Hard of Hearing: Know Your Rights
Do you struggle accessing programs and services because of your hearing loss? You are entitled to equal access, regardless of any disability you have. Know your rights and take a stand!
What is the Law?
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990, prohibits discrimination based on disability. This applies to employers, government and state agencies, businesses, and public accommodations. All services and programs must be made fully accessible to anyone with disabilities. While this legislation has had major impact for mobility disabilities, such as those in wheelchairs, the deaf and hard of hearing community continues to suffer.
Revisions made in 2010 aimed to bring more awareness to communication disabilities, those with visual, hearing or speech disabilities. The ADA requires that all government agencies and other service providers communicate effectively with people who have communication disabilities. It is their responsibility of provide a qualified American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter or a note taker, as well as captioning, written material or assistive listening devices.
The law is very clear, but it is being violated every day! Government and state agencies such as police stations, hospitals, or schools will often refuse this service. Because hearing loss is less visible than other disabilities, the rights of those with hearing loss are being ignored or willfully overlooked.
Daily Struggles of Hearing Loss
Around one million Americans are functionally deaf, and do not have equal access to programs, services, and events. Integration is a huge struggle for those in the hearing loss community. Access to jobs is limited, with only about 50% of deaf people having stable employment. There is a lack of awareness and empathy from the hearing community, and those with hearing challenges struggle with feelings of isolation and depression. Even simple tasks can be a struggle since easy communication is blocked.
Finding Solutions to Bridge the Gap
Growing awareness around the struggles of the hard of hearing is bringing about slow change. Eric Baum, cofounder of Eisenberg & Baum Law Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, has seen a drastic increase in the number of law suits against shelters, hospitals, and businesses that deny requests for interpreters. Not providing ASL interpreters or other aids is against the law, and Baum has litigated around 100 deaf discrimination cases. Baum says it can be discouraging, since even law firms will turn away deaf clients to avoid the hassle of a hard-of-hearing client. The Law Center has even had to sue the same offenders repeatedly. For example, they have filed three suits against the New York Police Department for repeatedly denying requests for interpreters.
If you see or encounter discrimination by state and local government agencies, file an ADA complaint form online at http://www.ada.gov/t2cmpfrm.htm. If you receive discriminatory treatment from a business such as a restaurant, doctors’ office, hotel, library, school, or bank, file a complaint form at http://www.ada.gov/t3compfm.htm.
Taking legal action is only one way to bring about change. Raising awareness is crucial. Lobby for all city and government agencies to employ a staff member who assists those with disabilities. Use technology, such as texting, or skyping with an interpreter, to make communication easier. Finally, personal listening devices have also made huge strides in providing hearing to those struggling with hearing loss. Visit an audiologist at Atlanta Hearing Doctor today to consult about your hearing health!
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