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(TRS; Federal, State & Local Laws; Deaf History)


(1934) Congress passes Communications Act, which includes a provision requiring the recently estab­lished Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure universal service … “as far as possible to all the people of the United States with rapid efficient, nation­wide and worldwide wire and radio communications” and to regulate all interstate and foreign electrical com­munication systems originating in the US.

(1958) President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs Public Law 85-905, which created the forerunner to the Described and Cap­tioned Media Program (DCMP) with funding from the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), now the US Department of Education.

(1962) President John F. Kennedy signs Public Law 87-715, which authorized DCMP to handle research, train­ing, production, acquisition and the distribution of edu­cational media.

(1964) Gallaudet College becomes 100 years old.

(1965) President Lyndon B. Johnson approves Public Law 89-258, which authorized the distribution of media equipment by CMP.


(1966) James Marsters and Andrew Saks establish two relay centers in California. Marsters demonstrates the TTY technology to the Vocational Rehabilitation Adminis­tration to solicit government support.

(1967) FCC settles Carterfone lawsuit by ordering telephone companies to revise policy to allow the use of consumer-provided equipment such as TTYs. Tele­phone/Teletype Communicators of St. Louis establishes third relay service in the country.

(1968) President Johnson issues order adopting the American Standard Code for Information Exchange (ASCII) as a federal standard, minimizing costly incompatibility among Federal computers and tele­communication data systems. Robert F. Kennedy and Martin L. King Jr. assassinated. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter film premieres. Special Olympics begin first games.

(1969) Neil Armstrong becomes first man on the moon in the Apollo 11 lunar space flight.

(1970) New answering services formed in Washington, DC, Detroit & Indianapolis. The US Office of Telecommunica­tions Policy, an executive branch office, was formed to study long-range policy alternatives and make recom­mendations to Congress and FCC.

(1971) IRS rules that the cost of TTYs and modems are tax deductible as medical expense.


(1972) First Center for Independent Living (CIL), a dis­ability rights resource and advocacy center opens in Berkeley, California.

(1973) President Richard M. Nixon signs Rehabilitation Act. FCC terminates Computer Inquiry initiated in 1966 to resolve regulation and policy problems presented by independent computer and communication facilities and services; deems pure telecommunications to be regu­lated, not data processing.

(1975) President Gerald Ford signs Education of All Handicapped Children Act. National Center for Law and the Deaf (NCLD) opens at Gallaudet College.

(1976) FCC, Amtrak, IRS and other federal agencies install toll-free TTY numbers. HEW receives authority from Congress to award grants for dem­onstrating new telecommunications technologies.


(1977) Certain provisions of the Education of All Handi­capped Children Act go into effect. Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are signed, which lists reasonable accommodations including TTY access. Members of Congress as well as state and local elected officials install TTY’s in their offices for their constituents. NCLD files comments with US General Services Admin­istration (GSA) on TTY’s in public facilities and petitions FCC for Rulemaking regarding Telecommunications Services and Charges for Deaf and Hearing Impaired Citi­zens, leading to a yearlong inquiry. California mandates that disability population receive full and equal access to telephone facilities.

(1978) Rehabilitation Act of 1973 amended to establish comprehensive vocational rehabilitation and independent living programs. The U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (US Access Board) begins to eliminate communication barriers as part of their mission. The U.S. General Accounting Office issues report recommending a study into the effective ways for deaf and hard of hearing citizens to communicate with the government, and raises concerns about the ASCII/Baudot incompatibility. CSD begins local 24/7 relay ser­vice in Sioux Falls, SD. California & Michigan pass laws for TTY leasing.

(1979) Self-Help for the Hard of Hearing (SHHH) founded. Prototype for the single channel cochlear implant developed.

(1980) FCC makes second computer inquiry into the needs of deaf and hard of hearing consumers and approves AT&T’s request to lower long distance rates for TTY users. Twelve states allow reduced rates for intra-state long distance TTY calls. California begins free TTY distri­bution program for deaf residents. National Association of the Deaf (NAD) celebrates 100 years. Deaf actress, Phyllis Frelich wins Tony for role in Children of a Lesser God play.

(1981) The United Nations designates the year as International Year of Disabled People. More than 30 states allow reduced rates for intra-state long distance TTY calls. President Ronald Reagan appoints H. Latham Breunig for the National Council on the Handi­capped, which created the National Policy on Disabled Persons, a forerunner of the ADA.

(1982) The United States designates the year as National Year of Disabled Persons. Telecom­munications Act passed by Congress mandating that the FCC considers how to assure reasonable access to telephone service by people with disabilities. Ron Mace starts Universal Design movement.

(1983) AT&T petitions state commissions to remove tar­iffs on special telephone equipment for deaf and hard of hearing users. Canada gives $600 vouchers to deaf and hard of hearing to purchase TTY’s.


(1984) US Department of Justice rules AT&T break-up, forming one long distance company and seven regional Baby Bell companies. US Access Board find Federal institutions not accessible to TTY users. President Reagan reappoints David Meyers to Access Board to research TTY technology and push for TTYs in public facilities. The Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 requires polling places across the United States to be accessible to citizens with disabilities during federal elections.

(1985) State telecommunication equipment distribution programs intensifies competition among TTY manufactur­ers

(1986) FDA approves sale of 22 channel cochlear implants. Deaf actress, Marlee Matlin wins Oscar for role in Children of a Lesser God film. Gallaudet College attains University status. The Air Carrier Access Act is signed into law, including rights for air travelers with dis­abilities.

(1987) California opens first 24/7 statewide toll-free relay service in the U.S. Association of Late Deafened Adults (ALDA) founded.


(1988) Deaf President Now protest at Gallaudet Univer­sity leads to selection of I. King Jordan as the first deaf president. President Reagan signs Dual Party Relay Ser­vice Act to expand Federal Relay Service and the Telecommunications Accessibility Enhance­ment Act to enhance federal telecommunication services for individuals with hearing and speech impairments. The Fair Housing Act amended to prohibit discrimi­nation against people with disabilities seeking housing

(1989) President George H.W. Bush makes first call on expanded Fed­eral Relay Service. Judge Harold Greene waives long-distance restric­tions for the “Baby Bells” allowing them to provide relay services. Gal­laudet University celebrates 125th year by hosting Deaf Way.

(1990) President George H.W. Bush signs the Television Decoder Circuitry Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which forbids discrimination in employment, government services and public accommodations. ADA also requires all phone companies to provide relay services (Title IV) and mandates that the FCC estab­lish and enforce minimum standards for telecommunication relay services (TRS). The Association for Late Deafened Adults hosts ALDACon II in 1990, which is the first totally acces­sible conference for both deaf and hard of hearing people, including sign language interpreters, captioning and computer assisted real-time translation (CART).

(1991) US House of Representatives begins caption­ing its floor proceedings on C-SPAN. The US Dept. of Education sponsors national conference on local news captioning.

(1992) 49 states and DC establish 24/7 TRS services.


(1993) Title IV of the ADA takes effect with 24/7 telecommu­nication relay services (TRS) in every state. The Televi­sion Decoder Circuitry Act also takes effect mandating decoder chips in all sets 13” in diameter or more, and preserves captioning functions whenever television technology is upgraded. Illinois installs payphones with TTYs in 11 rest areas on interstate highways. Sprint awarded contract to operate Federal Relay Service. Canada reserves three-digit number 7-1-1 for TRS calls. The NAD forms the Telecommunication Advocacy Net­work to lobby for access in telecommunications.

(1994) Miss Alabama, Heather Whitestone (McCallum), who is deaf, was chosen as first Miss America with a disabil­ity.

(1995) The FCC establishes the Disabilities Issues Task Force to ensure that the needs of TTY users are consid­ered along with other needs of disability groups in rela­tion to all telecommunication issues. FCC initiates TRS campaign with Heather Whitestone-McCallum. Sprint conducts video relay interpreting trials in Texas.

(1996) President William J. Clinton signs Telecommuni­cations Act of 1996 into law, paving the way for telecom­munications industry to consolidate operations within the local and long distance telephone sectors. FCC issues hearing aid compatibility regulations for regular and cordless telephones but exempts wireless handsets temporarily.

(1997) FCC makes available the 7-1-1 number for easier dialing access to TRS; issues regulations on captioning in accordance with the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and requires wireless carriers to forward all 9-1-1 calls. New databases allow TTY users to develop profiles of personal preferences and long distance billing information to speed TRS calls.

(1998) FCC reconsiders portions and strengthens cap­tioning regulations in Section 713 of the Telecommunica­tions Act of 1996, and demonstrates Speech-to-Speech (STS) relay for speech-impaired.


(1999) The FCC develops regulations covering Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, to ensure access to tele­communications equipment and services by consumers with disabilities where readily achievable, including voice mail systems and interactive menus used by small and large businesses. The Electronic and Information Tech­nology Access Advisory Committee of the US Access Board develops rulings on Section 508 of the Rehabili­tation Act as amended in 1998 mandating accessibility without undue burden. Section 508 requires Federal contracts for telecommunications equip­ment and services procurement to include accessibility for workers and the public seeking information and services from the government. President Clinton also signs the Work Incentive Improvement Act allowing persons with disabilities to retain Medicare benefits when they reenter the workforce. Maryland becomes the first state in the continental United States to implement the three-digit 7-1-1 TRS number, which led to an increase of 41% in calls initiated by voice users.

(2000) The FCC overhauls TRS rules, boosting quality standards, adds STS relay, and provides VRS funding. Public comments during forums for A New FCC for the 21st Century help the agency resolve telecommunications access issues.


(2001) George W. Bush becomes 43rd President of the US and launches New Freedom Initiative increasing funding and access to assistive technology. Chairman Michael Powell takes over the reins of the FCC. FCC forms new Consumer/Disability Telecommunications Advisory Committee. 7-1-1 goes into effect nationwide along with Speech-to-Speech and Spanish TRS services. FCC extends deadline for coin-sent payphones and digital cell phone compatibility with 9-1-1 and TTYs. FCC reminds long distance companies of their TRS obligations, voice mail and interactive menu industry of their accessi­bility obligations, and television broadcasters of their emergency news accessibility requirements. FCC approves AOL/Time Warner merger with the condition that future versions of AOL’s popular instant messaging (IM) software must be interoper­able with competing IM software as long as they retain dominant market share. Section 508 becomes effective requiring that the federal government procure informa­tion technology products and services that are acces­sible to federal employees with disabilities as well as the public seeking government services. The US Depart­ment of Justice reports success in removing barriers to local government services as part of its ongoing Project Civic Access. Congress allocates funding for pilot CART training program to train more broadcast captioners.

(2002) The FCC authorizes recovery of costs for all Internet based TRS calls, leading to an explosion of IP-Relay and Video Relay options. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) office in Ohio faces complaints from deaf people regarding unanswered TTY calls. Ten thousand people attend Deaf Way II Conference in Washington, DC. Former TDI Board Member Pam Holmes and former FCC Commissioner William Kennard join Gallaudet Univer­sity’s Board of Trustees. Justin Dart, international dis­ability rights leader and Father of the ADA completes his mission and dies. FCC receives report from Alliance of Telecommunication Industry Solutions (ATIS) on successful rollout of digital handsets compatible with TTY and VCO calls. Connecticut scientist charged in $7.9 million scheme involving fraudulent TRS operation. CART upheld as reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Video description dealt setback when DC Appeals Court ruled that the FCC had no authority to implement regulations. Deanna Bray stars in F.B. Eye, a television series based on Susan Thomas’ real-life experiences while working for the FBI.

(2003) FCC approves Ultratec’s CapTel as an enhanced voice-carry-over TRS service and other TRS features such as Call-Waiting; Call-Release; 900-number Dialing and other SS7 platform features. For emergen­cies, TRS calls to 9-1-1 must be routed to the nearest appropriate PSAP, not necessarily the geographically closest PSAP. FCC established an interim reimbursement rate for Video Relay Service providers less than NECA’s proposal. Manufacturers and service providers required to offer hearing aid compatible wireless handsets within three years. AOL gets approval from FCC to upgrade AIM with video because of declining market share. Christy Smith, a deaf woman from Colorado shows her mettle on Survivor, a popular reality TV show. Another new prime-time TV show, Threat Matrix, premieres with deaf actress, Shoshannah Stern.

(2004) FCC grants Hamilton and Sprint’s request for waiver of certain portions of VRS requirements. FCC authorizes IP-Relay as an interim service and determines that CapTel is an optional enhanced VCO TRS service, allowing providers to recover costs. FCC supports Sprint’s position that callers who access relay via 711 to make 900 number calls be referred to a special number to reduce fraud. FCC declines to adopt a 711 Outreach and public education plan. FCC denies request to bar legal-related VRS calls since state certifi­cation requirements for legal interpreters do not override federally mandated requirements. FCC continues to decline captioning waivers from television program producers. FCC clarifies the types of events covered by its emergency bulletin accessibility require­ments to include acts of terrorism and man-made disas­ters. FCC allows 9-1-1 calls to be routed to most appro­priate public safety facility. Congress passes IDEA reauthorization – including regulations about the use of electronic books and other accessible teaching materials.

(2005) FCC instructs industry to provide Video Relay Services (VRS) 24 hours 7 days effective January 1, 2006. Some consumers express frustration with VRS providers that practice ‘blocking’ measures, pre­venting one from accessing another VRS provider via a certain device or software. FCC issued a rulemak­ing to solicit input from consumers and industry on TV captioning quality issues based on the joint petition filed by TDI, NAD, DHHCAN, ALDA and HLAA. Kevin J. Martin succeeds Michael K. Powell as FCC Chairman. Claude Stout appointed to serve as Chair of the Disability Access Working Group, one of the subcommittees of the FCC Consumer Advisory Commit­tee.

(2006) Uncertainty arises when the FCC issued two decisions in August and September. In August, the FCC clarified an earlier clarification to the effect that broad­casters in the top 25 markets were not required to cap­tion emergency announcements if they were unable to do so in good faith and listed steps that broadcasters should take to ensure full coverage and compliance with regulations. In September, the FCC issued nearly 500 waivers to nonprofit video programmers granting perma­nent exemptions and bypassing public comment periods and other protocols. in effect, creating a new category based on undue burden. TDI and other organizations filed an appli­cation for review in both cases, resulting in further policy modi­fications balancing consumer and broadcaster interests. FCC determines that Internet Protocol (IP) captioned telephone service (IP CTS) is a reimbursable TRS expense, which eliminates the cost of purchasing specialized telephone equipment and making it more appealing for employers to accom­modate workers ability to answer phones. Fraud and illegal use of IP-Relay and Video Relay force service providers, government officials and advocates to reexamine issues of operator (CA) transpar­ency.

(2007) Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Tech­nology (COAT) formed to address technology gaps as the nation migrates from its legacy infrastructure to Inter­net-based digital technologies. Within months, more than 180 national organizations signed on with many more international, state and local affiliates. Reflecting the urgent need for access, the US House released draft legislation for the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act for People with Disabilities

(2008) The ADA Amendments Act becomes law, reversing the detrimental impact of previous US Supreme Court decisions on people with disabilities in the workplace and other gaps in the landmark anti-discrimination law. The FCC orders television broadcasters to post complaint contact information in an effort to streamline the complaint procedures for closed captioning problems. Users of Internet-based relay services come closer to functional equivalency as a result of the FCC’s mandate to provide 10-Digit numbers.

(2009) Karen Peltz Strauss and the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) continue to push for the passage of The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, also known as H.R. 3101. Despite the massive national attention devoted to other issues, such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy and health care reform, the bill has garnered more than 20 co-sponsors since its introduction by Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts). The Airline Carrier Accessibility Act receives its first major regulatory overhaul, resulting in positive changes for deaf and hard of hearing travelers. TDI commends the IRS for producing online video clips sharing tax tips in sign language with captioning and voiceover covering various tax topics.

(2010) Deaf and hard of hearing advocates were thrilled to have Karen Peltz Strauss and other leaders in the FCC. Gregory Hlibok becomes the first person with a disability to become Chief of Disability Rights Office at the FCC. U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awards $15M grant to Communication Service for the Deaf based in South Dakota. FCC begins efforts to reform TRS industry. President Obama announces new accessibility regulations and signs executive order to hire 100,000 people with disabilities on the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilties Act. Deaf-blind groups push for the use of Communication Facilitators, deaf intepreters to assist in video relay calls. New Soundbite bone conduction system uses teeth to help people hear. Association for Airline Passenger Rights calls on the US Department of Transportation to require commercial air carriers to provide captions or subtitles on all in-flight entertainment. More government agencies and hospitals turn to video technology to improve access for employees and patients. District U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, New York launches innovative website that includes ASL video presentations detailing legal services for the borough’s residents. Deaf residents in Big Spring, Texas begin educational campaign to reduce hang-ups on relay calls. Maryland passes law to require public places with televisions to turn on captions upon request.

(2011) CVAA begins to take effect. In DOJ landmark settlement, Wells Fargo Bank compensates deaf customers after numerous ADA complaints over discriminatory phone practices by refusing relay calls, and forcing them to call on TTY to leave a message that went unacknowledged. FCC overturns Anglers Order, requiring many religious and small nonprofit producers to start captioning or reapply for continued economic burdensome exemptions. TDI assisted American Association of the Deaf Blind (AADB) in filing comments with the FCC on establishing National Deaf Blind Equipment Distribution Program, and in filing petition for rulemaking with the FCC proposing communication facilitators to assist deaf blind callers using VRS by relaying the other party’s dialogue during the call. TDI filed comments with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) to update ADA regulations on movie captioning and video description, opposing DOJ’s proposal for requiring access on 50% of the screens within five years, and advised on captioning standards for movie theaters. TDI also filed comments with DOJ in a different ANPRM to update ADA regulations on accessibility of websites under Titles II and III, encouraging captions on all videos. TDI filed comments with DOJ’s ADA ANPRM to update regulations on equipment and furniture, specifically those that provide electronic information technology such as access to information kiosks and other communication devices such as restaurant drive thrus, building intercom systems and other audio-centric communication systems. TDI also filed comments with DOJ in its ANPRM to ADA regulations on the Next Generation 9-1-1 Access to emergency services operated by state and local government entities, expanding communication options for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to include Internet based communication such as SMS, email and video calls.

(2012) Children’s Memorial Hospital in Houston conducts first FDA-approved study of stem cells used to treat hearing loss. Keith Nolan fights Pentagon policy barring deaf people from enlisting and fighting for our country. Revisions to ADA guidelines force hotels to raise number of accessible rooms. Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) services skyrocket as businesses and professionals seek to cut costs of providing reasonable accommodations. Montgomery County, Maryland installs TTY for its non-emergency 3-1-1 number for non-urgent county services and asks relay callers to use a separate number that will accept calls from relay centers located outside the county. The Federal District Court in Massachusetts holds that the ADA does apply to website only businesses such as Netflix. People who have monaural hearing loss are able to hear through a device called Soundbite that works through teeth. US Senate falls short by five votes in ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. An online White House petition seeking to officially recognize American Sign Language has collected more than 27,000 signatures in less than a month. Dr, William F. House, inventor of the cochlear implant, the first electronic device to restore a human sense dies.

(2013) – Obama appoints Tom Wheeler as new FCC Chairman. AT&T and Sorenson settle with the FCC and agrees to pay $21.75 million and $15.75 million, respectively, for improper billing of disallowed and unverified relay calls. The FCC adopts comprehensive reforms to protect and strengthen video relay services to support innovation and competition, drive down ratepayer and provider costs, and eliminate incentives for waste, abuse and fraud. Young start up Miracom encounters FCC roadblock in releasing InnoCaption, a mobile app that uses real-time captioning instead of voice recognition technology to generate text on captioned phone calls. The US Department of Transportation granted 40 waivers to applicants seeking to obtain commercial drivers licenses that will allow them to drive trucks across state lines, citing statistics that deaf drivers are as safe as hearing drivers. A deaf web user sues eBay for not providing a secure sign-on procedure that deaf people can use without telephone verification protocols that are not compatible with relay services. US Court of Appeals sides with deaf medical student, Michael Argenyi, against Creighton University in his request to have CART services for his classes. TDI and other consumer groups are participating in meetings with industry and a few proceedings with the FCC to address one of the “big picture” issues facing telecom regulation: the evolution of the Public Switched Telephone Network (“PSTN”) from “legacy” time-division multiplexing (“TDM”) systems toward an Internet protocol (“IP”) based network. The transition from the traditional PSTN to IP has been a hot topic at the Commission and within the industry, as consumers increasingly “cut the cord” on landline copper networks and rely on mobile wireless or IP-enabled communications technologies running on broadband networks.