Hearing Loss – Know Your Rights

When we use the term “disability,” many people think about any physical impairments that may be readily observable. These include physical and mobility limitations as well as sensory disabilities, such as blindness. However, disabilities also include a number of other conditions that typically are invisible to others. These include brain injury, diabetes, dyslexia, hearing impairments, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. This law made it illegal to discriminate against the disabled. It was written and passed to not only cover employers – those with 15 or more employees were required to comply with the ADA regulations – but also to apply to any public entity or place. For example, public buildings were required to comply by providing wheelchair-friendly access ramps, as well as other accommodations such as ADA-compliant restrooms. In addition, and – of special interest to the hearing impaired – hotels and other public accommodations also were required to install telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDDs) – at no extra cost to the user.

Many persons with hearing loss do not realize they may be covered by the ADA in their workplace or in public facilities. To view more information about hearing loss in the workplace, please click on this link: http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/deafness.htmlListed below are some of the basic provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Four Titles of the Americans with Disabilities Act Title I – Employment Employers may not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. Employers must reasonably accommodate the disabilities of qualified applicants or employees, including modifying workstations and equipment, unless undue hardship would result. Title II – Public Services State and local governments may not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. Newly constructed state and local government buildings, including transit facilities, must be accessible. Alterations to existing state and local government buildings must be achieved to provide equal access. Title III – Public Accommodations All new construction and modifications must be accessible to individuals with disabilities. For existing facilities, barriers to services must be removed if readily achievable. Public accommodations include facilities such as restaurants, hotels, theaters, shopping centers and malls, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, and private schools. Public Services and Accommodations have a duty to provide auxiliary aids and services to individuals with hearing impairments where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities. Title IV – Telecommunications Telecommunication companies offering telephone services to the general public must have telecommunication relay services for individuals who have hearing or speech disabilities. (http://www.ada.gov/cguide.htm) Title III of the ADA covers facilities which are privately – not publicly – owned, but which are open to the public. Some examples of this type of location are: hotels and motels, restaurants, stores, doctors’ offices, libraries, museums, day care centers, private educational facilities, cinemas and theaters. Public accommodation means that the facility itself must also be accessible. Hotels, motels and inns must provide visual fire alarms, TDDs or amplified telephones, closed – captioned TV’s, flashing door signalers and an alarm clock with a bed-shaker to the D/LD/HOH guest when he/she has notified the facility in advance. A hospital, if it provides televisions and room phones to all patients, must also provide a closed captioned television set, an amplified phone or a TDD, a loud ringer or visual ring signaler, and a visual fire alarm in every room in which there is a D/LD/HOH patient. In addition, rooms used by the general public within these facilities are also covered by these regulations.

 Some of the most common complaints we, as Audiologists, hear on a regular basis are related to the difficulties experienced by hearing-aid users in restaurants, movie or live theaters, and in religious services. Sometimes under these circumstances, hearing aids alone just aren’t enough. You may require the use of an Assistive Listening Device (ALD). Assistive listening devices expand the functionality of hearing aids and cochlear implants by helping the user separate the sounds he or she wants to hear from background noise, and by enabling them to hear when the speaker is more than a few feet away. The speaker talks into a microphone, and the speech is sent directly to the listener’s ear, thus avoiding the degrading effects of noise and distance on speech intelligibility. It is really that simple.

For more information, ask your audiologist and check out this article: http://audioconsult.com/2012/05/staying-connected-in-a-connected-world/ When you are visiting a public venue, take a moment to look for the symbol shown below. Most of our hearing-impaired patients have no idea that theatres are actually REQUIRED to provide them with an Assistive Listening Device. You, as a patron of these facilities, should be your own advocate and speak up to learn what accommodations are available to you. Don’t be embarrassed. You are a paying customer and you deserve to enjoy the show just as much as the next person! http://www.foxtheatre.org/specialneeds.aspx http://www.amctheatres.com/accessible-movies Section 307 of the ADA provides that religious organizations and entities controlled by religious organizations are not subject to the requirements for public accommodations or commercial facilities under Title III of the Act. Religious organizations, such as Synagogues and religious-controlled schools may, however, accommodate individuals with disabilities at their own discretion, and do not waive their exemption from the requirements of Title III by doing so. You can take the initiative and advocate for the provision of assistive listening devices at places you regularly attend (e.g., place of worship, classroom, or community center). Encourage the venue to advertise that they have assistive devices so that others can learn of their benefit. As Dr. Seuss stated, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

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