Going overseas is always exciting, and hearing loss shouldn’t keep you from exploring the unknown and learning new cultures. But if you are hearing impaired, you should know where you’re going, how to get there and what to do in the event of an emergency. If you’re traveling with a group or tour guide, someone should be able to point you in the right direction if you need assistance with your hearing aid or other hearing problem. But if you’re traveling on your own, it would be good to know your options for hearing clinics and audiologists ahead of time.
Prepare yourself by researching what options you have while traveling, whether that be from your travel company or from the various forms of public transportation you will use.
Hearing aids and cochlear implants could set off metal detectors at the airport. TSA knows this, however, and provides a few alternatives to passengers with hearing loss. The agency offers a downloadable medical condition notification card that passengers can show the security officer at the checkpoint. This card allows you to discreetly notify the security team of your hearing loss without causing a scene. The card is not required, but is a more official form of notification that they will recognize.
Airlines will offer assistance to those passengers who are hard of hearing. In some cases, you may be able to identify yourself as hearing impaired when booking your ticket, but always be sure to alert the gate representative to your condition so they may ensure you don’t miss pertinent information (or the plane). Some airlines, like Southwest, also offer a 24-hour Teletypewriter (TTY) number and a video-relay service. Southwest also has TTY phones in all the airports they serve.
If you’re traveling in a big city, chances are you’re at the mercy of public transportation. Subway stations can be a nightmare for anyone unfamiliar with the train system, let alone those with hearing loss. The noisy crowd, rushing trains, blaring horns and cotton-mouthed conductors can be frustrating and overwhelming. Luckily, most train stations are well-marked and provide signage inside each car that inform you which stop is coming up next. The Washington, D.C., metro, for instance, features blinking lights on the platforms to alert you when a train is approaching, and even offers discounted rates to those with profound hearing loss.
If you’re headed to a country where the people speak an unfamiliar language, communication is difficult enough without factoring in your hearing loss. There are a number of things you can do to facilitate communication, including:
- Downloading a translator app on your smartphone or keeping a translation dictionary in your bag
- Alerting the travel personnel ahead of time about your hearing loss, so they can help point you in the right direction when you disembark
- Seeking out translator and hearing loss services ahead of time online
- Hiring a translator
Luckily, English is widely spoken around the world. But that shouldn’t stop you from learning a few key phrases in the native tongue. A translator app for your smartphone is a particularly useful tool, especially since it’s impossible to learn an entire language for a one- or two-week trip.
As always, be your own advocate. Don’t be shy to tell people about your hearing loss, because most people don’t think to look for it. Alerting those around you to your hearing impairment will allow them to better assist you. When you’re in an unfamiliar place and rushing to make a train or a flight, that’s when you’ll need it most.