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. Unfortunately, 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.