Meandering Through A Hearing World


If you suffer from hearing loss, you might wonder how the law protects you. In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, making it illegal to discriminate against anyone with a disability. Initially the law only protected those who were deaf, but in 2008, the ADA (ADAA) was amended to include all with hearing loss.

The ADA helps the deaf and hard of hearing in many ways. Employers cannot discriminate against employees based on a new or current diagnosis of hearing loss. In fact, employers must provide the tools needed to help you function in your job. The list includes captioned telephones, captioning services at meetings, and offices or work areas with lowered background noise. If employed, work with your manager regarding your hearing needs. Most businesses comply with the ADA.

During a job interview, an employer cannot ask candidates about disabilities including hearing loss. If a candidate discloses their hearing loss, the business cannot deny work based on that revelation. Sometimes people do not disclose their hearing loss until a job offer comes their way. It might be wise to follow such advice.

Public school systems and universities must give children and young adults needed help to make learning possible. It was very difficult to complete my MBA as I was in graduate school prior to the passing of the ADA. However, while a candidate for a MFA after the ADA was passed, I was assigned a court reporter who accompanied me to lectures. This service enhanced my learning experience. I could not have completed this degree without hearing help.

It is also required that hotels and vacation rentals, open to the public at large, arrange for the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. When reserving a hotel room, you should have the option to choose a room that has a telephone with volume control and smoke and other alarm detectors with flashing lights as well as alarms. Televisions must have closed captioning. Some hotels will give out alarm clocks with pillow shakers. When booking and checking in, it is always wise to let hotel personnel and vacation rental owners know that you have hearing loss.

Though required to do so, movie theaters have been slow to provide for the deaf or hard of hearing. Generally, you have to call the theater to find out which movies have closed captioned options and where and when they are being shown. At the theater, you will be handed a pair of heavy glasses that pick up the captions hidden in the screen.

Churches and private concert halls do not fall under the ADA, but many of them have installed induction loops. If your hearing devices have a t-coil, you can access the loop by flipping to the loop setting on your aid or implant. Before the Covid 19 outbreak, I was attending church services and concerts regularly. I found loops to be a hearing miracle because sound was brought directly into my ears without background noise. I could hear every word said during a church service and was able to hear the nuances in musical pieces at concerts.

The ADA does not require the installation of induction loops in train, bus stations, and airports in the United States, though some are moving in that direction. However when flying, you can request hearing help from airlines. Airline personnel can arrange for a variety of services at check-in, through security, and while boarding and landing. Airlines are required to help you, but you have to request this service when booking your tickets.

Should hotels, movie theaters, employers, or airlines deny your needs or treat you differently because of your hearing loss, you can file a complaint on the website of the United States Justice Department. I have used this resource to resolve issues and found the Justice Department responsive.

As you meander through the hearing world, understand the laws that protect your rights. No one can discriminate against you. If a business or public venue violates your rights, issue a complaint with the United States Justice Department. By understanding the laws, you will help the hearing loss community live a better life.

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Linda Bilodeau

I’ve grappled with hearing loss since 1978. Through it all, I’ve faced periods of denial, acceptance, curiosity, trust and hope. But more often than not, I’ve felt annoyed, angry and frightened. I’ve encountered despair, loneliness and envy. I’ve experienced panic attacks. I’ve met understanding people, kind souls who helped me a great deal and others who thought I had nothing short of an invisible plague. As a way of coming to terms with my hearing loss, I’ve decided to put my feelings about my disability down on paper. My hope is to better understand myself and perhaps you’ll find a little something in my meanderings that will help you, too.

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