Hearing Loss: Your Rights in Public Spaces

Hearing Loss: Your Rights in Public Spaces

In hearing health, hearing loss, News, Research by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Having hearing loss can feel lonely at times like the whole world is against you. Because you struggle to hear, conversations out in the world can leave you feeling isolated and this is not only with acquaintances but at home too. Even relationships with your family and significant other become strained leaving you feeling lonely even when the house is full of people. This can carry on to your place of work too where common misunderstandings can keep you out of the loop. Those with hearing loss are often passed over for raises and promotions. Meanwhile the rate of unemployment for those with a hearing impairment is disproportionately higher than for those with normal hearing. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, people with severe hearing loss have an unemployment rate (15.6%) twice that of the average hearing population (7.8%). 

Hearing loss is considered an invisible disability because it can’t be seen out right. However, this doesn’t affect it from damaging relationships, quality of life and employment. The important thing to remember if you are struggling with hearing loss is that there are rights that protect you. When you know your rights around hearing loss you can take advantage of them.

Working Against Exclusion

Advocates for the rights of people with disabilities have fought for decades to make the world more inclusive and accessible and this includes hearing loss. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) came into effect in 1990, it was a major advancement for hearing impaired people in the workplace as well as increasing accessibly in public settings. The ADA defines protections for disabled people in four major categories: fair employment, fair government services, fair access to businesses and public spaces and fair access to telecommunications.

Fair Employment – This portion of the ADA law mandates that employers with 15 or more employees must follow guidelines to protect their employees against disability-based discrimination. It requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for those with a disability to more effectively perform their job. Information must also be accessible to employees with hearing impairment during meetings, negotiations, and decision-making. In addition, fair employment makes it illegal to terminate an employee who has filed an ADA-related complaint against the employer.

Fair Government Services – Government services include public libraries, schools, hospitals, and courts as well as any other government operation and social service. This includes accommodations to effectively communicate with the hearing impaired, ensuring that information is easily accessible. This can include hearing loops in public buildings or closed captioning. Government facilities must provide qualified interpreters, computer-aided real-time transcription (CART), assistive listening devices, or other auxiliary aids or services to ensure effective communication with deaf and hard of hearing people.

Fair Access – In addition to government services, the ADA also regulates ways in which businesses of any size must provide access for hearing impairment. This includes movie theaters, concert halls and churches which are encouraged to have closed captioning or telecoil services available. It can also include alarm systems which in addition to loud sounds also include flashing lights and other alerts which are not sound based.

Fair Telecommunications – This portion of disability protection refers to how hearing-impaired people speak over the phone. The ADA requires that telecommunication companies and services have free-of-charge communication tools which are integrated into the larger communication networks. This could include e relay services such as TTY phones and Video Relay Service providing hard of hearing and deaf people adaptive communication tools to have equal participation in national networks.

Fair Housing Act, Air Carrier Access Act, Hearing Aid Compatibility Act

Fortunately there is legislation outside of the ADA as well including the fair housing act which insures anti-discriminatory policies in housing for those with disabilities. It also includes the ACAA, which provides persons with disabilities guaranteed rights when they fly. The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act works to ensure that the telecommunication technology doesn’t provide feedback or distortion with hearing aid signals, allowing millions of hearing aid users to communicate clearly over the phone.

Addressing a Hearing Loss

The first step in advocating for your rights around a hearing disability is admitting you have an issue. Schedule a hearing exam today. We can help diagnose the extent of your hearing loss, find the best treatment to help you succeed and help you take advantage of all of your rights!