Calling On the Iowa Utilities Board To Improve Telephone Access for Persons with Disabilities:
A report prepared by the University of Iowa Clinical Law Program
April 24, 2002
Leonard Sandler, Clinical Law Professor and Associate Director of Clinical, Educational and Special Projects at the Law, Health Policy & Disability Center has released a new report on telecommunications access for persons with disabilities. The report was developed and distributed by Student Legal Interns under the supervision of Professor Len Sandler at the Clinical Law Programs, University of Iowa College of Law, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1113. The Iowa Program for Assistive Technology sponsored this Clinical Law Systems Reform Project.
The Student Legal Interns who authored this report are: Erick Prohs, Helen Schartz, Jon Altheimer, Matthew Cornetta, John Craiger, Keisha Cretsinger, Nicole Girault, Mark Graham, Bob Holub, Makayla Maclin, Sara Meinhard, Nathan Odem, Kraig Paulsen, Douglas Ponder, Elizabeth Reyes, David Tarbet, Craig Vogelsang, and Jason Wiley.
Try to imagine life without a telephone..
The phone is our connection to family and friends. It's a way for us to summon help in emergencies, contact businesses and co-workers, share the events of the day, or even order a pizza. Telephones are everywhere-we carry them, drive with them, and take them with us on airplanes. We take telephones for granted. Yet many children and adults in Iowa are not able to use standard telephones. Some have great difficulty hearing, speaking or being understood by others. Others have significant problems lifting, carrying, dialing or getting to the phone. Still more struggle to remember what numbers to dial or who to call in case of an emergency.
Many of these children and adults rely on a statewide program called Telecommunications Access Iowa (TAI) to help them gain access to the phone system. TAI provides vouchers to help individuals with limited income pay for specialized telephones that make it possible for them to connect to the outside world. TAI, however, only provides vouchers to "core customers," Iowans who are hearing impaired, speech impaired, deaf or deaf/blind. Iowans with other physical and cognitive impairments, "core-plus" customers, are not eligible to receive funding from the program unless they also have impairments from the "core" category.
In spring 1999, the Iowa Program for Assistive Technology (IPAT) approached staff members of the Iowa Utilities Board (Board) to recommend that TAI coverage be extended to include a broader range of disabilities. These staff members requested more information in order to consider the issue. The University of Iowa Clinical Law Program was enlisted early the next year by IPAT to explore the issue of access to telephone equipment by persons with disabilities and to study and compare telephone equipment distribution programs. The goal was to determine how TAI can provide Iowans who have manipulative, movement, mobility and cognitive impairments the same access to equipment vouchers that people with hearing and speech impairments enjoy. This report explains how TAI can serve core and core-plus customers and maintain the quality and level of services currently provided.