Hearing loss and other disabilities can prevent us from accessing some of the important goods and services that others may take for granted. Market forces tend not to provide for this access, so regulations stipulate the ways in which both public and private sector entities must provide reasonable accommodations.
If you have hearing loss, it’s important to be aware of what you can ask for in order to enjoy the same standards of safety and effectiveness as those without disability.
Rights in the Public Sector
As public sector entities are operated by government, they are places where regulations are enforced as a matter of normal operation, and so tend to have the clearest provisions and the highest standards of access. These entities include government offices, public educational institutions, and other government-run public benefits.
In any public-sector facility, you are guaranteed the right to accommodations necessary for you to communicate effectively. These might include assistive listening devices (ALDs) like telecoil loop systems, FM systems, or—especially in courtrooms—infrared systems.
While each of these systems operates a little differently and may be used in different settings, they all have something in common: they utilize microphones to transmit sound directly to your hearing aids or a headset in order to provide enough amplification for you to clearly hear what’s happening in the room.
If you need accommodation in a public-sector facility, inquire with the appropriate office for your concern. They’ll be able to connect you with the right personnel to provide the appropriate ALD.
Other common accommodations include closed captioning, CART systems, and sign language interpretation. Government offices, hospitals (even private ones) and schools are legally obligated to provide sign language interpretation. Consult with the office of disability and accommodations at the institution, and they’ll be able to help.
Rights in the Private Sector
Most disability rights of regular concern in the private sector apply to employment. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees with hearing loss. What is “reasonable” in your situation must be worked out between you and your employer, though you have legal recourse if they refuse to provide something that you deem essential.
Common accommodations in places of employment include the ALDs mentioned above. FM and loop systems are commonly found in meeting rooms, while interpreters or closed captioners may be brought in for training sessions or other situations where they are necessary.
Some other accommodations that we may not think of as readily are even easier for your employer to provide. For example, if your desk is situated near a doorway, copy machine, or front desk where background noise can make it harder for you to understand speech, you may ask to have your desk moved. If you and your coworkers rotate tasks and one of the regular duties is especially difficult for you, you can ask to take double duty on a different task. Perhaps you need to sit a little closer to a presenter in a meeting. These are all low-to-no-cost solutions that can vastly improve your effectiveness in the workplace.
Universal Human Rights
The United Nations has enumerated many inviolable human rights. These are rights that apply to any living person, anywhere in the world. They include access to food, water, health care, shelter, education and employment. While different countries take different approaches to ensuring them, they are abstractly guaranteed across the globe.
If you believe that hearing loss is interfering with your ability to enjoy any of these rights, you can seek redress by contacting the appropriate entity within the applicable institution. In the case of your employer, start with a conversation with your boss. If they are unwilling to provide needed accommodations, talk to your human resources department. If they are not helpful, it may be necessary to seek the counsel of an attorney who can pursue legal rectification.
Consider Hearing Aids
If you’re not already wearing them, consider getting a set of hearing aids. Hearing aids go a long way toward removing the obstacles to effective communication that hearing loss places in our path. If you or someone you love is living with untreated hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to open more possibilities in your life!