How the ADA Can Help Do More for Hearing Loss

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A
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The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 30 years old in 2020! This life-changing piece of legislation makes it possible for people with a variety of physical and mental ability to move through the world more easily and to perform the activities of daily life with the support they need. Those with mobility challenges now have accessible entry into public buildings, and those with vision impairment have braille and other guidance on signage. 

Although the implementation of telecoil technology and other services for hearing impaired people have made it possible to communicate in new and improved ways, more can be done to fill the gap between speech and the wide range of hearing ability. Particularly as communications technology advances, new needs are surfacing for those among us with hearing loss or impairment. 

Let’s consider three technologies that have introduced unanticipated needs for people with these hearing needs. 

Video Conference Captioning

More people than ever are using video conference platforms. With remote learning and working becoming commonplace, these technologies are not only useful ways to connect with our loved ones but they can also be crucial aspects of livelihood. However, videoconferencing can be very challenging for a person with hearing loss or impairment. 

In addition to the quickly shifting faces of speakers, making it difficult to read lips, the quality of audio, multiple speakers at once, and background noise can make listening particularly difficult. One of the best features for video conferencing is direct captioning. 

Although these services aren’t perfect, they can do a lot to fill in the gaps in sound. Making these captioning services mandatory and freely accessible across platforms is a direct form of assistance an updated ADA could provide for people with hearing loss or impairment.

Digital Communications Standards

Videoconferencing is not alone among the online communications that would benefit from mandatory and freely accessible captioning. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter do not have widespread captioning available for videos or streaming functions. 

Twitter recently introduced an option to provide 140 seconds of audio rather than a 140-character Tweet, yet this function would be inaccessible to those with hearing impairment or loss if the standards of captioning are not put in place. 

Other digital communications platforms that focus on video, including TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram can improve accessibility by providing captioning for video content whenever possible. 

Clear Masks for Medical Professionals

Recent studies have discovered that health care disparities for those with hearing loss are worse than expected. One of the reasons cited for this disparity in health outcomes is that diagnosis is not properly taking place. If a person is unable to hear the questions asked by a doctor or nurse, then the diagnostic process might be off base entirely. 

When a medical professional suspects a hearing impairment on the part of a patient, it is their duty to seek interpretation or communication assistance. Similarly, if a patient asks for communication assistance, medical professionals are mandated to provide it. Beyond these currently mandated practices, the ADA can be expanded to include the use of clear masks in medical settings. These masks make it possible for a person with hearing loss to read the lips of a medical professional. Particularly with the added challenge of muffled sound by protective facemasks, lip reading can be a vast improvement in the communication process. 

If you or your loved one have hearing loss or impairment, perhaps you can take some steps to advocate for ADA expansion in these ways. Although the existing provisions have ensured crucial assistance in many areas of life, more can be done to bridge the gap between the hearing world and the lives of those with hearing loss, impairment, or total deafness. 

Working through an advocacy organization is the best way to organize your efforts for an expanded ADA, but you can also take the simple steps of contacting your representatives. Although it might feel like a small step, your voice can be heard in a letter, email, phone call, or Tweet. When you take these steps to advocate for assistance on your own behalf or a loved one, you can help make the world a more safe, connected, and communicative place for those with hearing loss.