Americans with Disabilities Act: Rights for those with hearing loss
Historically, the world has had its share of champions for the deaf and hearing impaired. In 1500, Girolamo Cardano was the first physician to acknowledge deaf individuals had the ability to reason. In 1755, Samuel Heinicke established the first oral school for the deaf in Germany, and in 1777 a German pastor named Arnoldi advocated for education of the deaf to begin at age four. Alexander Graham Bell opened a speech school for teachers of the deaf in 1872. In 1976, the Federal Communications Commission addressed the issue of closed captioning, and in 1980 Sears, Roebuck and Company began selling decoders for closed captioning.
But perhaps the most significant legislative hero of the deaf and hearing impaired in modern times may be the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law in 1990. The legislation, along with other legal protections enacted before and after it, works to benefit all disabled individuals in the United States. The following FAQs summarize your rights as a person who's deaf or has hearing loss.
Employee rights under the ADA
Q: Can an employer ask if I have hearing loss in a job interview?
A: No. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), potential employers may not ask about your medical condition or require you to have medical examination before offering you a position.
However, they can ask specific questions about your ability to perform essential functions of the job, such as whether you have good communication skills, can perform in a fast-paced, noisy environment or can meet legally mandated safety standards.
Q: Is my employer required to provide any accommodations for my hearing loss?
A: Yes, as long as it isn’t too difficult or expensive to make the adjustment. Accommodations might include providing a sign language interpreter for conferences or other meetings. It may also include providing assistive listening devices like captioned telephone, computer software or strobe light emergency alerting systems.
If you require a workplace adjustment to accommodate your hearing loss, talk to your employer. Be prepared to provide more information about your condition and needs from either your physician or hearing healthcare provider.
Q: Is my employer required to provide hearing protection for me on the job?
A: Yes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related illness in the United States. Approximately 22 million employees are exposed to dangerous noise levels at work and an estimated $242 million is spent annually on workman’s compensation for hearing loss.
These are only a few reasons why the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) require employers provide an effective hearing conservation program for its employees if workplace noise levels exceed 85 decibels in an 8-hour time frame.
This program should contain monitoring, audiometric testing, hearing protection devices (HPD), employee training and recordkeeping. Hearing protection devices must be provided to all employees at no cost and replaced as necessary.
If you believe your rights have been violated, file a Title 1 complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the date of the incident. You may file a lawsuit in federal court after you have received a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC.
Parent rights under the ADA
Q: What types of services can my child with hearing loss expect from the public school system?
A: Your child is protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Thanks to this legislation, the public school your child attends must provide hearing assistive systems to accommodate hearing loss. This may include interpreters, special equipment or room accommodations. Talk to your school administrator about your child’s specific needs and engage your educational audiologist for further help.
Children who qualify as disabled under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 are also entitled to participate in all non-academic and extracurricular activities of the school. This may include physical recreation classes, recreational activities and special interest groups and clubs sponsored by the school.
If you believe your school has violated your child’s Section 504 rights, file a complaint with the school’s Section 504 coordinator or the U.S. Department of Education.
Consumer rights under the ADA
Q: Are hearing centers required to provide a trial period for hearing aids?
A: It depends, but you should always request one. Federal law does not mandate it, but some states require a 30-day trial period. Before you purchase, discuss this with your hearing healthcare professional. If one is provided, ask what fees, if any, are nonrefundable if you decide to return the hearing aids. If a warranty is included, ask what is covered and if it can be extended.
Q: Does the ADA require theaters and museums to provide services for the deaf and people with hearing loss?
A: It depends. Theaters with fixed seating for more than 50 people must provide hearing assistive services for patrons with hearing loss. Closed captioning and rear-window captioning are available for the deaf in select theater locations but are not required under the law.
Museums are required to provide assistive listening systems for the hearing impaired, but not sign language interpretation or closed captioning – although some do as a courtesy to their deaf patrons. Many times, these services can be provided free of charge or for a nominal fee with advance notice.
Examples of other public places which are required to provide assistive hearing systems for those with hearing loss include hospitals, concert/lecture halls, stadiums, court rooms, hotel conference rooms, convention centers and nursing homes.
Q: What can I do if I believe I have experienced discrimination?
A: File a Title III complaint by sending a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ). An attorney may prove helpful in this process. Your letter must include:
- Your full name, address and telephone number along with the name of the party discriminated against;
- The name of the business, organization or institution you believe has discriminated;
- A description of the discrimination, the dates it occurred and the names of the individuals involved with the discrimination;
- Any additional information or copies of documents that support your complaint.
For the most part, employers, business owners and educators are concerned about providing safe, accessible environments for the people they serve, so if you need assistance, just ask. If they are unwilling to provide services you believe you are entitled to, follow up by contacting the appropriate advocate.
If you suspect you or a loved one has hearing loss, you can get help right away by visiting our directory of hearing healthcare providers near you.