This section of the toolkit focuses on communications that are accessible to people with disabilities, particularly for people with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities. The section is organized into the following subsections:
Major sources for this section include the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) regulations 49 CFR Part 37 - Transportation Services for Individuals with Disabilities (ADA) and FTA Circular 4710.1, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA): Guidance. The FTA ADA Circular addresses information accessibility requires in Section 2.8.
Transportation agencies must make service information available to people with disabilities, including those with vision and hearing disabilities. Section 37.167(f) of the U.S. DOT regulations requires that transportation agencies provide adequate communications, through accessible formats and technology, to enable users to obtain information and schedule service. As discussed in the FTA ADA Circular, this broad requirement applies to all service modes, and means providing accessible information on schedules, routes, fares, service rules, and temporary changes. In the context of ADA complementary paratransit, all information about the eligibility application process, materials needed to apply, and notices and determinations regarding eligibility must be made available in accessible formats, upon request [Section 37.125(b)].
Accessible formats and technology include braille, large print, audio, electronic files and web pages usable with text-to-speech technology (also known as screen reader technology), and TDD/TTY telephone communications. The type of format needed will vary by individual, and upon request must be provided in a format that the requestor is able to use [Section 37.125 in Appendix D to Part 37]. Each of the mentioned formats is described later in this section of the toolkit.
The requirements and standards discussed in this section are not requirements for non-federal agencies. They are shared in this toolkit as technical assistance information. As noted in Section 2.8.2 of the FTA ADA Circular, while the U.S. DOT ADA regulations do not set standards for website accessibility, FTA suggests that agencies review U.S. DOJ guidance, Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities, and references the Access Board’s Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology as technical guidance.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires the federal government to make its electronic and information technology (including web pages) accessible to people with disabilities. Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires telecommunications products and services to be accessible to people with disabilities. Standards for information and communication technology accessibility are developed by the U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (Access Board) and found in 36 CFR Part 1194.
The Website Accessibility web page within the National RTAP Web Apps Support Center includes additional discussion and links to additional resources on the requirements of agencies receiving federal funds (such as Section 5311) to ensure nondiscrimination in providing information to the public. Although Section 508 does not apply to web pages of state or local governments or private organizations, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (49 CFR Part 27 in U.S. DOT regulations) requires federally-funded programs to be accessible. This includes providing access to information. The FTA ADA Circular directs transit agencies to the Access Board’s Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology which were published in December 21, 2000. The Access Board subsequently published a Final Rule to 36 CFR Parts 1193 and 1194 on January 18, 2017 and amended the rule on March 23, 2018. This final rule updated both Section 508 (electronic and information technology) and Section 255 (telecommunications technology) accessibility requirements, incorporating both into Part 1194 and eliminating Part 1193. The December 21, 2000, Section 508 standards were republished as Appendix D to 36 CFR Part 1194 and the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 were incorporated by reference. The WCAG (now in version 2.1) are discussed later in this section of the toolkit.
Accessible formats (also called alternate formats) are types of documents, electronic file formats, auxiliary aids and services provided to ensure communications access for people with impaired vision, speech, or hearing.
Common accessible formats for people with vision disabilities are described below.
There are ways to format webpages, write content, and present text, photos, and graphics in order to make a website accessible to people who rely on text-to-speech (screen reader) technology.
The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) provides detailed guidelines for web developers as well as summary guidance for laypersons. WAI’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are currently in Version 2.1. A good place to begin learning about these guidelines is the WCAG 2.1 at a Glance web page. Recommendations introduced on this web page include:
- Provide text alternatives for non-text content
- Provide captions and other alternatives for multimedia
- Create content that can be presented in different ways, including by assistive technologies, without losing meaning
- Make it easier for users to see and hear content
- Make all functionality available from a keyboard
- Give users enough time to read and use content
- Do not use content that could cause seizures or physical reactions in a user
- Help users navigate and find content
- Make it easier to use inputs other than keyboard
- Make the text understandable
- Make text easily readable
- Make content appear and operate in predictable ways
- Help users avoid and correct mistakes
To get into more specifics, WAI’s tips for writing content and designing visual appearance and user interface are great resources. These tips include:
- Verbal information on the page
- Provide informative, unique page titles
- Use headings to convey meaning and structure
- Make link text meaningful
- Write meaningful text alternatives for images
- Create transcripts and captions for multimedia
- Provide clear instructions
- Keep content clear and concise
- Visual and user interface design
For more information on each of these tips, visit the WAI’s tips for writing content and designing visual appearance and user interface.
WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind, a non-profit organization based at the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University) also provides guidance on this topic, as well as technical assistance and training. The WebAIM Introduction to Web Accessibility web page provides a helpful description of key principles of accessible website design toward the bottom of the page.
FTA suggests that agencies review U.S. DOJ guidance, Accessibility of State and Local Government Websites to People with Disabilities. This resource describes online barriers faced by people with disabilities, provides links to resources for web developers, and outlines a voluntary action plan for accessible websites.
National RTAP’s Website Builder we application, a cloud-based tool that rural transit agencies can use to build and maintain their websites, is designed to make it easier to build an accessible website. When building a page or editing page content in Website Builder, it is still necessary to use the principles of writing content and visual design recommended by the WAI. Additional information, including links to helpful tools, guidance, and National RTAP training videos, is provided on the Website Accessibility web page within the National RTAP Web Apps Support Center.
Transit agencies that operate fixed route and route deviation services typically provide schedules for each route on their websites, and National RTAP’s GTFS (General Transit Feed Specification) Builder web application can create schedule tables that are accessible to people who use screen readers. For information on how to do this, refer to the video available through the GTSF Builder Advanced Topics web page.
Note that there are text-to-speech website accessibility widgets, referred to as “accessibility overlays” in the website accessibility technology field, which claim to make a website accessible by reading aloud its contents. However, recent discussion by experts in website accessibility about accessibility overlay tools reveals that the effectiveness of overlay tools is limited by the content and design of the website. If the underlying website itself is not designed for accessibility, an overlay widget won’t fix this. Transit agencies are cautioned against using “magic bullet” solutions to help meet website accessibility needs without first ensuring that their underlying website is structured to be comprehensible when read aloud.
People with vision disabilities who use computer screen-reading programs can typically read plain text (.txt), rich text (.rtf) and standard Word documents (the program reads the document audibly). Transit agencies will need to edit materials to describe all photos, maps, and other graphics, including pixelated images that include text, as those elements are not readable. PDF documents typically require substantial manual editing to make them readable by assistive technology (as it the case with websites) and thus, unless this editing is conducted, are generally not a recommended format for people who use screen readers. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Creating Accessible PDFs with Adobe Acrobat XI guide offers helpful information and step-by-step instructions. WebAIM also provides instructions on creating accessible PDF files.
People with low vision may need documents in large print format. The American Council of the Blind (ACB) recommends a font size of at least 18-point, and the font typeface should be simple, like Arial or Helvetica. Line spacing should be at least 1.5 with double spacing between paragraphs. The paper used should have a matte or dull finish to reduce glare, and there should be high visual contrast between lettering and background colors. Additional large print guidelines are provided on the ACB website.
The ACB does not recommend using the enlarge feature of a photocopier to produce larger print. For documents produced in-house, it is better to revise the document using the larger font. Large print formats of materials can also be ordered from a printing company or the graphic designer that prepares your documents for print.
Braille is a tactile format in which letters of the alphabet and punctuation marks are represented by a system of raised dots which some people who are blind can read. It is important to offer materials in braille format for those who need it (e.g., those who can read it, but cannot read electronic documents). A transit agency can pay to have documents translated and printed into braille, or may consider purchasing a braille printer, depending on the size of the agency and the needs of the community. The ACB website provides a list of producers of braille documents.
If requested, a transit agency should be able to provide an audio recording of printed information. This means the document is read out loud and recorded. The recording could be provided as an electronic file saved onto a compact disc (CD) or flash drive, or made available for download through the Internet. Like electronic text files and websites, any photos or graphics need to be explained audibly.
TTY relay services are important to make sure individuals who are deaf or have other hearing or speech disabilities can access information about transit services, including the paratransit eligibility application process, and can schedule ADA complementary paratransit or other demand response trips. A TTY is a teletypewriter, or text telephone, that allows a user to type text to another TTY user. TTYs are also known as Telecommunications Devices for the Deaf (TDD).
TTY relay services consist of a relay operator (or communications assistant) who connects TTY calls with people who communicate by telephone. The operator converts voice-to-text and vice versa, with the text displayed on the user’s TTY. Relay services can be arranged through a telephone company, or customers can dial 711 to utilize the national Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS), available 24 hours a day and free for calls within the United States.
For more information, see the Federal Communications Commission's 711 for Telecommunications Relay Service on the FCC website. For more information about TTY and TTY Relay Services in general, visit the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) website.
For any meeting between transit agency personnel and a person who is deaf (for example an in-person interview that is required as part of an ADA paratransit eligibility determination process), it is important to provide sign language interpretation. When hosting meetings that are open to the public, instructions for requesting sign language interpretation should be included with notices about each upcoming meeting, or staff can arrange to have sign language interpretation available whether or not a request is made.
If assistive listening technology is available at a public meeting location, this should also be provided upon request. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) website provides information on assistive listening technology. As noted in Section 2.8.3 of the FTA ADA Circular, when using public transportation, riders who are deaf or hard of hearing also rely on visual information. Within the ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities (discussed in the Vehicle and Facility Accessibility section of this toolkit) there is a requirement where public address systems convey audible information to the public to provide the same or equivalent information in a visual format: Section 810.7 of the ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) provides more information about other types of accommodations for individuals with hearing and speech disabilities on this Effective Communications web page.
It is important to note that one cannot assume what type of accessible format would be best for a customer with a disability, as explained in Appendix D to Part 37, under Section 37.125:
“A document does not necessarily need to be made available in the format a requester prefers, but it does have to be made available in a format the person can use. There is no use giving a computer disk to someone who does not have a computer, for instance, or a braille document to a person who does not read braille.”
It is also important to let customers know that other formats are available and provide information on how they can request those formats. A good practice is to include such info on the transit agency’s website, either with general customer service contact information, or on a web page that highlights the accessibility of the transit agency’s services. Additionally, this information should be included with the agency’s ADA complaint procedures.
More information on alternate formats and other considerations for hosting an accessible meeting can be found under the Public Meetings and Outreach section of this toolkit.
Section 703 of the ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities provides specifications for signs posted at transit facilities. These specifications address visual characters (letters and numbers), raised characters (braille), and placement.
The subset of these specifications that apply to bus stop signs are found in Section 810.4 of the ADA Standards for Transportation facilities. More information is provided in the Vehicle and Facility Accessibility section of this toolkit.
The requirement for fixed route transit providers to make on-board stop announcements [Section 37.167(b)] and announce routes to passengers waiting at shared stops [Section 37.167(c)] is another way of providing essential information to riders with vision disabilities. These requirements are discussed in the Fixed Route Requirements section of this toolkit.
As noted earlier in this section of the toolkit, where public address systems convey audible information to the public the transit provider must provide the same or equivalent information in a visual format. See Section 810.7 of the ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities.
- 36 CFR Part 1194 - Information and Communication Technology Standards and Guidelines
- 49 CFR Part 27 - Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance
- 49 CFR Part 37 - Transportation Services for Individuals with Disabilities (ADA)
- American Council of the Blind, Best Practices and Guidelines for Large Print Documents used by the Low Vision Community authored by the Council of Citizens with Low Vision International An Affiliate of the American Council of the Blind Arlington, VA web page
- American Council of the Blind, Producers of Braille Documents web page
- Federal Communications Commission, 711 for Telecommunications Relay Service web page
- FTA Circular 4710.1, Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA): Guidance
- National Association of the Deaf, Assistive Listening Systems and Devices web page
- National Association of the Deaf, Telephone and Relay Services web page
- National RTAP, GTSF Builder Advanced Topics web page
- National RTAP, Website Accessibility web page
- Oregon Department of Transportation, Accessible Formats
- U.S. Access Board, About the ICT Refresh web page
- U.S. Access Board, ADA Standards for Transportation Facilities
- U.S. Access Board, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Final Standards and Guidelines, Final Rule, January 18, 2017
- U.S. Access Board, Rehabilitation Act of 1973 web page
- U.S. Access Board, Section 255 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 web page
- U.S. Access Board, Section 508 Standards for Electronic and Information Technology
- U.S. Department of Justice, Effective Communications web page
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Creating Accessible PDFs with Adobe Acrobat Professional XI
- Web Accessibility In Mind website
- Web Accessibility In Mind, archived discussion on overlay and accessibility
- Web Accessibility In Mind, Introduction to Web Accessibility web page
- Web Accessibility In Mind, PDF Accessibility web page
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative, Tips for Getting Started Writing for Web Accessibility
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative, Tips for Getting Started Designing for Web Accessibility
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative, WCAG 2.1 at a Glance web page
- World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative, Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1
Updated June 2, 2020