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Landline phones

Landline phones

Edited by Gunnar Hellström, Omnitor

Section Summary
Landline telephones serve a variety of functions, even in today’s largely mobile world. Accessibility of landline phones for people with disabilities means that the range of services provided through landline phones to everyone without disabilities is also accessible in some way that provides equivalent functionality for people with disabilities. There are several accessibility features which are either present in a telephone, or can be added by attachment; these include speakerphone functionality, large keys, flash on incoming calls, ability to connect a Braille reader, and so on.

Article 9(b) of the UNCRPD requires that people with disabilities are able to communicate with emergency services; relay services are an essential tool in this regard. (Relay services are human operated services for media and mode (voice, text, video) translation during phone conversations.)

Keeping in mind the accessibility needs of people with disabilities, several best practices have been implemented and standards have evolved to govern accessibility in telecommunications. This Section explores these standards in greater detail.

Landline telephony provides the following functionality:

Real time conversation with anybody on distance.

Landline phones provide users with the important ability to have real-time conversations at a distance with other people around the world.

Stationary use.
‘Landline' means that the phones are intended for stationary use.

Use in calls with stationary, wireless and mobile phones.
The "phone" of the other party in the call may be any type of device (phone, Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), computer, car) and be connected in many different ways (landline, cable TV, powerline, wireless, satellite).

Limited use for data collection, data retrieval and remote control.
Landline phones are also used for very limited data collection, data retrieval and remote control through the digit transmission they provide.

Reach emergency services and society services.
Landline phones are used to reach important and essential services, such as emergency services, and services for less emerging questions.

Multi-party conferences.
It is possible to connect a number of landline phones and other phones in phone conferences where all parties can converse with each other. 

Accessibility to landline phones means the following:

Equivalent functionality.

Accessibility of landline phones for people with disabilities means that the range of services provided through landline phones to everyone without disabilities is also accessible in some way that provides equivalent functionality for people with disabilities.

Voice handset or other suitable type of terminal.
A person with one or more disabilities may need to have a suitable terminal in order to hold a  conversation via telephone. Sometimes this can be done with a voice handset. In other cases, the person may need another kind of terminal  to have access to equivalent functionality. For example, they may need a textphone, videophone or a total conversation terminal combining the opportunity to use all three media in the same terminal.

Control of the terminal and services.

Access to a landline phone for a person with a disability may also mean it is possible for that person to use the controls of the terminal. For people with motor disabilities this may require the use of assistive technology to either control the phone, or in some case to both control and talk on the phone.

Create and perceive intended media in the call.

The audio level  must be loud enough for  people with mild to moderate hearing loss to hear.  It must also be provided in specific ways so that it can be coupled with hearing aids including cochlear implants. Video must be of a quality suitable for the use of sign language, lip reading, and other visual communication. Text must be readable and it must also be possible to produce.

Accessibility features available from handset manufacturers
Accessibility features in stationary phones today are:

  • For direct operation of the phone:

    • Large button phones

    • High contrast large number keys

    • Voice controlled calling

    • Stored number calling on specific memory keys with opportunity to have pictures of the destination on the keys

    • Extra loud ringing tone

    • Pip on key 5 for key navigation

    • Flash on incoming calls

    • Select high quality audio codec ( available on IP and ISDN phones )

    • Programmable dialer with possibility to have pictures on the buttons

    • Self voicing function that allows use of all features and functions without vision

    • Ability to operate all touch screen functions with gesture (coupled with voice)

    • Ability to use full phone without vision or gesture (directly or via connected device)

    • Ability to control phone with AT (modem) commands

    • Ability to connect a Braille reader

    • Ability to install or activate a screen reader

    • Standardized external interfaces so that it is possible to connect.standardized attachments and assistive devices

  • For media production and perception:

    • Strong audio amplification

    • Inductive loop coupling from the handset to hearing aids

    • Handset designed for bone conducted audio perception

    • Short Message Service compatibility

    • Speakerphone function

    • Real-time text input and display

    • Video transmission, reception and display feature. (e.g. for sign language, lip reading, showing things or persons, general recognition) 

Accessibility features available externally through attachments:

  • To control calls:

    • Programmable dialler with possibility to have pictures on the buttons

    • Flashing devices connected via wire or wirelessly for visual alerting on incoming calls

    • Wireless vibration alert devices for tactile alerting on incoming calls

    • Mechanical handset lifter

    • Assistive devices using AT (modem) commands to control phone

    • Braille display

  • To produce and perceive the various media.

    • Headset

    • Hearing aid coupling (inductive) when held to ear

    • External handset amplifier

    • Neck loop and neck loop amplifier for inductive coupling to hearing aids

    • Alphanumeric keyboard

    • Braille display

    • Textphone addition

    • External video camera

Emergency phone services

Article 9 (b) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires that people with disabilities are enable to communicate with emergency services.

This may require a person has the opportunity to:

  • call emergency services,

  • use a common regional emergency number,

  • have an efficient emergency call that rapidly results in a suitable action,

  • use the same conversational terminal for the emergency call that they use for everyday calls,

  • communicate in the modes and media they use in everyday calls,

  • receive calls back from the emergency services in the same media and modes,

  • have relay services included in the call if the user wants or needs to have such services in the emergency call.

In order to have the best opportunity to survive an emergency a person with a disability must be able to communicate in the modes and media that are effective for them. Relay services can play an important role in facilitating conversions where call participants use different modes and media. In addition, emergency service personnel may also want to directly communicate with, hear and see (wherever possible) the user and their environment.

Relay Services
Relay services are usually human operated services for media and mode (voice, text, video) translation during phone conversations.

The provision of relay  services which are well integrated in the phone system is an important backbone capability for accessible phone services.

Relay services are usually provided as community supported services as their operation requires much more human resources than regular person to person calls.

Existing types of relay services are:

  • Video relay services, translating between sign language in video and speech in a voice phone.

  • Text relay services, translating between real-time text in the text part of a phone and speech in a voice phone, usually for people with speech impairments, hearing impairments, deafness or deaf-blindness.

  • Speech-to-Speech relay services, supporting speech calls for people with speech impairments or cognitive disabilities.

  • Captioned speech relay services (Captioned Telephony), adding real-time text captions to a voice call, for people with hearing impairments or deafness.

    In all these cases, the other media (voice, video, text) may be handled as well in the call, ideally connected in two- or three-party call mode between the parties in the call who have terminals that can handle these media.

Integration of relay services in the phone system implies:

  • Calls to a number for a person with disabilities should be able to invoke a relay service selected by the user if the user so decides.

  • Calls from a person with disabilities to another number should be able to invoke a relay service selected by the user if the user so decides.

  • Calls between two users who can and want to use the same modes and media in the call should be possible without invoking any relay service.

Relay services should work with all commonly used handsets and terminals.
Users need to be able to use the same terminal for calls directly in the modes they handle, as is used for calls through relay services and with emergency services.

The relay and emergency services can only feasibly support a limited number of connection types or protocols. Thus it is important to coordinate the specifications of access to relay services, to emergency services, and for terminals used by people with disabilities so that maximum interoperability in all available media is achieved for the occurring call combinations.

Textphones, Video phones, Total Conversation Phones and Voice Phones
There are a number of different types of landline phones that support different media combinations (voice, video, text). Landline phones also use different types of network connections and call establishment standards (PSTN,VoIP(SIP) etc).

Some examples of phones with specific accessibility features are:

  • Textphones for the analogue phone network

    • Dedicated devices or computer software that make it possible to use text in real-time in conversational mode. It is usually possible to alternate between text and voice during the call. A number of technical methods for analogue text telephony are implemented and international harmonization has not been fully implemented.

  • Real-time text terminals for Internet and other IP network connection

    • Such terminals can be seen as voice terminals with real-time text added which makes it possible to have calls in a mix of both text and voice.

  • Videophones for Internet and IP network environments

    • Allow communication by video and audio. If they provide sufficiently smooth and sharp video they can be used for conversations in any sign language and also voice.

  • Total Conversation phones

    • Provide communication in real-time text, video and voice, thus providing a good opportunity to find modes that are suitable for each communication situation, especially when combined with suitable relay services. The video medium can be used for sign language, lip reading or general recognition. The text medium facilitates using text according to the degree required in the conversation and the voice medium being used according to the users' wishes or capacities. 

  • Voice phones

    • By themselves, they only provide for communication by voice. By means of the accessibility features mentioned above however, they can be made accessible for people with some disabilities. Voice telephony functionality can also be included in computers where some types of accessibility are easier (e.g. non-visual).


Accessibility features most desired by persons with disabilities

  • Clear audio

  • Large print capability

  • Text messaging

  • Connection to hearing aids

  • Audio amplification

  • Pip on figure 5

  • Large figure keys with good contrast

  • Good quality video, suitable for sign language, lip reading and person recognition. Interoperable between IP and 3G networks.

  • Real time text together with voice

  • Total conversation ability (voice, text, video)

  • Flashing light on incoming call

  • Vibration on incoming call

  • Text relay service

  • Video relay for sign language

  • Captioned telephony relay service

  • Automatic voice to text (and sign) conversion (as soon as possible)

  • Own phone number in the national number plan leading through a relay service

  • SMS on fixed phones.

In all cases the access modes (voice, text, video) are only really effective when they work (interoperate) across networks and devices in much the same way as does voice today.

Examples of implementation around the world and analysis of results:
Text support in the telephone network

The text direct system by BT in the UK is a good example of efforts to make landline telephony accessible to people who need to use text in a call. The system provides a connection via direct dialing to the end destination number and still provides both inclusion of relay services when needed in the call and call progress information (normally tones and spoken messages) in text mode. The provision of call progress information in text mode is an important improvement over the dominating method to provide tones or spoken messages that are inaccessible to people with hearing disabilities.

Tactile identifier on figure ‘5

The requirement to have a tactile indicator on the figure 5 on telephones to support  keypad navigation has become very wide-spread, and makes it possible to dial numbers without seeing the keypad. However, the positioning of other than number keys are not standardized on telephones, so this feature is not sufficient to make it possible to easily move from using one telephone to another for people with low vision.

Availability of relay services for mode translation

The availability of video relay services, text relay services, captioned telephony services and speech-to-speech relay services have enabled a dramatic increase in the functional equivalence level to telephony in the countries where they are provided. In countries where such services are not provided, many users with disabilities are  unable to access important telephony services.

Calling by destination number through relay services

From January 2009 regulation from the FCC in the USA came into force under which all IP based relay service users in the USA shall have their own number in the North American Number Plan and have the possibility to be reached through the relay service by that number from voice telephone users, and also be able to call by destination number themselves. This regulation has resulted in an important increase in access to relay service users in the USA. Access to the Emergency service 911 number  is also included. Without this calling method, relay service calling has been a cumbersome three-step procedure.

Inductive coupling to hearing aids

The requirement to have inductive coupling from the telephone handset to a hearing aid is important in facilitating the use of voice telephony for many hearing impaired persons.

Applicable standards
ITU-T Recommendation F.790 (01/2007): "Telecommunications Accessibility Guidelines for Older Personas and Persons with Disabilities".

ITU-T Technical Paper (11/2006): "FSTP - TACL Telecommunications accessibility checklist".

ITU-T Recommendation P.370 (08/1996): "Coupling Hearing Aids to Telephone sets".

ITU-T Recommendation E.161: "Arrangement of digits, letters and symbols on telephones and other devices that can be used for gaining access to a telephone network".

ETSI TR 102 974: "Human Factors (HF); Telecommunications Relay Services, Background Information to ES 202 975"

ETSI ES 202 975: "Human Factors (HF); Harmonized Relay Services."

ETSI EG 202 320 Duplex Universal Speech and Text communication.

ETSI ETS 300 488: "Terminal Equipment (TE); Telephony for hearing impaired people; Characteristics of telephone sets that provide additional receiving amplification for the benefit of the hearing impaired".

ETSI TS 126 114: "Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS); IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS); Multimedia telephony; Media handling and interaction (3GPP TS 26.114)".

IETF RFC 5194 (June 2008): "Framework for Real-Time Text over IP Using the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)"

Likely technological evolution
The currently most active area of development for landline telephony is in IP networks. The IP network provides an opportunity to include more good quality media in the calls which is a very positive development for the reasons cited above.

It is likely that developments will proceed towards the production of more and more wireless devices, even when intended for stationary use (because of the ability to eliminate costly wiring). The move to wireless technologies is, in principle, mostly positive in terms of accessibility.

Accessibility is still not automatically included in all mainstream developments. Progress towards the inclusion of accessibility from the beginning of the development cycle is still urgently needed, and policy related actions may be required.

The telecom industry has worked for a long time with a Next Generation Network technology in order to allow it to take over from the analogue network. This progression has not been as rapid as expected, but landline networks are set to switch to this IP based technology and will do so during a transition phase taking many years. That will introduce many ways in which accessibility will be improved or lost in this domain, depending on how these new opportunities and challenges are met.

Samples of regulations

The introduction of calling directly by numbers in the North American Number Plan to reach videophone users and IP text conversation users through their registered video or text relay services in the USA is an important regulation that results in a good increase in functional equivalence in the accessibility of landline phones. this regulation is enforced by the It the FCC that to took effect on the1st of January 2009. Section 255 telecommunications act regulations in the United States (particularly the new version that was just recommended by the Access Board's consumer-industry Telecommunication and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee (TEITAC).

The procurement of Total Conversation phones on behalf of users with communication disabilities in Sweden has been important for access to communication over the latest few years.

Accessibility features available from handset manufacturers

IT Accessibility Guideline
Summary: A web based guide the for procurement of accessible IT equipment and services in the telecommunications area. These guidelines cover fixed or mobile telecommunications devices and services delivered via Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems. This includes the hardware and software aspects of public or private telephones and videophones and menu-based services such as voicemail.
Keywords: Telecommunications; Accessibility; Telephony
Target audiences: Procurers of ICT; Designers of ICT; Developers of ICT

Accessible Procurement Toolkit
The Accessible Product Toolkit (APT) is a Canadian Web-based application that provides accessibility requirements and standard to apply to purchases of mainstream products and services. Designed by the Assistive Devices Industry Office (ADIO) of Industry Canada.
Key words: Telecommunications; Toolkit; Accessibility
Target audiences: ICT Procurers; Product planners; Telecommunications policy makers

Emergency phone services

IETF RFC 5012; Requirements for Emergency Context Resolution with Internet Technologies
This document gives an overview of requirements on emergency services in IP networks. Soem accessibility needs are included.
Reference: ETF RFC 5012
Keywords: Emergency service; Video; Text
Target audiences: Accessibility service policy makers; Telecom service policy makers; Accessibility procurers

Relay Services

ETSI TR 102 974 Telecommunications Relay Services, Background Information to ES 202 975
This report gives an overview of the relay service situation and trends, including video relays, text relays and captioned telephony relays
Reference: ETSI TR 102 974
Keywords: Relay service; Video; Text
Target audiences: Accessibility service policy makers;Telecom service policy makers; Accessibility procurers
ETSI ES 202 975 Harmonized Relay Services
This standard gives service level requirements for relay services, including sign relays, text relays and captioned telephony relays
Reference: ETSI ES 202 975
Key words: Relay service; Video; Text
Target audiences: Accessibility service policy makers; Telecom service policy makers; Accessibility procurers

Ten-Digit Numbering and Emergency Call Handling Procedures for Internet-Based Telecommunications Relay Services

Since December 31, 2008, persons with hearing and speech disabilities using Video Relay Service (VRS) or Internet Protocol Relay (IP Relay) in USA– have been able to obtain telephone numbers in the North American Number Plan and get calls to these numbers routed through a relay service.
Keywords: Telephone number; Relay service call; Automatic routing.
Target audiences: Communication policy makers; Social policy makers; Communication service providers

Text phones, Video phones, Total conversation phones and Voice phones

Total Conversation units, textphones and videophones

Summary: A guiding document that can be used as a base for procurement of acessible communication devices and systems
Keywords: Total conversation; Video; Text
Target audiences: Accessibility service policy makers; Telecom service policy makers; Accessibility procurers

Sample of regulations

TEITAC (April 2008): "Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee Report to the Access Board: Refreshed Accessibility Standards and Guidelines in Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology"
Revision proposal for the US accessible ICT procurement act
Keywords: Accessible; Procurement; Telecommunications
Target audiences: Policy makers; Telecommunications service providers; Telecommunications equipment manufacturers