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.
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?