Know Your Rights Accessibility and Public Spaces

Know Your Rights: Accessibility and Public Spaces

In Hearing Loss, Hearing Protection, Hearing Technology, Hearing Testing by Bary E. Williams Au.D.

Hearing impairment is one of the most common forms of disability that summons the power of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This legislation protects the needs of the public for reasonable accommodations to make sure they are safely included in public life. If you have hearing loss, you might qualify for some of these protections, but it’s important to understand how the protections work. Just like other physical and mental conditions that require accessibility in the community, hearing impairment makes you eligible for some accommodations in the community. Let’s take a look at the parameters of the Americans with Disabilities Act and how you can get the assistance you need, particularly in public spaces and workplaces. 

Who qualifies for assistance?

The Americans with Disabilities Act extended accessibility to the public, but some limitations do apply. First, workplace accommodations only apply to employers with more than 15 employees, requiring that they supply reasonable accommodations. No matter who the employer, however, they are always mandated not to discriminate on the basis of disability in the hiring process. Government buildings are subject to some special protections under the law. If you need hearing assistance in any government facility, you have the right to that accessibility, including hearing loops to assist communication. Other places of public accommodation are restricted from discriminating on the basis of ability, so you might be entitled to some assistance in other public areas beyond government buildings, as well. 

What assistance is available?

The assistance you can receive depends on the place in which you find yourself. Those with hearing impairment often take advantage of hearing loops and telecoil technology, particularly in places of public address. If you attend a town hall meeting or a court proceeding, you can request one of these assistive devices to make it possible to hear everything that is going on around you. Doctors’ offices, educational facilities, and other places of public accommodation need to supply the necessary hearing assistance to make communication possible. In some cases, that means an interpreter for hearing impaired visitors. In other cases, captioning and assistive listening devices will be used to fill in the gaps in conversations with doctors and educators. 

Where are other accommodations required?

The new frontiers of technology are pushing the boundaries of what we consider to be a public space. For instance, recent legislation has made the case that the Internet is a public space requiring accommodations, and one of the popular forms of assistance is the use of captioning for audio media. Audio is increasingly popular on websites, so those who add video content to their web pages are also required to caption that content for hearing impaired visitors to these digital public spaces. 

Even corporations that embed video content on the homepage of their websites need to have a clearly marked option to provide captioning of this content. One of the new gray areas of technology has been videoconferencing. Increasingly popular in the last year, this technology makes it possible for people to converse in new ways, but captioning is often unavailable in real time. As the technology advances, accommodations will be required by users, as well. 

How can I request assistance for hearing loss?

If you are attending a public space or workplace that qualifies for assistance, all you need to do is contact an ambassador with the Americans with Disabilities Act website to get further information. The first step will likely be to issue a formal request for assistance at that public place. Whether it is appropriate to file a complaint or not will be a decision made in concert with the leadership of the organization. In addition to getting the public assistance you need, you can also make an appointment to seek personal assistance with one of our hearing health professionals. Although accommodations go a long way toward helping you hear and communicate in the public places where you need assistance, getting treatment for hearing loss is a way to take your communication ability into your own hands. After a full diagnosis of your hearing needs, we can point you in the direction of the appropriate technology to help you fill in the gaps in the communication process. 

Bary E. Williams Au.D.
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