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Hearing loss is a public health epidemic that impacts over 48 million people in the U.S. Impaired hearing reduces a person’s capacity to absorb and process sound which impacts their ability to navigate spaces. There is a range of policies that focus on creating greater accessibility for people with hearing loss. These legal standards expand the accessibility of public spaces, technologies, and services in ways that ensure people with hearing loss can participate in with ease. Designed to improve daily life, it is incredibly beneficial to be aware of these laws and how they support your hearing needs. 5 important rights to be aware of include the following:
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): one of the most widely known pieces of legislation, the ADA is modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Passed in 1990, the ADA bans discrimination based on disability and guarantees equal participation (and access) to employment, services, spaces etc. The ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that significantly impacts daily life.
There are numerous aspects of this comprehensive legislation and a few key pieces include:
- Employment: private and public employers are required to provide the same protections for employees with disabilities and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.
- Public Spaces: the ADA requires accommodations be provided in public spaces including restaurants, retail stores, movie theaters, banks, hotels, hospitals etc. It cites that public spaces, ““where audible communication is used to provide direction or critical information an assistive listening system is required to be provided for people with hearing loss”. There are various types of assistive listening systems which provide sound support, enhancing hearing ability.
- State + Local Government: are required to provide equal opportunity and access to programs, services, activities, transportation, health care, social services, public education etc.
- Telecommunications: telephone companies are required to have telecommunications relay services which enable people with hearing and speech impairments to use third party communications assistants.
Telecommunications Act: enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and passed in 1996, this act requires the accessibility of telecommunications products and services. This includes:
- wired and wireless communication devices (landlines, cell phones, fax machines etc.)
- computer, televisions
- other equipment with telecommunications capabilities
A key feature of this act is the requirement of closed captioning services. This service provides text transcription of audio on the screen. This act requires video programming distributors to close caption TV programs.
CVAA – 21st Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act: passed in 2010, this law provides necessary updates to the telecommunications act of the 1990s. It addresses changing technologies, electronic devices, and innovations with the internet. It requires these updated technologies to also be accessible, this includes:
- Communication services like email and instant messaging
- Closed captions services are required on electronic devices like smartphones, laptops, tablets etc. in addition to devices that record TV programs
Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA): this policy specifically focuses on accessibility and air travel (airports, airlines). It prevents air carriers from discriminating against people with disabilities and mandates accommodations for passengers with disabilities. The ACAA requires:
- services to provide a text option for communication
- closed captions services must be provided in airports and on airplanes
- accommodations like safety assistants must be provided if requested
Hearing Aid Compatibility Act (HAC): passed in 1988, this law requires hearing aid compatibility with phones. Managed by the FCC, there have been various updates to this policy including:
- 2016: the FCC developed new standards that have to be adopted by wireless handset manufacturers and mobile service providers. These standards are designed to create greater accessibility to wireless communication services for people with hearing loss.
- 2017: volume control standards for wireline handsets were updated to improve voice amplification.
- 2020: all wireless handsets, compatible with hearing aids now have to include volume control settings for people with hearing loss.
Knowing about these policies allows you to claim the rights that are meant to improve your overall quality of life. It is important to advocate for your hearing needs and the protections you are guaranteed so that you can participate fully in all of life’s activities!
If you have been struggling with hearing, contact us today! We provide comprehensive hearing health services and we’re here to help.