One in five people or 20% of the population in the USA has a hearing loss. Yet very few public places are hearing accessible. That’s in spite of the fact the ADA – the Americans With Disabilities Act – states most public facilities must be accessible to people with all disabilities.

Did you know there is no watchdog agency to make sure ADA requirements are met. It’s up to us to speak up and make sure accessibility is provided. Yet, we are not doing that. Are w e afraid to complain – or worse, “come out” about our hearing problems?

Ruth Bernstein, a Board member of HLAA NYC, has had a hearing loss for more than 40 years and has been advocating for accessibility all that time, with success. I recently had the good luck to watch her in action.

She went to Westfield’s Sistine Chapel exhibit at the Oculus at the World Trade Center. When she arrived, she tried the assistive listening system with headphones. UIMG_4839nfortunately, there were no neck loops, necessary for Ruth’s severe hearing loss and required by the ADA. Ruth enjoyed the beauty of Michelangelo’s paintings without the audio.

Ruth wanted Westfield to know there was a hearing access problem because the exhibition will be traveling across the USA. I accompanied her to their office, where she  spoke to the staff person at the reception desk. Rather than complaining loudly about the failure of the company to meet her needs, she told them how much she enjoyed the show. She then calmly explained her severe hearing loss made it impossible to use the assistive listening device without an audio loop and a script and asked for an introduction to the exhibition director.

Because she was so upbeat and positive, the receptionists bent over backwards to help her out. Ruth’s request has been passed on to the people in charge of the exhibition with a promise she will be informed of the arrangements for the upcoming exhibition at the Westfield Garden State Plaza September 1 thru October 15, 2017. Hopefully, there will be no need to file a complaint with the Department of Justice.

Learn from Ruth’s example. If you have favorite venues – museums, stores, banks, public meetings, hospitals – failing to meet ADA standards for hearing access, speak up!  If need be, remind them we are the ADA’s watchdogs. Start with a compliment, telling them how much you enjoy their venue. Then explain you had a problem hearing, what it was, and offer solutions with names of suppliers or resources, if possible. Thank them and mean it! And remember to follow up.

Check out our free introductory to the six-session workshop on Coming to Terms with Hearing Loss to learn more about advocacy and how to live your best life with hearing loss.

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Posted in Advocate, Blog.

COMMENTS (click each section to view all comments)


  1. Recently I went to a Red Bull Soccer match in Newark, NJ. I couldn’t understand the announcements. I went to the managers offers and told them how much I love the Red Bulls. I could not however understand the comments over the loud speaker and that captions were needed. He replied that they knew it and were working on it. Great I said. I followed up with a letter telling them again how much I enjoyed the game and thanking him for looking into getting captions and that I look forward going next time with captions so I could understand what was being said.

  2. I was born hearing. I have been deaf for about 50 years. I speak well and wear a excellent hearing aide. I wanted to know the deaf community so learned to sign about 30 years ago. I am a capable lip reader. I do not have a implant. I have been a active advocate in Morris County and chaplain to deaf psychiatric patients. I admire Ruth’s approach. There are also communication skills that can serve no C I users. I have found that the NYC Met Museum has printed copies of the hearing descriptions of special showings. This is a real help and allows a person to tour at their own speed. It is good to ask in advance what accommodation is available. This alerts them to the need and might inspire them to find a way to communicate for your visit as well as for the future.

    • Thank you so much for your feedback Sheila. Asking for accommodations in advance makes so much sense. And printed copies makes great sense.

  3. Hi Pat,
    Lots of good advice, which I will share with my chapter members. they hear me talk about advocating all the time. Hearing the same from someone else seems more authoritative. Most of my elderly members seem resistant to speak up. I recently asked in a restaurant, if they would turn down the very loud music. She didn’t say anything, but went and immediately turned it down. Later she did ask if it was better. I used that oppotunity to explain why I had asked & why it was definitely better. I really would have preferred it turned off, but I’ve learned to choose my battles.
    I hope you are having a great summer.

    • Thank you Lynne. Wonderful that she turned down the music. If enough of us ask for restaurants to turn down music, maybe they will automatically keep it low …..

  4. Thanks Pat for this excellent post!! It’s awesome to see a great advocate like Ruth in action! Even experienced advocates can learn so much from watching others. I have garnered both confidence and so great many tips from watching my “tribe” of hard of hearing friends!

    Perhaps, it’s these little outings among friends, where our advocacy efforts might prove most effective?

    Cheri Perazzoli

    • You are another person that I’ve learned so much about advocating from. You are a tireless advocate that has gotten so many accommodations in the Seattle area. Thank you for your hard word.

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