in providing training to their employees on the use of a TTY.

  • Employee training regarding use of the Telephone Relay Services and Federal Relay Service is critical to the adequate delivery of federal agency programs

Recommendation
_____________________________________________________________________

  • If they have not already done so, agencies should provide employee training regarding the use of Telephone Relay Services and the Federal Relay Service.

The Department asked agencies a question related to the adequacy of their employee training in this area, “Does your agency provide training for all employees and contractors for using TTYs, the Telephone Relay Services (TRS), and the Federal Information Relay Service (FRS)?” (Question D-1)

 

  • Some agencies provide training for all employees and contractors for using TTYs, the Telephone Relay Services, and the Federal Information Relay Service (FRS). These include 6 of 18 large agencies (11.09%*); 6 of 21 mid-sized agencies (31.67%*); 4 of 21 >small agencies (25.26%*); and 1 of 18 very small agencies (1.52%*).
  • A few agencies do not yet provide such training, but are in the process of developing it. These include 1 of 18 large agencies (0.26%*); 1 of 21 mid-sized agencies (4.80%*); none of the small agencies; and 4 of 18 very small agencies (24.73%*).
  • Some agencies that do not already provide such training indicated that they would take advantage of short, inexpensive training modules, if any were available. These include 5 of 18 large agencies (21.42%*); 6 of 21 mid-sized agencies (33.80%*); 9 of 21 small agencies (34.06%*); and 6 of 18 very small agencies (45.07%*).
  • A few large and mid-sized agencies indicated that they do not provide such training and have no plans to do so, including 1 of 18 large agencies (1.14%*) and 3 of 21 mid-sized agencies (6.13%*). Relatively more small and very small agencies chose this response, including 4 of 21 small agencies (22.01%*) and 5 of 18 very small agencies (16.24%*).
  • Many large agencies indicated that their components had different approaches, including 5 of 18 large agencies (66.09%*). A fair number of other agencies also chose this response, including 5 of 21 mid-sized agencies (23.60%*); 4 of 21 small agencies (18.67%*); and 2 of 18 very small agencies (12.44%*).

While use of the TRS and FRS have a greater impact on an agency ’s ability to meet its general nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodation obligations under sections 501 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the use of these services also has implications for section 508. To the extent that an agency finds that it is an undue burden to procure telecommunications systems – including services, software, and equipment – that are accessible to persons who use TTYs, it must provide an accessible alternative way for TTY users to obtain the information that would have been obtained over a system that was directly usable by them, pursuant to section 508(a)(1)(B). The TRS and FRS can provide a cost-effective means for agencies to meet this obligation.

In many circumstances, federal agencies may provide a reasonable degree of communications access between employees who use TTYs and employees who use standard telephones, as well as between members of the public who use TTYs and employees who use standard telephones, by taking full advantage of the toll-free TRS and FRS. 3 Unfortunately, both of the Department ’s section 508 self-evaluations revealed that the majority of agencies do not provide adequate training to their employees regarding the availability and use of these services. 4 This lack of training likely results in a significant underutilization of the TRS and FRS and in the provision of lesser government services to persons who are deaf or hard of hearing or who have disabilities affecting speech. For instance, many federal employees are instructed not to accept collect calls on behalf of their agencies. Some may mistake TRS operators for collect call operators and refuse to accept calls placed by those who use the TRS.

2. Provisions for Public Use of TTYs (Agency Question D-2)

 

Findings
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Most agencies do not provide facilities for TTY users in public areas.

Recommendation
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Where agencies provide the ability for members of the public to use telephones, members of the public who use TTYs should be provided adequate facilities to use telephones.

Although it is not always required by law, agencies should provide TTY capability wherever telephones are available to the public to enable people with disabilities the same ability to make telephone calls from federal buildings as others.

The Department asked agencies, “Does your agency provide TTYs, outlets, and shelves wherever it provides telephones for members of the public?” (Question D-2)

 

  • Only 5 of 18 large agencies (9.78%*) provide TTYs, outlets, and shelves wherever they provide telephones for members of the public. Relatively more of the other agencies – as measured by comparative workforce statistics – provide these facilities, including 12 of 21 mid-sized agencies (72.80%*); 7 of 21 small agencies (39.06%*); and 3 of 18 very small agencies (17.91%*).
  • Almost one-third of the very small agencies – 5 of 18 (29.44%*) – indicated that they have established a timetable to add TTYs, outlets, and shelves wherever they provide telephones for members of the public. Very few agencies in other size categories chose this response, including 1 of 18 large agencies (3.20%*); none of the mid-sized agencies; and 1 of 21 small agencies (1.97%*).
  • Few large and mid-sized agencies indicated that they have no intention to add TTYs, shelves, and outlets wherever telephones are made available to members of the public, including 3 of 18 large agencies (2.24%*) and 3 of 21 mid-sized agencies (5.90%*). This response was much more popular among smaller agencies, including 7 of 21 small agencies (22.82%*) and 5 of 18 very small agencies (33.54%*).
  • As expected, some parts of most of the large agencies offer TTYs, shelves, and outlets wherever telephones are offered for public use, while others do not. These include 9 of 18 large agencies (84.77%*). Fewer smaller agencies indicated that different parts of their agencies approach this issue differently, including 4 of 21 mid-sized agencies (16.55%*); 4 of 21 small agencies (30.04%*); and 1 of 18 very small agencies (7.89%*).
  • Few agencies indicated that they never offer telephones for public use, including none of the large agencies; 2 of 21 mid-sized agencies (4.76%*); 2 of 21 small agencies (6.11%*); and 4 of 18 very small agencies (11.23%*).

With respect to federal facilities that include telephones for public use, agencies should ensure that TTYs are available. TTYs should be built-in to the telephone units, or the agencies should offer portable TTYs available from a centralized location near the telephone units and available during the same hours telephones are available to the public. If this latter option is chosen, agencies should provide adequate shelves for supporting the TTYs, and electrical outlets sufficiently close by, to serve the portable TTYs during use. Appropriate signs should be posted informing the public of the availability and location of the TTYs. The data suggest that mid-sized agencies are doing the best job in providing program access for members of the public who use TTYs to make telephone calls from federal facilities. The heads of large agencies should provide centralized leadership to ensure greater consistency among various components.

3. Direct TTY Connections for Incoming Calls (Agency Question D-3)

 

Findings
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Many agencies currently provide dedicated TTY lines wherever they receive a large volume of incoming calls

Recommendation
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Federal agencies should provide dedicated TTY lines for incoming calls where they receive a large volume of incoming calls

While the relay services, TRS, and FRS, work well for the purposes for which they were intended, it is much more efficient for TTY callers to be able to make a direct connection with agency personnel. Furthermore, in some circumstances, such as emergency services, direct TTY access must be provided.

 

Other Uses of Technology Assist Employees Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

    Offices are increasingly communicating with employees who travel by providing them with cellular telephones and pagers. Cell phones and pagers that incorporate visual messaging as well as audible communications provide employees who are deaf or hard of hearing the ability to communicate that is equal to that of their nondisabled colleagues.

While not required by law, it is a good practice to offer direct-connect TTY lines wherever agencies have a large volume of incoming calls. Doing so will increase the efficiency of such calls by cutting the time required to process TTY calls approximately in half (compared to calls placed via relay systems) and providing fewer opportunities for miscommunication.

The Department asked agencies, “Has your agency installed dedicated TTY lines wherever it receives a large volume of incoming calls?” (Question D-3)

  • Many agencies have installed dedicated TTY lines wherever they receive a large volume of incoming calls. These include 7 of 18 large agencies (74.27%*); 11 of 21 mid-sized agencies (51.20%*); 11 of 21 small agencies (60.67%*); and 5 of 18 very small agencies (33.38%*).
  • Some very small agencies – 5 of 18 (29.44%*) – have established timetables for installing dedicated TTY lines wherever they receive large volumes of incoming calls. Outside of the “very small agency” size category, only 1 large agency (3.20%*) chose this response.
  • The comparative ratio of agencies that have no plans to install dedicated TTY lines is inversely proportionate to the agency size category, including 2 of 18 large agencies (1.40%*); 3 of 21 mid-sized agencies (7.96%*); 6 of 21 small agencies (17.77%*); and 7 of 18 very small agencies (26.86%*).
  • A relatively large number of agencies indicated that some parts of their agencies offer dedicated TTY lines wherever they receive large volumes of incoming calls, while others do not. These include 8 of 18 large agencies (21.13%*); 7 of 21 mid-sized agencies (40.84%*); 4 of 21 small agencies (21.56%*); and 1 of 18 very small agencies (10.32%*).

While agencies are doing a credible job in providing direct-connection opportunities for people who use TTYs, there is room for improvement. The data suggest that many agencies rely on TRS and FRS to enable people who use TTYs to call them.

4. Automated Telephone Systems (Agency Question D-4)

 

Findings
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Agencies do not have a consistent approach for providing operator assistance on automated telephone systems.

Recommendation
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Agencies should provide operator assistance on automated telephone systems.
  • Operators and FRS communication assistants should receive training in how to assist TTY users on automated telephone systems.

In order to increase efficiency and reduce personnel-related expenses, most agencies are requiring callers to navigate their telephone interactive menu systems or prerecorded messages through touch-tone menu selection rather than a human operator. Some of these systems require serial choices for proper connection, (e.g., “press 1 for ___, press 2 for ___, . . . ”). Others require callers to spell a persons ’s last name with the telephone keypads, (e.g., to reach John Doe, the caller would press 3 - 6 - 3 as the numbers on the telephone keypad corresponding to D-O-E). Another variation on this theme is to provide a variety of prerecorded messages, often containing commonly requested information, that can be selected by choosing the appropriate touch-tone number corresponding to a menu option.

While these features can enhance the efficiency of an agency ’s operations, they can also present barriers for some people with disabilities. Persons with disabilities affecting manual dexterity may find it impossible or at least very difficult to press touch-tone buttons. Some persons with cognitive or learning disabilities may have difficulty understanding or remembering the options presented to them. TTY users who call through the TRS generally have to call repeatedly to give the TRS operator an opportunity to convey accurately the full menu, have the caller communicate his or her choice, and ultimately have the operator choose on behalf of the caller the correct touch-tone to activate the system. Another less obvious problem is that most interactive menu connection systems have timed defaults that require callers to proceed at an average rate of speed or the call is terminated. Someone with cerebral palsy who pushes touch-tone buttons with a pointing device held in the mouth may find that he or she cannot negotiate the system quickly enough.

Most of these difficulties could be ameliorated if callers are provided the option to speak directly with a live operator for assistance or if FRS communication assistants receive training on the use of automated systems. In spite of agency downsizing, agencies should be encouraged to retain some live operators instead of going to fully automated systems. 5

For many people with disabilities, automated telephone systems that do not have an “operator” option are simply unusable. Access to agency programs communicated through such systems is jeopardized.

The Department asked, “Does your agency provide training for all employees and contractors for using TTYs, the Telephone Relay Services (TRS), and the Federal Information Relay Service (FRS)?” (Question D-4

  • Some large and mid-sized agencies provide operators for interactive automated telephone services for assisting persons with disabilities, including 5 of 18 large agencies (9.98%*) and 5 of 21 mid-sized agencies (17.56%*). A much higher percentage of small and very small agencies chose this response, including 11 of 21 small agencies (65.86%*) and 9 of 18 very small agencies (48.41%*).
  • Some large agencies have established a timetable for adding operator service onto their interactive automated telephone services to assist people with disabilities, including 3 of 18 large agencies (19.31%*). Outside of the “large” agency size category, only 1 of 21 mid-sized agencies (2.17%*) chose this response.
  • Only 2 of 18 large agencies (2.80%*) indicated they had no plans to add an operator service onto their interactive automated telephone services to assist people with disabilities. Many more agencies in the other size categories chose this response, including 12 of 21 mid-sized agencies (63.71%*); 10 of 21 small agencies (34.14%*); and 9 of 18 very small agencies (51.59%*).
  • Most large agencies – 8 of 18 (67.91%*) – and a few mid-sized agencies – 3 of 21 (16.57%*) – indicated that some parts of their agencies provide operator services to assist people with disabilities to use their interactive automated telephone services, while others do not. None of the small or very small agencies chose this response.

Small and very small agencies are doing a significantly better job of consistently making their interactive telephone systems accessible to people with disabilities by providing operator assistance. Large and mid-sized agencies often have components that provide operator assistance for their interactive telephone systems, but others do not. Over-reliance on this technology can pose insurmountable barriers to some people with disabilities. While agencies are downsizing and streamlining their delivery of services to the public, they should ensure that their chosen methods do not prevent an important segment of the citizenry from receiving those services.

5. TTY Access to Interactive Systems and Voice Mail (Agency Questions D-5 and D-6)

 

Findings
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Most agencies have never tested their interactive automated telephone systems using a TTY and have no plans to perform such testing.
  • Most agencies do not provide toll-free TTY lines that provide equivalent information and services as that provided on toll-free non-TTY lines.

Recommendation
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Agencies that use interactive telephone systems should configure and test those systems for TTY compatibility, (Question D-5), or agencies should maintain separate toll-free TTY lines providing equivalent information and services as are provided on standard voice toll-free information lines.
  • Agencies should ensure that, when they use toll-free information lines, toll-free TTY lines providing equivalent information and services are available.

As explained previously, TTY users who call automated interactive telephone systems through the TRS generally have to call repeatedly to give the TRS operator an opportunity to convey accurately the full menu, have the caller communicate his or her choice, and ultimately have the operator choose on behalf of the caller the correct touch-tone to activate the system. To resolve this accessibility issue and others, the Department recommends that all agencies provide the option of connecting with a live operator for assistance.

However, there is another way to provide callers who use TTYs access to interactive telephone systems. The technology exists that allows these systems to be configured so that they are compatible with TTYs. By doing so, agencies may be able to maintain a high level of automation, thus reserving the operator assistance option for those for whom automated interactive telephone systems pose other kinds of disability-related barriers (such as those experienced by people with some cognitive or learning disabilities who cannot make accurate serial connection choices).

The Department asked, “If your agency uses interactive telephone systems, have you tested and configured such interactive telephone systems to be compatible with TTYs?”(Question D-5)

  • Some agencies have tested and configured their interactive automated telephone systems to be compatible with TTYs, including 5 of 18 large agencies (9.80%*); 7 of 21 mid sized agencies (29.37%*); 6 of 21 small agencies (30.04%*); and 2 of 18 very small agencies (9.41%*).
  • Other agencies have established a timetable for testing and configuring their interactive telephone systems to be compatible with TTYs, including 3 of 18 large agencies (19.31%*); 4 of 21 mid-sized agencies (26.20%*); 1 of 21 small agencies (3.04%*); and 5 of 18 very small agencies (23.67%*).
  • The majority of agencies have no plans to test and configure their interactive automated telephone systems to be compatible with TTYs, including 4 of 18 large agencies (65.36%*); 9 of 21 mid-sized agencies (38.02%*); 14 of 21 small agencies (66.93%*); and 11 of 18 very small agencies (66.92%*).
  • Some large agencies – 6 of 18 (5.53%*) – and 1 mid-sized agency (6.41%*) indicated that some parts of their agencies have tested and configured their interactive automated telephone systems to be compatible with TTYs. None of the small or very small agencies chose this response.

The Department also asked a related question, “If your agency has toll-free information lines, does it also maintain separate toll-free TTY lines providing equivalent information and services?” (Question D-6)

  • Some agencies that maintain toll-free information lines also maintain separate toll-free TTY lines providing equivalent information and services, including 4 of 18 large agencies (22.22%*); 8 of 21 mid-sized agencies (38.10%*); 4 of 21 small agencies (19.05%*); and 1 of 18 very small agencies (5.56%*).
  • Few agencies have established a timetable for adding toll-free TTY lines with information and services equivalent to the information and services provided on their standard toll-free lines, including no large agencies; 2 of 21 mid-sized agencies (9.52%*); 2 of 21 small agencies (9.52%*); and 2 of 18 very small agencies (11.11%*).
  • Many agencies have no plans to add toll-free TTY lines with information and services equivalent to the information and services provided on their standard toll-free lines, including 2 of 18 large agencies (11.11%*); 8 of 21 mid-sized agencies (38.10%*); 14 of 21 small agencies (66.67%*); and 15 of 18 very small agencies (83.33%*).
  • A majority of large agencies and some agencies in other size categories indicated that some parts of their agencies have toll-free TTY lines with information and services equivalent to the information and services provided on their standard toll-free lines, while others do not. These include 12 of 18 large agencies (66.67%*); 3 of 21 mid-sized agencies (14.29%*); 1 of 21 small agencies (4.76%*); and none of the very small agencies.

The data reflect that a large number of agencies have not configured their interactive automated telephone systems to be compatible with TTYs and have no plans to do so. The data with respect to the availability of toll-free TTY information lines are only slightly better. Both of these issues should receive immediate attention, especially as downsizing agencies increase their reliance on automated means of providing program information to the public. Agencies that provide well-trained operator assistance may be addressing their program access responsibilities through this appropriate alternate method.

 

C. Access to Federal Agency Programs Through Information Transaction Machines

 

Findings
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Few agencies have taken steps to ensure that agency Information Transaction Machines (ITMs) are accessible to users with disabilities, but most have expressed an interest in improving their accessibility.

Recommendation
_____________________________________________________________________

  • Agencies should ensure that all newly procured ITMs comply with the Section 508 Standards.
  • Agencies should survey their existing ITMs for potential barriers and ensure that all programs or services provided by any inaccessible ITMs are available to people with disabilities— either by making the ITM accessible or through alternative means.

Relatively few agencies develop, procure, maintain, or use6 “information transaction machines” (ITMs). Of those that do, most are larger agencies. ITMs include information kiosks, ATMs (automated teller machines), point of sale card scanning machines, interactive electronic building directories, and others. Specific examples include the Department of Housing and Urban Development ’s “HUD Next Door” kiosks (providing the public with up-to-date information of locally available HUD homes http://www.hud.gov:80/library/bookshelf15/kiosk/bkkiosk.cfm) and the Office of Personnel Management ’s USAJOBS Touch Screen Kioks (these kiosks provide federal job vacancies nationwide and are updated daily, http://www.opm.gov/employ/kiosks/locate.htm ).

People with many types of disabilities generally encounter barriers when using most models of ITMs designed and manufactured prior to the publication of the Access Board ’s Standards. People with mobility impairments, such as those who use wheelchairs, often find that ITMs are located on inaccessible routes or do not have sufficient clear floor space to all people who use wheelchairs to approach them. People who are blind are rarely able to use ITMs, since most of them provide information exclusively in a visual format – often using touchscreen technology. Many people with low vision have difficulty using ITMs, as most do not allow users to change color settings or display sizes. People who are deaf or hard of hearing encounter fewer barriers, as most ITMs do not convey information audibly. People who cannot read or who have difficulty reading due to cognitive or learning disabilities may also have trouble using ITMs, as most do not provide audio output and are not equipped with voice recognition technology.

The Department asked, “If your agency owns, controls, or uses any ITMs, have you (1) surveyed them for potential barriers, (2) eliminated some or all of the barriers, and (3) taken steps to ensure that whatever programs provided by any inaccessible ITMs are available to people with disabilities through an accessible ITM or another means?” (Question D-7)

  • Few agencies have taken steps to ensure that ITMs they own, control, or use – and the programs provided on those ITMs – are accessible to people with disabilities. These include 2 of 18 large agencies (1.64%*); 4 of 20 mid-sized agencies (12.47%*); 1 of 21 small agencies (2.20%*); and none of the very small agencies.
  • More agencies have established a timetable for ensuring that the ITMs they own, control, or use – and the programs provided on those ITMs – are accessible to people with disabilities. These include 5 of 18 large agencies (17.93%*); 4 of 20 mid-sized agencies (32.34%*); 2 of 21 small agencies (12.75%*); and 1 of 18 very small agencies (8.35%*).
  • Some agencies have no plans for ensuring accessibility of their ITMs and the programs provided on them, including 4 of 18 large agencies (8.78%*); 3 of 20 mid-sized agencies (9.45%*); 5 of 21 small agencies (20.15%*); and 2 of 18 very small agencies (9.41%*). Some of the larger agencies indicated that parts of their agencies have taken steps to ensure access to their ITMs and the programs provided on them, while others have not. These include 6 of 18 large agencies (71.37%*) and 2 of 20 mid-sized agencies (14.76%*). None of the small or very small agencies chose this response.
  • Many agencies chose the “not applicable” response, indicating that they do not use, control, or own any ITMs. These include 1 of 18 large agencies (0.28%*); 7 of 20 mid- sized agencies (30.98%*); 13 of 21 small agencies (64.90%*); and 15 of 18 very small agencies (82.25%*).

In the self-evaluation materials leading to the April 2000 Report, we did not ask any similar question. There are, therefore, no data against which to measure agencies ’ increased or decreased performance in this area.

The data suggest that although relatively few agencies use ITMs, with respect to the existing ITMs, a large percentage of them pose barriers to use by people with disabilities. When agencies continue to use ITMs that are not barrier-free, they must provide alternate means of communicating to people with disabilities the contents of programs provided to others via the ITM. Information regarding these alternate means of communication should be prominently posted on the ITM, in a manner that will be accessible to the persons affected by identified barriers. For instance, if the barriers identified on the ITM would affect people who are blind or who have low vision, the agency should post Braille and large print signage on or near the kiosk regarding the alternate means through which the agency intends to make its program accessible.

If agencies identify barriers that can be removed, they should take appropriate steps. For instance, many ITMs could be made more accessible to people with mobility impairments, such as those who use wheelchairs, simply by moving them to more accessible locations.

Most of the other barriers can be more properly addressed by manufacturers during the design process, pursuant to section 508, and are more relevant for agencies intending to acquire new ITMs. The Access Board ’s Standards include technical provisions for “self-contained, closed products” such as ITMs, 36 C.F.R. § 1194.25. These provisions address:

  • built-in assistive technology features (1194.25(a));
  • timed responses (1194.25(b);
  • touchscreen technology (1194.25(c));
  • biometric forms of identification (e.g., retinal or fingerprint scanners) (1194.25(d);
  • controls and listening mechanisms for auditory output (1194.25(e));
  • volume control (1194.25(f))
  • color coding (1194.25(g));
  • color and contrast settings (1194.25(h));
  • flickering that might cause seizures (1194.25(i)); and
  • reach ranges for controls 1194.25(j)).

Section 508 does not require agencies to retrofit ITMs acquired before June 2001 for accessibility. Sections 501, 504, and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act may, however, require an agency to ensure that the programs or services available through those ITMs are accessible to people with disabilities through alternate means, unless doing so would impose an undue burden or constitute a fundamental alteration in the programs or services of offered through those ITMs.

D. Key Recommendations

This section summarizes a number of important findings from the 2001 survey of the agencies regarding the accessibility of telephone and ITM systems. The major recommendations are summarized below:

  • The FCC, GSA, and the Access Board should facilitate the development and advertisement of free web-based training modules regarding how to use a TTY, the TRS, and the FRS, including web-based modules that can be posted on agencies ’ intranet sites; all agencies should provide such training to their employees, especially with respect to the use of relay services.
  • Agencies should ensure that those who use TTYs have full access to agency telecommunications by (a) ensuring that where members of the public can make outgoing calls from agency buildings, those who use TTYs can do so as well; (b) adding direct-connect TTY lines wherever agencies ’ incoming telephone lines receive a large number of calls; (c) prominently displaying TTY numbers along with their corresponding standard telephone numbers; (d) configuring their interactive telephone systems to be compatible with TTYs or adding additional telephone lines with TTY messages and compatibility; and (e) where toll-free information lines are provided, ensuring that those lines support TTY use or that equivalent toll-free TTY information systems are available.
  • Each large and mid-sized agency should make operators available on all of its interactive automated telephone services and should allow callers to connect with operators by pressing “0” or by staying on the line. Small and very small agencies should explore cost-sharing measures to provide operators for their interactive telephone services.
  • Agencies should ensure that all newly procured ITMs comply with the Section 508 Standards. For all other ITMs, agencies should ensure that the programs offered through them are accessible to users with disabilities — either by removing barriers or through alternative means.

     


* This is a weighted value measuring the number of full-time employees in these agencies, compared with the total number of persons employed full-time by agencies in this size category.

1 In addition, both section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4151 et seq., require new construction of (and alterations to) federal facilities to be accessible to people with disabilities.

2 The provision of Telephone Relay Services required by title IV of the ADA is enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). See, “Frequently Asked Questions on Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS)” at http://www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Common_Carrier/FAQ/faq_trs.html .

3 There are some circumstances when it is inappropriate to rely on the TRS and when direct TTY service should be provided, such as for emergency call centers (i.e., 9-1-1 centers). Calls placed through the TRS take quite a bit longer than direct TTY connections and, because the relay operator may not be familiar with technical terms, can be less accurate. Also, going through a relay operator may prevent the caller ’s location information from being automatically conveyed to the 9-1-1 operator.

4 All Telephone Relay Service (TRS) providers, including the Federal Information Relay Service (FRS), will provide employee training upon request. Training generally covers:

  • TTY etiquette, including:
    • instructing the voice caller to speak as though he or she was talking directly to the TTY caller, instead of through a third party;
    • using the expressions “go ahead” to signal the TTY user that it is his or her turn to communicate; and the confidentiality of all calls placed through the TRS

5 One problem with providing operator service as an alternative to automated telephone systems is that it may be difficult or impossible to limit operator service strictly to users with disabilities. On the other hand, because automated telephone systems often expedite services for users, “misuse” of operator assistance will be unlikely. Agencies may consider experimenting with various alternatives in balancing agency resources and the needs of users with disabilities.

6 Here, the term “use” has limited meaning. For instance, if a federal agency has a private bank ’s ATM in the lobby that is “used” by employees, section 508 does not require the agency to ensure that this ATM is accessible to users with disabilities. By contrast, if an agency “uses” one of its existing ITMs (e.g., an information kiosk) to provide its programs or services to the public or to provide services to employees in order for them to perform their work, the agency ’s use of that ITM may give rise to a violation of the Rehabilitation Act.

 

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Last Updated: 6/14/04

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Jocelyn Samuels
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