aids and services needed to ensure effective communication accommodations for people with disabilities, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship (significant difficulty or expense) on the operation of the covered entity.6 Ways to achieve access include, but are not limited to, the use of assistive listening systems, hearing aid compatible (HAC) phones, sign language interpreters, amplifiers, captioning, television decoders, screen readers, and materials in braille.

Although a by-product of the Rehabilitation Act was the provision of some telephone access, the first real efforts to secure equal access to telecommunications services actually took place at the state level, through grassroots efforts to reduce telephone rates for teletypewriter (TTY) users.7 At the time, all TTYs (also known as teletypewriters, text telephones, TDDs, or TTs) transmitted at a very slow speed of 60 words per minute. This paled in comparison to the 150 to 180 words per minute at which voice conversations were transmitted, resulting in large disparities between the costs of long-distance calls placed by TTY users and those placed by individuals who used conventional telephones. To compensate for the greater amount of time and toll charges required to complete a TTY call, local advocates launched efforts to secure service discounts from their state public service commissions. The first states to respond were New York, which approved a 25 percent discount for TTY toll charges in July 1977,8 and Connecticut, which authorized a 75 percent reduction in TTY toll charges in December 1977.9 By the end of the mid-1980s, all but three of the states offered such toll reductions.10

In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, disability advocates also lobbied their state legislatures, regulatory commissions, and local telephone


To determine whether an undue hardship exists, the agency balances the cost and type of the accommodation against the budget, size, and nature of the agency. As noted below, this is the same test used to determine whether an access feature will result in an undue burden under the Americans with Disabilities Act or is readily achievable under Section 255 of the Communications Act.


Karen Peltz Strauss, A New Civil Right: Telecommunications Equality for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Americans (Washington D.C.: Gallaudet University Press), 2006: 16.


New York Public Service Commission Order 27205 (July 6, 1977).


Connecticut Public Utilities Control Authority, Decision in Dkt. No. 77-0526, Application of Southern New England Telephone Company, and No. 77-0520, Petition of the Connecticut Office of Consumer Counsel Regarding Tariffs of the Southern New England Telephone Company Concerning Usage of Teletypewriter Units (December 16, 1977).


Karen Peltz Strauss, “Television, Telephones, and TDDs … Access Is the Issue!” Gallaudet Today (Spring 1985): 17, 20. AT&T filed a federal tariff requesting reduction of all interstate TTY rates on August 21, 1981. See W. E. Albert, AT&T Administrator of Rates and Tariffs, letter to Secretary of the Federal Communications Commission, Transmittal 13822, August 21, 1981, referencing Tariff 263. This set the trend for AT&T’s state affiliates, some of which volunteered to reduce their rates (e.g., Illinois and Massachusetts) and others of which were directed to do so by their state commissions (e.g., Arizona and Maine).

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