Latest posts by Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA (see all)
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People experiencing hearing loss have a lot of rights when it comes to their employment and when it comes to existing in and moving through public spaces. Knowing your rights is critically important to your safety and comfort.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans With Disabilities Act (known by the short-hand term “ADA”) was signed into U.S. law in 1990. The ADA was the result of many, many decades of robust activism by people wanting to ensure that people with a variety of abilities and disabilities received the same treatment and equal protection under the law. The ADA ensures that people with physical or mental impairments that limit their life activities receive reasonable accommodations at work and in public. The ADA always considered deafness as a disability, but it was only in 2008 that the act encompassed a wider range of hearing loss issues. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) clarified expanded the definition of “disability” writ large, and in doing so opened the door for people experiencing the diverse expressions of hearing loss that exist to better advocate for themselves in the courts.
Public Accommodations for People with Hearing Loss
When it comes to public accommodations, the ADA has very clear rules. The act requires that public entities such as public transportation, commercial facilities, and medical centers like hospitals and clinics be accessible for those with disabilities and that they provide reasonable accommodation to these people. For one, it is illegal for these entities to deny service to people experiencing hearing loss. Where the entity may not be aware that someone has hearing loss, they are to be able to respond to provide the appropriate accommodation upon request (or bring in a third party to help making said accommodation).For people experiencing hearing loss, this means, for example, that these entities should be able to provide sign language interpreters. It could also mean that public places should have smoke detectors and other alarm systems that use flashing lights rather than just sound. With great advances in technology, specifically Bluetooth technology, trains, buses, and their stations can now include announcements that a person can hear directly to their hearing aids.
Accessibility in the Workplace
The workplace is a key area wherein the ADA and the ADAAA have great impact for several reasons. Employers are not allowed to question whether you have hearing loss (or any disability) in your job interview. They can, however, inquire as to your abilities to perform essential functions of the job in question.
When it comes to people who are already hired, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to their employees with hearing loss—though undue hardships of difficulty or expense can affect the extent to which accommodations are made. Some of the reasonable accommodations that are meant to help those with hearing loss can include the availability of assistive computer software that help with communication within and beyond the workplace. This may include something like a telecommunications relay service that transcribes phone calls.
Employers may also be required to provide assistive listening devices to enable the employees to hear. If you are in a workplace where noise levels exceed 85 decibels in an 8-hour time frame, your employer is required to provide ear plugs. In other situations, the employer is to make adjustments to the area in which a person with hearing loss works, for example moving them to an area where it is less noisy or where there is less traffic.
Other Protections with the ADA
The ADA not only requires certain accommodations but also prohibits discrimination of and offensive conduct toward people with disabilities. Whether penalties for offensive jokes, name-calling, intimidation, ridicule, or mockery, the ADA protects people with hearing loss.
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. A charge of discrimination generally must be filed within 180 days of the alleged discrimination. You may have up to 300 days to file a charge if there is a State or local law that provides relief for discrimination on the basis of disability. However, to protect your rights, it is best to contact EEOC promptly if discrimination is suspected.
If you feel you are victim of violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, you should contact your nearest Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office. For information and instructions on reaching your local office, call: (800) 669-4000 (Voice) or (800) 669-6820 (TDD).
If you’ve experienced changes in your hearing and suspect you may have a hearing loss, contact us at Encore Hearing today. Hearing loss is a treatable condition and we can help you get back on track! Contact us today to learn more.