In the U.S. there have been laws established to protect everyone with hearing loss. These days they need to be adapted for technology that is constantly evolving. July 26th is the 32nd anniversary of the supreme law granting protections to people with a hearing impairment. It is called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Here are the three titles of the ADA:
Even if you are a hearing aid or cochlear implant user, and those devices can help your hearing limitations, you still have a legal disability status under the ADA. This indicates that under the law, you are guaranteed certain protections and accommodations.
Changes in technology are constantly evolving and services are readily available online. As a result, the definition of discrimination has also changed. One example was when the Zoom video chat service charged more money for closed-captioning during video calls. In December of 2020, two individuals who were hearing impaired sued the company. They cited ADA violations and California and New York laws. In March of 2021, Zoom allowed users to sign up for free live captioning (this feature can only be accessed by the host of the meeting). This feature is now free for all users.
Hearing Loss Accessibility in the Internet Age
The ADA was originally written when the internet was still very new. Judges have provided different rulings on whether “places of public accommodation” include websites and apps, which do not have a physical location. The U.S. Department of Justice stated that it does, but there have not been any regulations issued.
Website accessibility guidelines have stated that anyone with vision impairment should be able to see and read a website, and the tools used by people with disabilities should be easily integrated. Closed captions and transcriptions should be available for all prerecorded audio and video. This is not a guarantee, as users of YouTube videos have been made aware of it.
Telephone Access for Hearing Loss
The law is more straightforward when it comes to telephone systems, which must be available for anyone with hearing loss and speech problems. The options are captioned telephones and web-based captioning services. The 1988 Hearing Aid Compatibility Act orders that every telephone and smartphone must be compatible with hearing aids.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), which was enacted in 2010, required text messaging, email, instant messaging, and video calls to be accessible for those with disabilities. Free live captioning on private platforms like Zoom is now available.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission ordered in 2012 that all TV programs with closed captions must be published online.
For all airlines, and foreign airlines that are flying to the U.S., the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) requires hearing loss accommodations, such as captioning on airport televisions.
The ADA requires courtrooms, hospitals, and schools to have sign language interpreters available when necessary.
Accessibility in Public Spaces
Theaters that have fixed seating for at least 50 people must provide assistive hearing services for audience members who have hearing loss.
Assistive listening systems for people with hearing loss must be provided by museums. This does not include sign language interpreters or closed captioning, but some include this as an option for Deaf patrons. Most times, these services are free or a small fee is charged.
Other spaces that must provide assistive hearing systems for anyone with hearing loss include hospitals, hotels, concert/lecture halls, convention centers, courtrooms, stadiums, and nursing homes. Facilities that have hearing loops can connect with hearing aids that feature telecoils (or t-coils).
Employment Discrimination and Hearing Loss
Job seekers and employees are protected by the ADA and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If there are at least 15 employees at your place of employment, you do not have to report your hearing loss and your employer cannot ask you questions to determine whether you have a disability. The employer is allowed to ask specific questions about your ability to perform basic job functions, like how good your communication skills are, whether you can perform in a fast-paced noisy environment, or can meet legally required standards in safety.
If your hearing loss is obvious or you report it, the person who decides whether to hire you can ask if you need accommodations to perform the job.
Your Employer must provide you with Accommodations if You Have a Hearing Loss
Your employer must provide reasonable accommodations, which means it should not be too difficult or expensive to make adjustments. Some accommodations may include a sign language interpreter during meetings or assistive listening devices.
Discuss these things with your employer, and be prepared to give more information about your conditions and needs from your healthcare provider(s).
If you think there’s been a violation of your rights, make a complaint through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the incident. A lawsuit may be filed in federal court after you receive a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC.
If you or a loved one are experiencing hearing loss, contact us at Pure Sound Hearing for a complimentary hearing test and consultation.
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