Would You Like a Side of Braille with Your Hearing Loss?

I’d heard the stories, but on my most recent cross-country flight, it happened to me. A flight attendant offered me braille to help with my hearing loss! I almost couldn’t believe it. In this post-pandemic world with frequent news stories explaining the challenges of masked communication for people with hearing loss, was the airline’s training still this far behind? Apparently so.

Black magnifying glass with a hand holding an airplane inside. The background is braille.

The Time I Let the Airline Know About My Hearing Loss

Before the flight, I had noted my hearing loss in the airline’s app. I don’t usually do this, especially if I am traveling with hearing companions, but I was curious to see what would happen.

Shortly before takeoff, a stewardess approached my seat.

“Are you hearing impaired?” she asked. I couldn’t hear her because I had already turned off my hearing aids and was wearing my noise-cancelling headphones to help prevent the bouts of tinnitus I sometimes get from exposure to repetitive noise.

But my hearing husband did. Once he filled me in, I wasn’t thrilled with her turn of phrase—the accessibility option in the airline’s app was labeled “deaf and hard of hearing” which I prefer. But I did appreciate that she stopped by to check on me.

“Is there anything you need?” she asked.

Unfortunately, the thing that might have helped—earlier boarding since it is hard to hear the boarding announcements—had not been offered. Instead, she handed my husband and I each a pair of complimentary earbuds (I’m not sure what I was supposed to do with those!) and said, “Let me know if you need Braille.”

Luckily for her I didn’t hear that last part because I might have burst out laughing, if only to hide my utter exasperation. Much work remains to educate airline employees, let alone the public about hearing loss.

My Airline Travel Hearing Loss Wish List

Air travel for people with hearing loss has improved a lot over the years, driven by rapid improvements in technology. Airline apps can now notify us of gate changes, delays, and other important flight details in real time. Depending on the airline you may need to turn notifications on prior to each flight. Airline apps are also a convenient way to carry your boarding pass and to check in for your return flight.

Most airlines also have started posting boarding announcements visually on screens near the gate. In an exciting moment a few years ago at an airport in Hawaii, I even witnessed unrelated gate announcements captioned on screens at the gate!

But improvements are still needed.

Better awareness training

People with disabilities travel by plane, just like everybody else. Flight attendants should be sufficiently trained to treat them with respect and provide appropriate assistance based on each person’s needs. Using proper terminology (hard-of-hearing vs. hearing impaired) is an easy fix. As is understanding that braille will not help a person with hearing loss, unless of course they have low vision too. And please don’t send a wheelchair!

Captioned in-flight announcements

While the safety videos are usually captioned, the captain’s remarks about delays, arrival times, and even the weather usually are not. In an emergency, safety information should be available for everyone. In today’s world, I would need to rely on a willing seatmate to provide this information.

Universal captioning on entertainment options

Captioned entertainment options are more common. Delta even lets you search for content specifically with closed captions which can save a lot of time when going through the offerings. But why isn’t all the content captioned? In almost all cases (movies and TV program in particular), the captions exist. They simply need to be activated.

Looped check-in counters

Portable loops can be found at the pharmacy and even some theater box offices. They should also be standard fare at airline check-in counters at airports. Hearing loops would make checking bags, re-booking cancelled flights and passport checks much easier.

It’s been fun to be back in the sky recently, traveling to conferences and book launches. Each trip is an opportunity to self-advocate, and by doing so, raise awareness about the needs of people with hearing loss more broadly.

Readers, do you let the airlines know about your hearing loss prior to boarding?

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Book: Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss

20 thoughts on “Would You Like a Side of Braille with Your Hearing Loss?

  1. Susan Berger – Blogging is one big experiment for me. Will it work? Who knows. I'll link websites that have published my essays and maybe I'll write original posts. My topics will be observations, points of view and life as I see it. I'm still marinating...
    Susan Berger says:

    So many good points, Shari. I haven’t flown in years and so much seems to have changed. Forgive me, but can you clarify why ‘hearing impaired’ isn’t a correct phrase? Is it because an individual may feel they are impaired? It seems that my hearing is indeed impaired.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Terminology is so personal. Some use the term and I have no issue with that if that is what they prefer. I tend to use person first language such as person with hearing loss. As Gael and I say in our book. We don’t care what you call yourself but do let others know about your hearing loss so you can ask for the communication access you need. Thanks for your question.

  2. We all know that our challenge is not obvious and those without hearing loss have no idea what we experience. It is never a surprise when people have no clue or they react negatively from my lack of response or misinterpretation.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Very true. More education is needed. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. The TSA has a program called TSA Cares. They will assign you an assistant (an actual person) to help you through the airport security checkpoint. I learned about this at a local HLAA chapter meeting. I have not used it, but it seems like it would be helpful for someone with hearing loss that is traveling alone. Here is a link to some info:

    https://www.tsa.gov/travel/passenger-support

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for sharing the information.

  4. TSA Cares is not available in all airports. I found them in LAX but not Albuquerque or Columbus Ohio, when I asked. It must only be at larger airports.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Thank you for the clarification.

  5. I thought everyone knew that you can preboard with a hearing loss, and with a traveling companion, if you are not traveling alone (don’t know about a whole family though) at all airlines now. Most don’t even require you to identify yourself ahead of time. I just “follow the wheelchairs”. If I don’t see any wheelchairs for my flight, I will identify myself to the gate attendant and explain that I cannot understand most announcements and will need to preboard. I’ve never had a problem.
    Most of the time I also identify myself to the flight attendant when I board that I have a hearing loss, and if there are any important announcements, I will not understand them. I don’t care if they are advertising their airline credit card, or if we are passing over the Grand Canyon, but if our flight has changes, or the captain has something important to say, I will ask that they let me know what was said.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I usually do some of that depending on who I am flying with, but I thought I would see what happened when I noted it in my reservation rather than self-identifying. Not a lot! LOL. Thank you for sharing what works for you.

  6. Thanks for sharing, Shari. I heard from a friend who was traveling back from the HLAA convention. She recognized another passenger who had also been at HLAA. When the flight landed the flight attendants offered the passenger a wheelchair and were confused that she refused it. So they do offer wheelchairs to people with hearing loss! By the way, even though I can often get by, I have begun to identify myself as having a hearing loss to the person at the departure desk. It helps me to feel less anxious although I don’t always trust them to remember. (I sit or stand as close as I can to the desk.) I didn’t know that I could put it on my reservation and will begin to do so.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      I always hover by the departure desk too! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  7. A bit of credit to the airlines: In. my experience, gate attendants will offer pre-board if we advise them of our inability to hear boarding announcements. And Delta has looped the gates at its new LaGuardia terminal. But a week after the terminal opened there were still no signs to alert us to the availability of loop listening. Also, Delta’s in-flight entertainment offered many movies with captions. But Delta, and I presume other airlines, still need to provide captioning for in-flight PA announcements.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      They are making progress! Thanks for sharing the other side of the equation.

  8. Yes, for years (but I haven’t flown in 2!) I have informed the check-in person that I’m HOH and would like to preboard. They always come get me, and I have my seat choice from the whole plane! (First class excluded!)

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      Excellent! I am glad that works well for you. Thank you for your comment.

  9. Sue Fagalde Lick – writer/musician California native, Oregon resident Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. Most recently, I have published two poetry chapbooks, Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.
    Sue Fagalde Lick says:

    I hope someone from the airlines is reading your wise advice. I just got back from a plane trip across the country, and I felt as if I couldn’t hear much of anything with the masks and the background noise. I especially wanted to hear the captain’s announcements since three out of four flights were delayed. But they were way beyond my hearing, even with my hearing aids on. At least no one offered me any braille. Then again, I didn’t tell anyone I couldn’t hear well.

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Shari Eberts says:

      It is important to self-identify so we can educate them about how they can help. Braille is not it. Lol! Thanks for your comment.

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