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I. Accessibility in the Evolving Information Environment

A. Federal Requirements for Accessibility

When information environments accommodate people with limitations of vision, hearing, or mobility they are afforded equal opportunities to become proficient users of information resources. Federal agencies are responding to their mission level responsibility to ensure that evolving information environments are accessible to current and prospective employees with disabilities and citizens with disabilities who need to access Federal offices and public information services. By establishing accessible information environments, agencies also promote productivity, job retention of employees who develop disabilities, and the introduction of innovative interfaces to enhance access to information by all users.

This accessibility policy is based on two laws, the 1986 Reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Pub.L. 99-506, Section 508) and the Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act of 1988 (Pub.L. 100- 542). These statutes have been implemented in the Federal Information Resources Management Regulation (FIRMR) promulgated by GSA. The FIRMR requires that agencies identify computer and telecommunications accessibility requirements for current and prospective employees and public information services and address the functional aspects of these requirements in solicitation documents and when subscribing to telecommunications services. (See Appendices F, G, H, and I for text of the laws, regulations, and bulletins).

These laws do not represent a radical new direction for agencies, but serve to reinforce through a strong IRM focus, the existing mission requirements under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This Act requires federally conducted or federally sponsored programs to be accessible to persons with disabilities and mandates that management policies must not discriminate in the hiring, placement, and advancement of persons with disabilities. In 1986, Congress amended this legislation and added Section 508 on electronic equipment to make more explicit the importance of information technology to meet mission responsibilities for accessibility to Federal programs and facilities. The second statute, the Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act, mandates a proactive approach within the government to advancing accessibility to the Federal telecommunications system by hearing impaired and speech impaired individuals.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) has adapted and extended many of the existing responsibilities of the Rehabilitation Act for implementation outside the Federal government. The law requires barrier-free access to places that serve the public, such as theaters, restaurants, and museums. State and local government services, transportation, and telecommunications services must also be accessible. Discrimination on the basis of disability in private sector employment is also prohibited. As implementation of ADA begins, accessibility to information resources represents just one important area where Federal departments can demonstrate to the private sector successful implementation strategies and the benefits of accessibility policies.

The contents of two laws specifically addressing the requirements for computer and telecommunications accessibility within the Federal government are included in this section. The laws are:

P.L. 99-506, Section 508 - an Act to extend and improve the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
P.L. 100-542 - Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act of 1988

PUBLIC LAW 99-506 - OCTOBER 21, 1986
100 STAT. 1807
99th Congress

An Act To extend and improve the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.


(a) ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT ACCESSIBILITY. - Title V of the Act is amended by inserting after section 507 the following new section:


"Section 508. (a) (1) The Secretary, through the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research and the Administrator of the General Services, in consultation with the electronics industry, shall develop and establish guidelines for electronic equipment accessibility designed to insure that handicapped individuals may use electronic office equipment with or without special peripherals.

"(2) The guidelines established pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be applicable with respect to electronic equipment, whether purchased or leased.

"(3) The initial guidelines shall be established not later than October 1, 1987, and shall be periodically revised as technologies advance or change.

"(b) Beginning after September 30, 1988, the Administrator of General Services shall adopt guidelines for electronic equipment accessibility established under subsection (a) for Federal procurement of electronic equipment. Each agency shall comply with the guidelines adopted under this subsection.

"(c) For the purpose of this section, the term 'special peripherals' means a special needs aid that provides access to electronic equipment that is otherwise inaccessible to a handicapped individual."

"(b) CONFORMING AMENDMENT. - The table of contents of the Act is amended by inserting after item "Sec. 507." the following new item:

"Sec. 508. Electronic equipment accessibility."

PUBLIC LAW 100-542 - OCTOBER 28, 1988

102 STAT. 2721
100th Congress

An Act To expand our national telecommunications system for the benefit of the hearing-impaired and speech-impaired populations, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the "Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act of 1988".


As used in this Act-
(1) The term "TDD" means a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf, a machine which employs graphic communications in the transmission of coded signals through the nationwide telecommunications system.
(2) The term "Federal agency" has the meaning given such term by section 3(b) of the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 (40 U.S.C. 472(b)).


(a) ACCESSIBILITY OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS SYSTEMS. - The Administrator of General Services, after consultation with the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, the Interagency Committee on Computer Support of Handicapped Employees, the Federal Communications Commission, and affected Federal agencies, shall, by regulation, take such actions in accordance with this section as may be necessary to assure that the Federal telecommunications system is fully accessible to hearing-impaired and speech-impaired individuals, including Federal employees, for communications with and within Federal agencies.

(b) SPECIFIC REQUIREMENT. - In carrying out subsection (a), the Administrator shall -
(1) provide for the continuation of the existing Federal relay system for users of TDDs;
(2) within 90 days after the date of enactment of this Act, expand such relay system by employing at least one additional operator;
(3) within 180 days after such date of enactment -
(A) conduct, as part of the rulemaking proceeding required by subsection (a), an analysis of modifications to the Federal telecommunications system that the Administrator, in his discretion, determines to be necessary to achieve the objectives of subsection (a); and
(B) submit a report on the results of such analysis to each House of the Congress;
(4) within 180 days after completion of such analysis, prescribe the regulations required by subsection (a);
(5) assemble, publish, and maintain a directory of TDD and other devices used by Federal agencies to comply with such regulations, and publish, in Federal agency directories, access numbers of TDD's and such other devices; and
(6) after consultation with the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, adopt the design of a standard logo to signify the presence of a TDD or other device used by a Federal agency to comply with such regulations.
(c) CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT. - The Administrator shall not prescribe the regulation required by subsection (a) before the end of the 90-day period beginning on the date the Administrator submits the report required by subsection (b)(3)(B).


(a) SUPPORT FOR RESEARCH. - The Administrator shall, in consultation with the Federal Communications Commission, seek to promote research by Federal agencies, State agencies, and private entities to reduce the cost and improve the capabilities of telecommunications devices and systems that provide accessibility to hearing-impaired and speech- impaired individuals.

(b) PLANNING TO ASSIMILATE TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENTS. - The Administrator, in planning future alterations to and modifications of the Federal telecommunications system, shall take into account results of the analysis required by section 3(b)(3) and any technological improvements in telecommunications devices and systems that provide accessibility to hearing-impaired and speech-impaired individuals.


The Federal Communications Commission shall, within 9 months after the date of enactment of this Act, complete its existing inquiry regarding an interstate relay system for users of TDD's.


As soon as practicable, each House of the Congress shall establish a policy under which Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, as the case may be, may obtain TDD's for use in communicating with hearing-impaired and speech-impaired individuals, and for the use of hearing-impaired and speech-impaired employees.

Washington, DC 20405


TO: Heads of Federal agencies

SUBJECT: Telecommunications accessibility for hearing and speech impaired individuals

1. Purpose. This bulletin provides guidelines for acquiring products and services that provide telecommunications accessibility for hearing and speech impaired individuals for communication with and within Federal agencies. This bulletin also provides general information regarding responsibilities for accommodating the needs of those with hearing and speech impairments.

2. Expiration date. This bulletin contains information of a continuing nature and will remain in effect until canceled.

3. Contents.

Topic Paragraph

Related material 4
Information and assistance 5
Acronyms 6
Definition 7
Background 8
General 9
GSA responsibilities and actions 10
Agency responsibilities 11
Cancellation 12
Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) Attachment A
Federal Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf
(TDD) Directory Attachment B
Agency Telecommunications Accessibility Planning Attachment C

4. Related material.
a. FIRMR 201-18.002
b. FIRMR 201-20.103-7
c. FIRMR Bulletin C-8

5. Information and assistance.
a. General inquiries about the contents of this bulletin or info concerning updates should be directed to:

General Services Administration
Regulations Branch (KMPR)
18th and F Streets, NW
Washington, DC 20405
Telephone: (202) 501-3194 or FTS 241-3194 (v).
(202) 501-0657 or FTS 241-0657 (tdd).

6. Acronyms.

ATBCB Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board
COAT Council on Accessibility Technology
COCA Clearinghouse on Computer Accommodation
FIRS Federal Information Relay Service
Pub. L. Public Law
TDD Telecommunications Device for the Deaf

7. Definition.

"Information accessibility" means the application or configuration of FIP resources in a manner that accommodates the functional limitations of individuals with disabilities so as to promote productivity and provide access to work-related or public information resources.

8. Background. The Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act of 1988 (Pub. L. 100-542, 102 Stat. 2721) charged the General Services Administration (GSA) with assuring that the Federal telecommunications system be fully accessible to hearing and speech impaired individuals. Included among the provisions of this law is the requirement that GSA prescribe regulations to help assure such accessibility. In consultation with COAT, GSA has developed these guidelines as well as related regulatory provisions in the FIRMR to comply with this statutory mandate. This bulletin will be revised periodically to keep pace with technological advancements and as dictated by agency compliance with FIRMR policies and procedures.

9. General.

a. Individuals with hearing and speech impairments should be provided access to Federal telecommunications services and facilities. Technological advances, such as the TDD, make this possible. A TDD is a machine that uses typed input and output, usually with a visual text display, to enable individuals with hearing or speech impairments to communicate over a telecommunications network.

b. Technological advances for non-disabled individuals may have an even greater long-term effect on improving telecommunications accessibility for those with hearing and speech impairments. Such advances include electronic mail; facsimile; teleconferencing; LAN-based video imaging; text-based information services and messaging; and remote, real-time transcription/translation capabilities. Many of these services are available to agencies through FTS2000, GSA's long-distance telecommunications service. GSA's TDD relay service will also improve the ability of those with hearing and speech impairments to access Federal agencies. The flexibility inherent in these new telecommunications capabilities makes it possible to accommodate the special requirements of speech and hearing impaired individuals.

10. GSA responsibilities and actions.

a. In accordance with Pub. L. 100-542, GSA is required to:

1) Assume responsibility for the operation of the pilot Federal telecommunications relay system operated by the Department of the Treasury and the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (ATBCB). Attachment A contains information on this system.

(2) Assemble, publish, and maintain a directory of TDD and other devices used by Federal agencies and publish access numbers for TDD's and other devices in Federal telephone directories. Attachment B contains information on the Federal TDD Directory.

(3) In consultation with the ATBCB, adopt the design of a standard logo to indicate the presence of TDD equipment in Federal buildings.

(4) Jointly with the FCC, promote research to reduce the cost and improve the capabilities of equipment for providing telecommunications accessibility for those with hearing and speech impairments.

(5) Consider technological improvements in telecommunications accessibility devices when planning future alterations and modifications to the Federal telecommunications system.

b. GSA solicitations for local telecommunications services or equipment will include specifications that require vendors to provide services or equipment to ensure accessibility for hearing and speech impaired individuals.

c. GSA's COCA staff will assist Federal agencies in identifying strategies to accommodate the telecommunications needs of their employees with disabilities.

11. Agency responsibilities. Agencies are responsible for:

a. Assessing telecommunications accessibility for individuals with hearing and speech impairments and developing specifications for solicitations. Attachment C provides guidance on how to fulfill these responsibilities.

b. Publishing access numbers for TDD and TDD-related devices in agency telephone directories and providing such numbers to GSA for inclusion in the Federal TDD Directory in accordance with the procedures in Attachment B of this bulletin.

c. Displaying in their buildings or offices the standard logo specified by GSA for indicating the presence of TDD or TDD-related equipment. In accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, Part 8, the mandatory source of supply for standard logo signs is UNICOR, Federal Prison Industries, Inc. (FPI). Prior approval from FPI is required before using any other source of supply. Purchase Orders should be submitted to: UNICOR, Federal Prison Industries, Inc. 320 First Street, NW., Washington, DC 20534. (202) 724-8239.

12. Cancellation. FIRMR Bulletin 63 is canceled.

Original signed by:
Thomas J. Buckholtz
Information Resources
Management Service

FIRMR Bulletin C-10
Attachment A

1. Background. In 1986, the Federal TDD Relay Exchange Service was initiated as a pilot project of the ATBCB and the Department of the Treasury. Pub. L. 100-542 required that GSA assume responsibility for this pilot relay service.
GSA began operation of its own relay system, called FIRS, on March 20, 1989. GSA has since expanded its relay system by adding additional operators and nationwide toll-free (800) service to allow individuals with hearing and speech impairments to communicate with and within the Federal Government.

2. Description of service. FIRS allows communication between hearing and non-hearing individuals through a GSA operator relaying messages between the two parties. The GSA operator uses a computer that is configured to accept incoming TDD calls to converse with hearing or speech impaired individuals and a telephone to converse with hearing individuals. At least one of the individuals whose message is being relayed must be conducting official business of the Federal Government. Hearing individuals may also originate calls over FIRS. The relay's operating hours are from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday, except on Federal holidays. The local number for the TDD service is (202) 708-9300 (v/tdd). The nationwide number is (800) 877-8339 (v/tdd).

3. Agency responsibilities. Users of FIRS must assume certain responsibilities in order to assure the most efficient operation of the system. Future revisions of this bulletin and a brochure on the use of FIRS will explain these responsibilties.

4. Information and assistance. Information and assistance regarding the FIRS or how agencies might establish their own TDD relay systems should be addressed to:
General Services Administration
Federal Information Relay Service
National Capital Region
7th and D Streets, SW
Washington, DC 20407
Telephone (202) 708-6100 or FTS 458-6100 (v/tdd).

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