In 2022, stigmas associated with hearing loss have eroded. It is now fully expected that anyone with hearing loss should have the same opportunities to participate in mainstream society as a person with normal hearing. This is thanks in large part to two major advances of the last 30-odd years: hearing aid technology, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
About the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA was signed into law in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. It is a piece of civil rights legislation that guarantees those with disabilities have access to participate in American life on the same footing as those without disabilities. A disability is defined as any physical or mental condition that limits one or more major life activities. The ADA seeks to criminalize discrimination based on biases against the disabled, and provide pathways for disabled people to be given merit-based opportunities for employment and access to public institutions.
The ADA in Four Parts
There are four pertinent sections of the ADA that ensure rights for the disabled.
Title I: Employment
Any employer with 15 or more employees is required to comply with the ADA, including state and local government employers.
Title II: State and Local Government
This requires state and local governments to ensure equal opportunity for the disabled to any programs, services and activities. These include public educational institutions, state and local employers, transportation, voting, courts, social services, health care, recreational activities hosted by government entities, and town meetings.
Title III: Places of Public Accommodations
This requires private and non-profit entities to provide access for disabled persons when they are considered “public accommodations.” These include the operators of restaurants, retailers, hotels, movie theaters, private schools, doctors, homeless shelters, transportation hubs, zoos, funeral homes, convention centers, day care centers, sports stadiums, fitness clubs, and more. Basically anywhere you go where something is being sold, the seller is required to provide accommodations for those with disabilities.
Title IV: Telecommunications Relay Services
This ensures access to telephones and television for those with disabilities. For the hearing impaired especially, one of the most popular services is Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS). This allows those with a hearing disability to see a text version of a phone call, and has been called a “lifesaver” by those with hearing loss.
Hearing Loss at Work
Under the ADA, you are protected against workplace discrimination based on your hearing loss, and the provision of reasonable accommodations. What is considered “reasonable” is typically worked out between an employee and employer. Some very simple accommodations—like moving your desk to a quieter area of the office, or seating you closer to a speaker—are obvious.
Other accommodations might include receiving a meeting agenda in advance of a meeting, or having a loop system or FM system installed. It may be that your employer has you rotating tasks with other employees, some of which are impractical given the nature of your disability. You should be able to decline those specific tasks and take another one instead.
The ADA says that information provided by any of the covered entities (employers, public accommodations, government institutions, etc.) must be as clearly understandable to those with disabilities as it is to those without disabilities. This is an incredibly important part of the act—especially for those with hearing loss—as it ensures that those with disabilities cannot be left out of any information streams.
“Effective communication” ensures that television is subtitled, that weather advisories are communicated via text and audio, that assistive listening systems (ALS) are installed in most public places, and more.
Assistive Listening Systems (ALS)
You may find these in most public places, like museums, courthouses, lecture halls, movie theaters, houses of worship, etc. ALS’s work with or without hearing aids to provide amplified audio that those with hearing loss can understand. These include “loop” systems, FM systems, and infrared systems. If you have hearing loss, finding the ALS’s installed in the places you frequent will allow you to hear clearly wherever you go, as is your right.
If you or a loved one may have hearing loss but is not currently wearing hearing aids, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to improve your life!