One result of increasing urbanisation, of greater mobility and of growing technical sophistication in the workplace, in domestic life and in leisure activities, is that access to telecommunications and teleinformatics has become a necessity for most people to be able to cope with modern society. A consequence of this is that all citizens must have the same rights to easy access to telecommunications and teleinformatics. However, although some technical aids, such as text telephones, hearing aids and wheelchairs, are provided free, or almost free, of charge to disabled citizens in some European countries, there are few explicit clauses in European legislation stating the rights of disabled citizens to receive adequate practical technical support to give them: full access to telecommunications and teleinformatic services.
Today's legislation typically includes statements about the rights and obligations of the licensed service providers, as well as the rights and obligations of the ordinary users. What is not stated is that some users will have difficulties in using the services and equipment provided. All citizens encountering such difficulties will find themselves discriminated against in modern society.
Legislation carried out specifically for disabled people so far includes paragraphs about financial support for, and national and municipal obligations towards, disabled people, but say little or nothing about equal rights to full access to telecommunication services.
Public services should be made available to all disabled people by providing:
In some countries a new development can be seen in recent legislation. It is now realised that disabled people must not be discriminated against in any area of life, but rather that they should have the same opportunities as non-disabled people.
A national law should be passed by a country's national assembly. Acts of law, such as, for example Telecommunication Acts, describe general principles for how telecommunication networks and terminals should function, how services should be provided, and which organisational bodies should be in charge of practical regulatory tasks. The contents of such acts may include the following:
A decree should be approved by a head of state (through the appropriate ministry). Decrees give more specific instructions about administrative matters of applying the basic principles specified by the national laws.
Typical contents of a decree would be:
The national regulatory bodies supervise the activities in the field and provide the licensed operating companies (which are entitled to build networks and implement services) with regulations that describe in detail the technical requirements (e.g., similar to CCITT recommendations) that must be fulfilled.
Laws in such areas as telecommunications, radio, and cable television do not specifically take disabled people into consideration, except by noting that services should be provided to the general public on equal terms.
Legislation that takes the needs of disabled people into consideration is often broader in scope than the general legislation, typically specifying such matters as financial obligations and reimbursement. Among the activities behind initiatives for new legislation on disabilities, we find the associations and institutes for disabled people and, for example, in the case of Finland, the National Disability Committee, which has representatives from several different disability organisations and from the national agency for social welfare. The normal procedures for creating a new law in this field in Finland are:
First, A disability organisation or the Disability Committee sends a letter or memorandum to a ministry, to members of parliament, or even to the press, pointing out a need for legislation in some area.
Second, a ministry working-group prepares a first draft act, which is sent to the relevant organisations for comments.
Third, a final draft act is then prepared for passage by the legislative assembly (parliament). Last-minute changes may be proposed by organisations and by individual members of the legislative assembly before the act is passed.
Different examples of disability acts and decrees are discussed below.
Although there are no formal type approval organisation or type approval procedures for technical aids, some checking is performed by social welfare agencies or medical rehabilitation centres etc., since most aids are paid for by the municipal or state agencies. The municipality may listen to users' expressed preferences when acquiring new aids, but often they will not, letting only economic reasons dictate their purchasing policy, since they have the power to decide whether or not to pay for a particular aid.
All technical aids that are connected to the electrical power mains must, of course, meet the local safety regulations or international standards. Technical aids to be connected to the telecommunication network must meet the appropriate national regulations and requirements for terminal interfaces.
Legislation in the United States of America and in some European countries may serve as examples when analyzing what is available now and what must be amended in our own legislation.
The legislation in the following countries is only treated to the extent needed to make an informed suggestion about what should be included in future legislation. Missing information does not imply that the particular feature is not available in the country in question. The countries that are mentioned below have been chosen at random.
Services to disabled and elderly people who work in the United States are described in the 1986 Amendments to the Rehabilitation Act (Public Law 99-506). The law establishes that:
In part 603 of the American Rehabilitation Act mentioned above, we find the following paragraph:
(a) (1) The Secretary, through the National Institute of Disability
and Rehabilitation Research and the Administration of the
General Services, in consultation with the electronics
industry, shall develop and establish guide-lines for
electronic equipment accessibility designed to insure that
handicapped individuals may use electronic office equipment
with or without special peripherals.
(2) The guide-lines established pursuant to paragraph (1) shall
be applicable with respect to electronic equipment, whether
purchased or leased.
(3) The initial guide-lines 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 guide-lines for electronic
equipment accessibility established under subsection (a) for
Federal procurement of electronic equipment. Each agency shall
comply with the guide-lines 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
The United States of America Disability Act (Public Law 101-336 of July 26th 1990), and the Belgian law of 1963 "Relative an reclassement social des HandicapCes" and the Resolution AP (84-3) of the Council of Europe "relative _ une politique cohCrante en materiCre de readaptation des personnes handicapCes" which has been adopted on September 17th 1984 by the Councils of Ministers, states that: "Disabled persons should not be discriminated against in the areas as employment, public accommodations and services, education, transport and telecommunications."
The law clearly and specifically states that all new services etc., should also be accessible to disabled people and that a person cannot be discriminated against because of disability (e.g., when applying for work).
When appropriate, telecommunication providers must provide relay services between ordinary telephones and devices like the Telephone Device for the Deaf and text telephones.
The United States of America Hearing aid Compatibility Act (Public Law 100-394 of August 16th 1988) states that all essential telephones should provide means for effective use with hearing aids. Mobile telephones do not have to comply with this requirement.
The United States of America Telecommunications Accessibility Enhancement Act (Public Law 100-542 of October 28th 1988) states that the Federal governments should ensure that telecommunication systems are accessible to hearing impaired and speech impaired people for communication with and within Federal agencies. This can be accomplished in several ways, e.g., by using text-telephones and video-telephones.
The British amended Disabled Persons Act (1986) reinforces some of the provisions of the Disabled Persons Act (1970) and the Housing Act (1974) which allow for carrying out adaptations in the dwelling.
The British Education Act also states conditions for providing the technical equipment necessary for disabled school children to allow them equal participation in education, while local Education authorities will furnish technical aids within the school environment.
Through the British Manpower Services Commission, the Employment and Training Act (1973) assesses disabled persons' needs within the work place and provides for giving technical aids, enabling disabled people to be employed.
The British Department for Health and Social Security provides, among other things, various environmental controls. Local Health Authorities provide orthotic devices, hearing aids, surgical appliances and low vision aids.
British Local Housing authorities can fund housing adaptations (10-25 per cent to be carried by the client) and local Social Services will furnish technical aids for disabled people to allow independent living.
In France, more than 10 000 Minitel terminals have been supplied to deaf people, allowing them easy access to public videotex (Minitel) services. Other types of text telephone services, like the push button DTMF (Dual Tone Multiple Frequency) text telephone system, the European Deaf Telephone, the CCITT V21 system, etc., are in use in Europe. The incompatibility between these systems is a barrier to international communication for deaf people.
Various relay services, such as the Minitel videotex based service, Telematic Access Point services and other conversion type services, will help bridge the gap between the closed systems and the outside world, especially the text based services.
The human assisted text-speech-text relay service, implemented in some countries, function as a bridge between the closed text telephone services and the normal telephone service.
An example of a special conversion service is the remote reading service for blind people in Sweden. Here a blind user sends material by telefax to the service centre where it is read back on the telephone to the blind person.
In the United Kingdom the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (1970) mentions provisions of technical aid to disabled persons.
The Finnish Services and Assistance for the Disabled Act (SADA Section 9) specifies that the disabled shall: "... receive full or partial compensation... for devices needed for... daily affairs".
The same Finnish act (SADA Section 8) specifies that: "...municipality... shall provide severely disabled... services... in order to manage everyday affairs".
In SADA Section 17, leisure time is explicitly mentioned by the specification: "...compensations for... devices for mobility and communication to cope at home and in leisure activities".
The paragraphs in SADA related to telecommunications and teleinformatics are presented more in detail in Appendix 1.
In Denmark, Norway and Sweden support is granted for the procurement of technical aids according to legislation on social assistance. According to the provisions, support is granted for technical aids when these will help people with a handicap to lead a more independent life. The technical aid must, to a greater or lesser extent, compensate for a lost or reduced function.
In a separate declaration, the procedures for granting support are given, whereas a detailed list of all technical aids available with support was included in an earlier version. This change was made to ensure that the compensating or relieving functions of technical aids are duly taken into account when decisions are made - the previous arrangements had left much to be desired in this respect. In some areas, lists of technical aids available with support are still kept, mainly to ensure that users of these aids will continue to be eligible for support. These aids include such equipment as: orthopaedic footwear, video recorders, aids for communication, hearing aids, etc.
Despite these increased possibilities for support, because of varying departmental and municipal practices there still are many categories of technical aids that are not yet available with financial support - for instance, mobile telephones - and practice can sometimes be restrictive for very expensive aids.
Normally, financial support for technical aids is granted as loans, while no funds are available for maintenance and operating costs. However, there are possibilities of obtaining financial support for operating some categories of aids; e.g., batteries for hearing aids, subscriber charges to telephones, storage batteries for electric wheelchairs. Normally, support is given for repair of technical aids.
Aids for therapy and training: million SEK 190
Orthotics and prostheses: million SEK 360
Aids for personal hygiene: million SEK 400
Mobility aids: million SEK 280
Household aids: million SEK 5
Aids for adaptation of homes: million SEK 360
Communication aids: million SEK 390
Aids for handling other products: million SEK 10
Aids for play, sport and recreation: million SEK 1
In Sweden, most of the technical aids are paid for by the social welfare and health care system. A breakdown of costs are given in Table 9.1. These figures include costs for staff and management.
The United States of America Technology Related Assistance for Individuals with Disabilities Act (Public Law 100-407) provides programmatic support to states that establish programs of technology-related assistance for all disabled individuals, including rules for financing and providing the services.
The Belgian law of April 16th 1963 "Relative en Reclassement social des HandicapCes" provides also financial assistance for all disabled individuals.
In a French Telecom policy paper (Dondoux, 1990) it is proposed that telecommunication providers should adjust their tariffs to take into account that people with some handicaps may need more time for telecommunications.
2-4 times longer for people with laryngectomies;
2-5 times longer for deaf people;
5-7 times longer for people with no speech using, for example Minitel;
2 times longer for blind people using Braille.
In France, 3.4 per cent of the employees of the French Telecom are handicapped. The policy of hiring disabled people is based on a law from 1975 and 1976 (N. 87-517 July 10) which defines the objective to earmark 6 per cent (1991) of all jobs in administration and industry in the public sector for disabled people.
In the Netherlands, an act on work for disabled people (1986) aims at having a "reasonable" number of disabled people in the normal work force. The Ministry for Housing takes responsibility for adaptations and reimbursements through the Arrangement for Adaption of Houses Act.
In Germany most organisations employ their quota of disabled people, which is set to 6 per cent of all employees for all organisations employing 20 persons or more (as described in chapter 8).
In Belgium , 3 per cent of the employees of the public sector are handicapped. This obligation is based on the "Arrate Royal" of 1972 stimulating the employment of handicapped people in the public sector.
The coupling between the needs of disabled users, on the one hand, and the industry and standardisation and legislation agencies, on the other, has already been described briefly above. It is important to focus on the following items:
The law requiring inductive coils (for inductive coupling to hearing aids) in handsets of all American public telephones is a good example of an improvement achieved to favour hearing disabled people following this scheme.
Any additional costs of taking the needs of disabled people into account from the beginning when designing and manufacturing mass produced communication equipment are negligible, and since every manufacturer and importer has to comply with the regulations, no competitor will be disadvantaged in relation to the others.
In conclusion, we would like to present a list of actions that should be checked in order to ensure that legislation really will include all aspects of habilitation and rehabilitation of disabled people and their integration into society. The legal and social welfare system should ensure:
It should be noted that even legislation as such is not enough; there should also be organisational steps taken in order to ensure that the requirements are fulfilled.References:
Augustson, L. (1990). Telematics and disability in the USA. Bromma: Swedish Handicap Institute and Swedish Telecom.
Augustson, L. (1990). Access to the USA. Bromma: The Swedish Handicap Institute.
CEC (1990). Legislation on the rehabilitation of disabled people in sixteen member states of the Council of Europe, 4th edition. Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
CEC (1990). Comparative tables of the social security schemes in the member states of the European communities. Brussels: Council of the European Communities.
Dondoux J. (1990). Communiquer: Un Droit Pour Tous, Ministare des TClCcommunications et de l'Espace, France.
ICTA (1988). Technical aids and information. Perspectives from 11 countries. Report on seminar in Tokorozawa, Japan, Sept 1988.
National Agency for Welfare and Health, Services and assistance for the disabled act (SADA) April 3rd 1987/380, Finland, Support and assistance for the disabled decree (SADD) Sept 18 1987/759 Finland
Tavassi, M. (1990). Codice delle invalidit_ civili Pirola Editore, Milano.Appendix 1:
An act and a decree taking disabilities into account Services and assistance for the disabled act (3 April 1987/380) Section 1: Purpose of the Act
The purpose of this Act is to improve the ability of a disabled person to live and act as a member of society in equality with others and to prevent and eliminate the disadvantages and obstacles caused by disability.
Section 2: The disabled person
A disabled person in this Act means a person who, because of his disability or illness, has special long-term difficulties in managing the normal functions of everyday life.
Section 3: Responsibility for the provision of services and assistance
The municipality shall ensure that services are provided of a content and on a scale that meets the need arising in the municipality. COUNCIL DIRECTIVE on the approximation of the laws of the Member states
concerning telecommunications terminal equipment including mutual
recognition of their conformity, 5575/91 25 March 1991
Section 7: The development of services
The municipality shall ensure that the public municipal services are suitable also for the disabled. In developing the services and assistance to be provided for the disabled the municipality shall take into consideration the needs and views put forward by the disabled themselves. A disabled person shall be served and the services arranged with consideration for the language he speaks.
Section 8: Services for the disabled
A disabled person shall be provided with rehabilitation counselling, adaptation training and other services required to implement the purpose of this Act. Such services may also be rendered to a close relative of the disabled person, a person caring for him or some other close friend or relative. The municipality shall provide severely disabled persons with reasonable transport and related escort services, interpretation services and service accommodation if, because of his disability or illness, he must of necessity have assistance in order to manage his everyday affairs. There shall be no special obligation for the municipality to provide service accommodation if the person is in need of continuous institutional care.
Section 9: Financial assistance
A disabled person shall, according to the need dictated by his disability or illness, receive full or partial compensation for the costs incurred by him in having to employ a personal assistant and to purchase devices, machines and equipment needed in order to manage his daily affairs. Compensation shall also be paid for the additional costs of purchasing any clothing and special food necessary because of his disability or illness. The municipality shall within reason compensate the costs incurred by a severely disabled person in converting his dwelling and in purchasing equipment if, because of his disability or illness, these measures are essential for him to manage his everyday affairs and he is not in need of continuous institutional care.
Support and Assistance for the Disabled Decree (18 Sept 1987/759)
Section 1: Principles of action
The municipality shall prevent and eliminate obstacles and disadvantages restricting the functional possibilities of disabled persons in order for them to function as equal members of society. The services and support measures needed by disabled persons shall be arranged so that these measures support the self-sufficiency of disabled persons in their daily lives.
Section 7: Interpretation services
Interpretation services comprise all interpretation in sign language or other methods for clarifying communication needed for work, studies, social participation, recreation or any other corresponding purpose.
Section 11: Arrangement of service accommodation
In the arrangement of service accommodation, a person shall be considered severely disabled if, because of his disability or illness, he needs the assistance of another person in coping with daily functions on a continuous basis at different times of the day or otherwise to a particularly large extent and he does not need continuous institutional care.
Section 17: Devices, machines and equipment needed by the disabled person
for coping with daily activities Compensation for the procurement of devices, machines or equipment other than those pertaining to medical rehabilitation shall be paid to a disabled person who, due to disability or illness, requires them for moving, communicating in coping personally at home or in leisure-time activities. The compensation shall amount to half of the real expenses of the disabled person for the procurement of the devices, machines and equipment mentioned above. However, alternations to standard model devices, machines or devices which are necessary owing to disability shall be compensated in full. The municipality may also provide devices, machines or equipment for the use of a disabled person free of charge.