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36 CFR Parts 1190 and 1191 ADA and ABA Accessibility Guidelines - Preamble (Discussion of Comments and Changes)

704 Telephones

Section 704 provides technical criteria for telephones, including provisions for wheelchair access (704.2), volume control (704.3), and TTYs (704.4). Most comments addressed specifications for volume controls and TTYs.

All public telephones are required to be equipped with volume control, as discussed above in section 217. This is consistent with other Board guidelines covering access to telecommunications products issued under section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible. Section 704.3 requires volume controls that provide a gain up to at least 20 decibels and an intermediate gain of 12 decibels, and have an automatic reset.

Comment. Persons who are hard of hearing and disability organizations urged an increase in the sound level of phones equipped with volume control. Some commenters specifically recommended a minimum 25 decibels or greater. The Board sought comment from pay telephone manufacturers and providers on the time frame necessary to produce products that meet the proposed specifications for volume control (Question 27). Few comments from industry addressed this question, though other commenters suggested that meeting the proposed volume control specifications should not be difficult under current telephone technology.

Response. The proposed specification was consistent with accessibility guidelines the Board issued under section 255 of the Telecommunications Act and standards issued under section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments. In rulemaking on the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines, similar comments were received from persons who are hard of hearing who reported having trouble using public pay telephones because of inadequate receiver amplification levels and who supported adjustable amplification ranging from 18‒25 decibels of gain. However, several telephone manufacturers cited the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1996, which requires the Federal government to make use of technical specifications and practices established by private, voluntary standard-setting bodies, wherever possible. The ANSI A117.1 standard requires certain public pay telephones to provide 12 decibels of gain minimum and up to 20 decibels maximum and that an automatic reset be provided. In recognition of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act, this amplification level was specified in the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines. The Board has retained the 20 decibel specification in this final rule (704.3) for consistency with the ANSI A117.1 standard, the Telecommunications Act Accessibility Guidelines, and the Board’s section 508 standards.

Comment. Mute features on public pay telephones can increase audibility by temporarily disconnecting the telephone’s microphone while the user listens through the ear piece so that background noise is not amplified through the earpiece. In the proposed rule, the Board requested information on the feasibility and cost of equipping new and existing public pay telephones with a mute button and whether such a requirement should be included in the final rule (Question 28). Few comments addressed this issue. Those that did generally supported such a requirement, although information on feasibility and cost was not received.

Response. While the Board believes that mute buttons could benefit all telephone users in noisy environments, particularly those who are hard of hearing, the Board has opted not to establish such a requirement at this time due to the absence of product information and cost data.

Section 704.4 provides specifications for TTYs. The proposed rule included requirements so that TTYs were accessible to persons who use wheelchairs. This included a requirement that the touch surface of TTY keypads be 30 to 34 inches high (704.4.1).

Comment. Many commenters indicated that TTYs are mounted too low to be used comfortably by people not using wheelchairs. According to these commenters, compliance with wheelchair access provisions greatly compromises their usability by the majority of persons with hearing or speech impairments who do not use wheelchairs. Commenters urged that a higher surface height for TTY keypads be specified. Organizations representing persons who are deaf recommended a keyboard height of 33 to 35 inches where users are expected to stand. A manufacturer of TTY-equipped pay telephones indicated that its products provide TTY keypads at a height of 36 to 40 inches and requested that this range be permitted.

Response. The Board has revised the specified height of TTY keypads from the proposed range of 30 to 34 inches to a minimum of 34 inches (704.4.1). In addition, the Board has removed other specifications concerning wheelchair access, which is consistent with the original ADAAG. These specifications include a requirement that the operable parts of both the TTY and the telephone be accessible according to section 309, which specifies accessible reach ranges, and provide clear floor space for a forward approach to the TTY. However, these changes do not impact the requirements for other types of telephones required to be wheelchair accessible according to section 704.2.

Comment. The proposed rule provided an exception from the height and clearance requirements for TTYs at telephones located in cubicles equipped with fixed seats (704.4.1). As proposed, this exception applied only to assembly occupancies and allowed half of TTYs at telephones with seats not to comply. Comments recommended that this exception apply to other types of facilities since seats at phones may provide a desired convenience for TTY users.

Response. As a result of the changes concerning wheelchair access, the exception applies only to the specified keypad height and allows a height below 34 inches where seats are provided at telephones with TTYs. In the final rule, the Board has broadened this exception to apply to all telephones with seats in any type of facility.

Comment. The requirements for TTYs do not address the height of display screens.

Due to the typical character size displayed, users must be in close proximity to the screen. The Board requested information on TTY screen heights that are appropriate for people who use wheelchairs and for standing persons and whether the requirement for ATM display screens is appropriate for TTYs as well (Question 29). Little information was received in response to this question. Respondents to this question reiterated their concern about wheelchair access resulting in TTYs that are too low for persons who are standing. Other commenters recommended that research be conducted to develop information on the appropriate height of display screens.

Response. The Board has not included any specifications concerning the height of TTY display screens in the final rule.


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