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Know Your Rights: Hearing Loss, Accessibility & Public Spaces

If you have hearing loss or hearing impairment, you have a right to a variety of services and accommodations in public spaces. Whether you find yourself going to city hall, an educational institution, or another publicly funded space, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires these public spaces to provide accommodations for your needs. Just what accommodations are available? You can begin by contacting the disability accommodation specialist in this particular location. Whether it is a library, school, or government office, you should be able to get in touch with someone who can let you know what services are available to you. If you are concerned that you are not getting the help you need, you can also contact the Department of Justice hotline to see if the services being offered are sufficient. The following are a few of the services you can expect in public places. If your employer is not providing the accommodations you need, begin by talking with your manager. If you remain concerned about the services you receive, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a hotline to provide you with complete information, as well.


Internet Accessibility

One of the growing domains of rights for those with hearing loss or impairment is the Internet. The ADA was written in the early days of the Internet, so litigation is one process to ensure that corporations are providing websites that fully accommodate the needs of those with hearing loss. When websites provide audio information, it should always be accompanied by captioning. Educational institutions are responsible for captioning all audio material provided in classrooms and in remote learning settings. Teleconferencing services, such as Zoom, should provide captioning, as well.


Telephone Accessibility


The ADA applications to telephones are much clearer, with that technology having been in place when the law passed. Any public institution should provide telephones that are compatible with hearing aids. Web-based captioning apps can be used in conjunction with telephones to provide live transcription of the conversation.


Hearing Loops and Telecoils

Many public spaces provide hearing loops that integrate with the telecoil in your hearing aids. These hearing loops create a magnetic circuit around a space that integrates with a microphone. Some tellers or customer service desks have hearing loops, and many places of public address have them, including the auditoria of libraries, universities, town halls, and other government facilities. You can use the telecoil function on your hearing aids to receive a direct feed from that microphone rather than amplifying the entire acoustic soundscape. If you do not have hearing aids, stand-alone devices can connect with hearing loops to send that audio to a pair of headphones.


Other Hearing Services


Publicly funded museums, concert halls, and even movie theaters have other hearing services available to you. Audio guides can come with advanced hearing assistance, compatibility with hearing aids through Bluetooth, or with written texts to accompany that audio. Hospitals, hotel conference centers, and other public places offer these hearing services, as well, so simply ask at the reception desk to find out what accommodations are available to you.


Employment Accommodations


In addition to these services provided by public places, employers have a different set of rules guiding their provision of accommodations for hearing impairment. Generally speaking, any business with 15 employees or more is required to provide these accommodations, and they are not allowed to discriminate on disability status at the time of hiring or firing. If you believe that you are entitled to hearing services that you are not currently receiving, begin by contacting the accommodations specialist, your manager, or the human resources department. The accommodations available to you should make it possible to perform your job without any added impact of hearing loss or impairment. When you know your rights, you will be better able to function in public space and at your job. Don’t let hearing impairment prevent you from fully engaging with these aspects of social life. Getting hearing aids is an important step to help you function in a variety of settings, so why not begin by scheduling a hearing test? When you get the test, our hearing health professionals can connect you with the right assistive technology to meet your needs.