ADA Turns 30: Much to Celebrate, but Work Remains on Hearing Loss

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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 30 on July 26, 2020. This is an important milestone for all people with disabilities, including people with hearing loss. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation, public accommodations, communications and access to state and local government programs and services. It has improved the opportunity set for millions of Americans with disabilities and is to be applauded, but much work remains to reimagine and adapt ADA’s benefits to a changing world.

Reimagining the ADA for a Changing World

Many newspapers posted tributes to the ADA in July, featuring stories of progress and acceptance. Notably, very few included any mention of people with hearing loss. While it is wonderful to celebrate the progress that has been made, it is equally important to look forward at the challenges that remain. For people with hearing loss, much work is still needed before we can claim victory on equal access.

Increased News Coverage about Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is an invisible disability so it can often be overlooked or under-appreciated — even when celebrating the anniversary of the ADA. The New York Times’ month long exploration of the ADA had barely a mention of hearing loss, or even Deafness — hearing loss’ more photogenic twin. More than 48 million Americans have hearing loss, representing almost 15% of the U.S. population. Our progress is worth highlighting.

Over the past 30 years, there have been meaningful improvements in access for people with hearing loss in education, the workplace, and the arts. Communication Access Real Time Captioning (CART), FM receivers and note takers are now required accommodations in educational settings. Closed captions are routinely used on television, at many movie theaters, and increasingly on airline entertainment. Even Broadway theaters now offer captioning devices at most shows. Fellow blogger Katherine Bouton‘s recent post contains many other milestones worth celebrating.

Enforced Standards for Digital Communication

The ADA lays out specific parameters for access in public spaces, schools and workplaces, but it provides little clarity for online communications. This creates challenges for people with hearing loss when we try to enjoy un-captioned video content on Facebook or Twitter. As the world moves online, legislation needs to keep up. Without it, there is no recourse against companies that do not take the necessary steps to provide access.

Recently, Twitter announced a new audio feature, where rather than a tweet of 140 characters, you could send a voice tweet of 140 seconds. A clever idea, but without captioning, voice tweets are not accessible to people with hearing loss. It is unacceptable when new products are developed without a thought for accessibility. This would happen less often if the ADA was updated to include digital communications.

Readily Available Captioning on Video Conference Calls

While Google Meet and Microsoft Teams provide free auto-captions for everyone, Zoom does not. I am currently beta testing integrated auto-captioning on Zoom, and I am impressed with the accuracy and speed, but I am disappointed that the captions are not yet more widely available. For people with hearing loss, captions are our ramps.

After several months of global pandemic that has shifted much communication onto its platform, Zoom has had time to do better on access, yet it has not. Updated ADA language would force companies to act responsibly in a timely manner. To show your support for free auto-captions on Zoom, please sign and share our petition.

Regular Use of Clear Masks in Medical Settings

Going to the doctor is a stressful situation for everyone, but more so for people with hearing loss. Medical personnel must and should protect themselves with masks, but this makes it very difficult for people with hearing loss to understand what is being said. Masks that hide the bottom half of the face remove important speech reading cues.

Two FDA cleared clear masks exist — The Communicator and The ClearMask — but they are not commonly used in most medical settings. This needs to change, and I believe it will over time, as awareness builds and inventory levels normalize. Equal access to medical care should be a key factor of any updated ADA provisions.

More Stock Images of People with Hearing Loss

As a hearing loss blogger, I often turn to free image libraries looking for photos of people with hearing loss. Since people cannot look deaf, that often means searching for pictures of people wearing hearing aids. Unfortunately, these images are few and far between, especially ones featuring modern hearing devices.

Many times, I choose a photo related to the theme of the article instead, but mainstream media outlets often do not take this extra time. Instead, they use stock images featuring clunky and outdated looking hearing devices. You can see an example here.

Why is this a problem? Because it perpetuates the stigmatized idea that hearing aids are embarrassing, ugly, and that they need to be hidden. More realistic imagery would help break down this stigma and reduce some of the implicit barriers people face when considering giving hearing aids a try.

Readers, what is on your wish list for hearing loss accessibility going forward?

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18 thoughts on “ADA Turns 30: Much to Celebrate, but Work Remains on Hearing Loss”

  1. The other problem is people’s attitude, no amount of government regulations can change people’s attitude and opinions about the ones of us with disabilities most specially the disabilities that cannot be physically seen.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I agree. A lot of education is needed so people can begin to understand hearing loss. Thank you for your comment.

  2. We have come a long way. The worst accessibility is with television. There is absolutely no reason that programming, that is not live, should not have 100% accuracy.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Yes, it is very frustrating and must be improved. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. I was in Giant Eagle (Elizabeth PA) to pick up a prescription on Monday. I told the lady my name and that i was deaf, she kept on talking, she lowered her mask so i was able to read her lips asking for my DOB then she put her mask back up. I told her again that i could not hear her but she kept on talking and getting frustrated with me and finally she just backed up. About this time the pharmacist came over and wrote me a note telling me that it was not ready. So i thanked him and left.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Very frustrating. We have much to do to educate people about how to communicate with us, especially in this new world of masks. All we can do is continue to advocate for our needs. Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. As they say “We’ve come a long way , baby”! Things have greatly improved for the hearing impaired , especially with the advanced technology we now have . But I have found the job workplaces still suffer with discrimination . I remember in the 1990s, employers went out of their way to hire and be very accommodating to hearing impaired employees. It was applauded when a corporation and companies hired disabled employees. But I find now in the last 10 years , employers are not always so willing to hire the hearing impaired or maybe really don’t see any benefits from doing so . Maybe no tax breaks for them ? My last job was a complete disappointment. My employer made no accommodations for me such as a separate phone line for relay , or any accommodations to make sure I could be included in live meetings , etc. While I could have complained , it just didn’t seem worth the aggravation. It’s very discouraging to realize that while we have come a long way , we have moved backwards in other areas. Maybe I’m just getting older and things don’t always look so positive in these times, but there will always be more work to be done so that there is less discrimination in the work places .

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      You are right — there is always more work to do. I would encourage you to complain if you see inequity, however. If we don’t speak up, things cannot change. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.

  5. Yes, since our governor and the Mayor of Boston seem to need to speak on TV almost every day, they should realize that their speeches , if we want to listen to the m every day, over and over, need captioning. they use sign language people but most of the hard-of -hearing people don’t know how to use that.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Please reach out to your governor’s and mayor’s offices and request captioning. In NY, the briefings are captioned on the website in real time. Thank you for your comment.

  6. So much progress and that is awesome! However, I believe the biggest milestone needed is affordable access to hearing aids. It is tragic that so many people are forced to endure the isolation and stigma because they cannot afford hearing instruments. Very few employers offer these benefits including Medicare. We can definitely do much better!

    Thanks for all your do!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Great point! Hopefully OTC hearing aids in the US can help with that for people who have more mild or moderate forms of hearing loss, but your point is 100% accurate. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Jerry Henderson – Pownal Maine – Thank you for coming to my space. This is where I post thoughts, opinions and commentary on a variety of subjects at irregular intervals. I try to do something weekly, but have not nailed down a rigid schedule, like every Wednesday, yet. If you would like email notifications of new posts, you can make that happen right on the site. Simply enter your email address to subscribe. Also, if you would like to comment I welcome that. Just do so in the space at the bottom of any selected post. Sharing thoughts, opinion and commentary is a peculiarly human characteristic. It must be exercised to be enjoyed. Jerry Henderson
    Jerry Henderson says:

    There are moments, Shari, when I feel cut out of he main stream through no fault of my own. A recent batch of defective batteries for my Link HA made life miserable for a week. The feeling I got from others during this period was more that of impatience than understanding. There is also woefully inadequate understanding in the public arena of what “access” means. I’ve been excused from two jury panels because there was no access for the hearing impaired. In a small claims court experience I had I was given a headset that was useless for my CI and HA. It took the assistant ten minutes to unravel the birds nest wad of cable. We of the hearing loss community have miles to go before we sleep – and we need the rest.

    More people need to speak up and demand access. Politicians need constant reminding that hearing loss, though invisible, is a huge problem in their constituency. We need audio “ramps” everywhere. Good grief, I do run on.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      You make great points Jerry. Thank you for raising these important issues and for advocating for what you need.

  8. One of the difficulties in finding imagery of people wearing modern hearing aids is that the devices themselves are designed to “be invisible”! When will we get over the ridiculous “stigma” associated with hearing loss and appliances for the hard-of-hearing? Now that “hearables” of all types are commonly worn by all ages, at least in some regions–headphones, ear pods, etc.–it’s time to get over the idea that something worn in the ear is embarrassing!

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I agree, yet the stigma lingers. More stock photos of “hearables” of all types might even be helpful in bringing down the bad feelings. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this issue.

  9. We need to see “Beautiful” looking models in magazines, and actors wearing hearing aids without the subject matter being about hearing loss. Have hearing aids visible on TV without hearing as the topic … a “Regular” drama, sitcom and commercials. Show a romance with characters with and without hearing aids. Show successful doctors and lawyers wearing hearing aids on television series. Illustrate the those with hearing impairment can be successful and lead normal lives.9

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a hearing health advocate, writer, speaker and avid Bikram yogi. She blogs at LivingWithHearingLoss.com and serves on the Board of Trustees of Hearing Loss Association of America. She is the former Board Chair of Hearing Health Foundation. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, it will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Great suggestions. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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