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1. Disability Rights Advocates (DisabRA) is a non-profit law firm dedicated to protecting and advancing the civil rights of people with disabilities.
DisabRA advocates for disability rights through high-impact litigation, as well as through raising the concerns of the disability community at proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission. Disability Rights Advocates: Customer Outreach and Education Concerning the Limits of the Telecommunications System During Power Outages
3. Barriers Faced by People with DisabilitiesIn Maintaining Emergency Connectivity
People with disabilities are disproportionately low-income and thus among those least able to protect themselves in emergencies through redundancy. It is simply beyond their means to purchase multiple telecommunications devices, multiple battery packs, and other peripheral devices.
Low-income Californians will benefit least from an outreach and education campaign that instructs consumers to protect themselves during an emergency through redundancy. For those without financial resources, such information is not helpful.
Many people with disabilities face additional challenges and costs because they must have backup battery power for their assistive telecommunications devices such as TTYs as well as for telephones themselves in order to maintain connectivity.
Many people with disabilities cannot obtain redundancy regardless of cost because their adaptive equipment only works with one type of telecommunications (most commonly wireline) service.
4. Assistive Telecommunications Equipment Used by Disabled Individuals Examples of adaptive equipment that allows people who are deaf or hard of hearing to effectively use the telephone include:
Teletypewriters (TTYs, also known as TTDs)
Loud ring signalers or visual ring signalers using flashing lights
Examples of adaptive equipment used by people with other disabilities to effectively use the telephone include:
Cordless phones (to allow people with limited mobility to carry a phone with them and avoid having to get to a certain location quickly)
Voice-activated phone dialers (for people with cognitive disabilities or those with mobility impairments that make dialing a phone difficult)
Hands-free headsets or hands-free speaker phones
Talking caller ID machines (for people who are blind or visually impaired)
5. Issues and Recommendations Regarding Educational Outreach on Backup Power And Assistive Telecommunications Equipment Any education campaign concerning emergency backup power should include targeted outreach to CBOs serving disabled and/or deaf individuals, targeted media, and listservs and Internet bulletin boards used by the deaf and/or disabled community.
Virtually all telecommunications assistive devices use electricity and would require backup battery power in the event of a power failure. Some models or types of equipment may not support battery power at all.
Consumers who use adaptive equipment must be informed of the need to obtain emergency backup battery power not only for their basic telecommunications service, but also for these assistive devices. Information about whether battery backup is available must also be provided for each device.
As with the need for battery backups for phone service generally, educating disabled consumers about the need for battery backups for assistive equipment will not be effective for those low-income people who cannot afford to purchase this equipment themselves.
The Commission may want to re-evaluate its policy under the Deaf and Disabled Telecommunications Program of providing only one TTY machine to each qualifying household, as backup TTY machines or other devices may be necessary in case of an emergency.
6. Battery Level Indicators and People with Sensory Disabilities Low-battery indicators should be standardized across all equipment types to provide both an audible tone and a visual signal such as an LED.
In the absence of such standardization, an outreach and education campaign on emergency backup power should include information about the battery indicators of different products so that people with sensory disabilities can make informed buying choices.
The outreach and education campaign must also include information about where battery level indicators are located, so that people know where to look and/or listen for these warnings.
Battery packs must also be located in an area of consumer homes where they will be noticed.
Customers need options for other forms of low battery warnings, such as text messages, emails, or alerts sent via a vibrating pager, so that information regarding backup power is available in a usable format for all customers.
7. Considerations Regarding Backup BatteriesAnd People with Mobility Disabilities
People with mobility disabilities may not be able to install backup batteries for their telecommunications devices independently.
If telecommunications devices or backup batteries are provided by carriers or by the Commission through a program such as DDTP, the carriers or the Commission should also identify customers who cannot change their batteries independently and develop procedures to provide assistance.
Without a system for customer assistance, an outreach and education campaign must inform customers of the need to physically change their batteries and encourage people who cannot do so independently to make arrangements for obtaining assistance.
This information should be included in outreach materials such as brochures and emergency preparedness checklists on informational websites, as well as through more targeted outreach to the disability community.
Carrier representatives who install equipment should be trained to address the need for customers to obtain their own assistance in changing batteries when they observe that a customer has limited mobility.
Carrier representatives performing home service visits should also inform customers of the potential need to reset or reconfigure their VOIP or other telecommunications systems after a power outage, and should ensure that customers with disabilities can perform such resets.
8. Producing Outreach Materials and Presentations in Accessible Formats All printed materials made available as part of an outreach and education campaign on emergency backup power must be offered in alternative, accessible formats, including:
Audio (cassette or digital audio file)
Electronic text readable by a screen reading program
The standard print versions of outreach materials (such as bill inserts) should contain key information, such as who to contact for more information or to receive materials in alternative formats, in large print.
All customer outreach materials should include TTY numbers with the same prominence as other customer service phone numbers.
TTY numbers must also receive the same response, with the same degree of training, as voice customer service numbers.
Any spoken presentations offered by carriers, either at time of sale or at another time, must include accessibility features for people who are deaf, such as sign language interpreters (including video interpreters over the Internet) or equivalent written and/or Internet-based materials.
9. Accessibility of Informational Websites Both the Commissions informational website, www.calphoneinfo.gov, and any Internet-based information provided by carriers must be formatted in a way that is accessible to screen reading technology.
The standards for website accessibility are codified in the regulations to section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. 794d, and incorporated into California state law via California Govt. Code 11135(d)(2).
The Internet cannot be the exclusive means of delivering any key information, because many Californians lack access to the Internet and people with disabilities are disproportionately likely to be on the wrong side of the digital divide.
10. Conclusions: Essential Components of an Accessible Outreach and Education Plan The essential substantive areas that an effective education and outreach plan must address specifically regarding the unique needs of people with disabilities are:
The need for backup power for assistive telecommunications devices as well as telephones themselves.
The different backup power capabilities of various assistive telecommunications devices.
The physical location and available sensory modalities (tone/light/vibration/text alert) for low-battery indicators.
The process for installing backup batteries and the method for obtaining assistance with that process for those with mobility disabilities.
11. Conclusions: Essential Components of an Accessible Outreach and Education Plan (Continued) The essential procedural components that an outreach and education plan must contain in order to be effective for people with disabilities are:
Targeted outreach to CBOs serving the disability community, as well as publication of information in targeted media and on disability-specific listservs
Materials available in accessible formats and in multiple languages, and key information in standard print materials displayed in large print
TTY numbers displayed with equal prominence as other customer service numbers
TTY calls given equal response by equally trained staff as voice calls
Spoken presentations made available in formats accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing
Informational websites accessible to screen readers using standards of section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act
Information available in alternative formats for people who do not use the Internet