Communications Access

Communications access for people with hearing loss

People with hearing loss are denied access to a variety of situations because they are denied communications access. This happens all too frequently in entertainment, education, and transportation situations.

A common complaint of hard of hearing, late deafened, and oral deaf people is that they are denied access to situations that the normally hearing population takes for granted. These situations are so numerous that people with normal hearing can’t imagine how prevalent they are. Here’s a great summary of the issues as reported by SHHH.

Captioning has the potential to provide access to people with hearing loss in a variety of situations. People normally think of television when they hear the word, but it also applies to movies, meetings, and even the internet. Here’s some information on what’s going on in captioning.

One of the most challenging access situations for people with hearing loss is the field of education. Long mandated by a variety of laws, equal education access for people with hearing loss is not yet a reality. a wonderful website that provides oral transcriptions of newspaper articles for folks are deaf-blind. The narrators speak slowly and clearly to maximize comprehension by those with hearing loss.

Does it seem that you’ve been reading more newspaper articles about the tendency of law enforcement agencies to ignore citizens’ civil rights? Imagine how much worse that situation might be for people who have communications difficulties. What are the issues with law enforcement and people with hearing loss?

Can you imagine going in to talk to your doctor, and not being able to understand what he was saying? That’s the situation with many people who have hearing loss. The lack of medical access can be extremely stressful to people with hearing loss.

With the current technology explosion, it is critically important for people with hearing loss to maintain access to existing and future telecommunications equipment and services.

One ongoing source of frustration for people with hearing loss is getting information while traveling. Read about people’s access complaints involving transportation.

How about vacations? What kinds of vacations can a person with hearing loss take and expect to have access to the communication aspects of the vacation. This vacation guide can help you figure out where to go.

Another issue that often comes up when people with hearing loss talk about their issues is the high cost of equipment and the lack of assistance in paying for it.

One of the most important technologies for providing access in public places are assistive listening devices (ALDs), including FM systems, Infrared systems, and induction loops.

January 2003 – Think the rights of people with disabilities are gradually being eroded? Worried that the ADA no longer offers the protections that were intended? Then you’ve got to read Diane Edge’s “Then They Came”.

March 2003 – Looking for an accessibility manual that pretty much covers it all? The FCC has just released theirs. It was developed for internal use, but applies to any organization that wants to provide accessibility. Here’s more information on the FCC Accessibility Guide.

April 2003 – There are some things that seem a bit incongruous when you first hear them, but may turn out to make a lot of sense. That’s how the concept of “Radio for Hard of Hearing People” struck me!

April 2003 – Is the war on terrorism accessible? Suppose there is a disaster that requires large groups of citizens to seek medical care. Will the emergency facilities be accessible? Randy Collins’ “So You Thought Terrorism Would be Accessible” provides an interesting perspective on this issue.

October 2003 – Following up on the previous article on accessibility, here’s an article from a recent workshop on Emergency Preparedness for People with Disabilities.

October 2004 – OK, you know about some of the access issues in the US. How about other countries? How are they doing in providing access to people with hearing loss? How about Britain for example? Here’s a great article on the DDA, which is the British equivalent of our ADA.

January 2005 – When we think about communications access at movies we often think in terms of captioning. And we have lots of information on that topic here. But don’t forget that most movie theaters also provide ALDs to assist people with hearing loss. Here’s Steve Barber with lots of great information on how everyone can better use this neglected resource.

March 2005 – One of our continuing articles on the awakening OHL community is a discussion of Grace Tiessen’s presentation at the 2005 SHHH California conference. The title is “Grassroots Advocacy for Hard of Hearing People”.

March 2005  – OK, you’re convinced! Hard of hearing people are getting a raw deal when it comes to getting services to meet their needs. And you’re ready to take action. So what’s your next move? You may want to join the OHL Advocacy group!

May 2006 – The hearing loss community in the US is expressing growing concern that ongoing technological advances are reducing, rather than increasing, access for people with hearing loss. One glaring example is the explosion of non-captioned video on the Internet. Folks in the UK are expressing similar concerns, and they’ve undertaken a comprehensive program to do something about it! Here’s the report from the RNID.

July 2006 – HLAA Presents Communications Issues to Access Board

August 2006 – Here’s a great discussion of several communications access issues: Access Board Information Meeting on Communication Access

August 2006 – And here’s a summary of the HLAA Presentation to the Access Board Information Meeting on Communications Access.

August 2006 – NAD Presentation at Access Board Meeting on Communication Access

September 2006 – Restaurant service poor for deaf

September 2006 – IBM develops mobile system for the hard of hearing

October 2006 – Device helps deaf musicians stay on beat.

October 2006 – Teaching a Cochlear Implantee to Play the Viola!

January 2007 – An MP3 player for the deaf

March 2007 – Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Telecommunications

April 2007 – Concert Listening Technology for Deaf and Hard of Hearing

June 2007 – Some Religious Organizations Consider Assistive Technology

September 2007 – TDI Converence keynote Presentation by Deborah Kaplan, the Director of Accessible Technology at the California State University (CSU) system

October 2007 – Judge Rules Web Site Must Comply With Disability Laws

February 2008 – Requirements for Assistive Listening Systems in Conference Facilities

March 2008 – CHHA Releases Universal Design Document

April 2008 – Utah Resident Files ADA Complaint Against BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium

May 2008 – Wash-CAP Advocates for Rights of HOH in Washington State

June 2008 – New and Emerging Technologies 911 Improvement Act

January 2009 – Restaurant Hearing Tips (Not the kind you leave for the waiter)

March 2009 – TDI and COAT Needs Your Support on the 21st Century Communications and Video Access Act

April 2009 – Disney World Handheld Device Increases Accessibility

June 2009 – WANTED: You to Sign the COAT Petition for Access

July 2009 – COAT Applauds Representative Markey’s  Accessibility Bill

Sept 2009 – Bill Mandates Better Internet Accessibility

Sept 2009 – Microsoft’s Efforts in Accessibility

Sept 2009 – Las Vegas Casino Provides Accommodations for Woman with Hearing Loss

October 2009 – Technology and Accommodations to Get You “Out There”

December 2009 – Wash-CAP Is Getting a Southern Companion

December 2009 – Assistive Listening and Captioning at Disney

December 2009 – TDI VLOG Reviews Access Milestones

February 2010 – Funeral Access for People with Hearing Loss

February 2010 – A Survey of Awareness of ALDs and Hearing Difficulty in Places of Worship

March 2010 – Class Action Lawsuit: eBay Violated Americans with Disabilities Act

March 2010 – Justice Department and H&R Block Franchisee Reach ADA

March 2010 – Working with the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee

June 2010 – The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

June 2010 – Electronics Industry Bad Attitude Affirms Need for Accessibility Legislation

June 2010 – Organizing for Effective Advocacy

July 2010 – The National Broadband Plan and You

July 2010 – Hearing Better at the Movies

August 2010 – Senate Passes Important Accessibility Act

September 2010 – 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Legislation Passes

October 2010 – What S. 3304 Will Do For Us – Section-by-Section Summary

October 2010 – Disabilities Act Imposes New Obligations on Broadcasters

October 2010 – President Signs New Accessibility Law

November 2010 – A Dark Night, a Hearing Dog, and a Day in Court

January 2011 – Hotel ADA Defense Lawyer: How a recent ADA case affects all hotels but particularly conference centers and meeting hotels

March 2011 – FCC Implementing “Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010”

April 2011 – Handbell Choir Adventures of Musician with Hearing Loss

April 2011 – National Park Service Adds Assistive Technology System

September 2011 – Industry Attempts to Dilute 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

Hearing Loss Advocacy Group Debuts!

March 2005

As regular readers are aware I believe that the oral hearing loss (OHL) community is producing an increasing number of people who are fed up with lack of services to the 95% of people with hearing loss who prefer spoken English as their primary means of communication.

A group of us have formed an email list to discuss these issues and encourage appropriate advocacy. We’re still in the early stages, but it looks like our first project may be to develop a certification process for organizations that claim to serve hard of hearing people, and to get the certification recognized by people in the industry and the funders.

We all know organizations that claim to serve the “Deaf and hard of hearing” that are really of, by, and for Deaf folks. These claims disempower members of the OHL community, because they give the impression that services are available for hard of hearing folks, when they really aren’t. The result is that attempts to obtain services are met with the response, “But those services are already available!”

We also have a couple of other ideas in the works, but not far enough along to discuss.

If you’d like to be involved in this exciting and groundbreaking activity, send an email to: or visit

HLAA Presents Communications Issues to Access Board

July 2006

Brenda Battat, Associate Executive Director of the Hearing Loss Association of America, recently presented several hearing loss issues at the Access Board Information Meeting on Communications Issues. The issues were:

  1. Need for Continuing Education on Existing Guidelines
  2. Information Presented Over Public Address Systems
  3. Emergency Information Given over Public Address Systems
  4. Acoustics
  5. Setting Sound Input for Assistive Listening Systems in Different Venues
  6. Access to Movies
  7. Safety: Fire and Carbon Monoxide alarms
  8. Volume Control for Telephones
  9. Drive Through and Point of Sales Machines and Counters

For Brenda’s complete comments, please point your browser to:

Survey: Service poor for deaf

Accommodations for deaf, hearing-impaired lag in 17 local eateries, study says.

September 2006

In July, Sieminski was among 20 deaf or hearing-impaired people, working with the Fort Wayne Deaf Advocacy Coalition, to survey 20 Fort Wayne fast-food restaurants with drive-through service. The restaurants were chosen because consumer complaints about them were filed with state or local advocacy groups regarding access issues for the deaf. The names of the restaurants had not been released to The News-Sentinel as of this morning. Complaints included no pen and paper available to write down an order, employees refusing to take an order at the pick-up window and no signs explaining how to accommodate deaf people.  Full Story

Some Religious Organizations Consider Assistive Technology

June 2007

Hearing loss can be debilitating. An otherwise healthy individual with a hearing impairment may feel incapable of participating in social events, going to the local super market, or attending church. Fortunately, advances in hearing recovery devices allow even small churches to serve everyone who enters to worship. An assistive listening system (ALS) is part of the solution for those with minor to moderate hearing damage. An ALS serves as a supplementary device to improve retention of audio information. In public gathering spaces, individuals are given radio receivers tuned to a specific frequency or aimed at an emitter panel. The ALS ties directly into the house sound system to deliver a clear signal to the user’s personal receiver.  Full Story

Judge Rules Web Site Must Comply With Disability Laws

October 2007

A federal court issued a milestone ruling Tuesday against national retailer Target in an anti-discrimination lawsuit that originated in Berkeley last year. Target’s Web site must comply with both state and federal laws that mandate equal access for people with disabilities, ruled Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The laws already apply to the company’s physical locations. Patel also confirmed the lawsuit’s class action status, meaning the prosecuting attorneys potentially represent thousands of blind Americans who have had difficulties using the Target Web site. Target plans to appeal the certification of class action status. The lawsuit was filed by the National Federation of the Blind in Feb. 2006. The leading plaintiff is Bruce Sexton, who was then a UC Berkeley junior. Sexton, who is blind, claimed the Web site lacked the code necessary for screen-reading voice technology. Full Story

Utah Resident Files ADA Complaint Against BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium

April 2008

A Utah resident filed a complaint with the federal government against LaVell Edwards Stadium for not having a permanently installed active listening system to accommodate her hearing-impaired daughter at the Stadium of Fire event. The complaint, filed with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) division of the U.S. Department of Justice last week, is awaiting review. Lareen Strong called the stadium ticket office on April 3 to determine whether or not there was a specific seating section designated for hearing-impaired individuals, in which she should purchase tickets for the Stadium of Fire. “We’ve never had to go to a stadium setting before,” Strong said. “I called a day ahead of time, but usually I don’t need to.” In her formal letter of complaint, Strong said she spoke with five individuals over the course of two days, and no one was able to answer her questions.   Full Story

Restaurant Hearing Tips (Not the kind you leave for the waiter)

January 2009

With the economic gyrations we’ve seen of late, the days of the business lunch are quickly going the way of the rotary dial telephone. Even so, negotiations are undertaken, statements of work created and contracts signed on the linen table cloths of local high-end watering holes everyday. Now, what could be better than lunch on the company? Well, how about hearing your new client or provider over the clack and clatter of a noisy restaurant? That would be nice, especially before you sign on the dotted line. But what if you only got 48% of the conversation? Is that enough upon which to make an important business decision? Are you kidding? Every ‘t’ must be crossed and all ‘i’s require a dot. So, if you’re missing half of what is being said, discussed, negotiated and agreed to, here are some survival tips to keep you in the game while on the town.  Full Story

Disney World Handheld Device Increases Accessibility

April 2009

Guests with vision and hearing impairments will get greater enjoyment from their Disney World vacations, thanks to a special multi-function handheld device. The unit, provided free to disabled theme park guests, offers a variety of services to offset visual and auditory challenges. Guests with hearing problems can use the assistive listening function, which amplifies the audio. This means they won’t have to struggle to hear the soundtrack because the sound will be right at their fingertips. They can also choose to use the captioning function and to trigger closed captions at attractions with TV displays. Those with visual issues can listen to special narrations that are integrated with the show or attraction’s existing audio to help immerse them in the experience. Full Story

Bill Mandates Better Internet Accessibility

Sept 2009

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 would make the Internet and smart phones more accessible to the disabled by offering new technologies like real-time texting. This month, as Congress returns from break, health care reform is not the only imperative issue on their plate. A new bill will aim to make content on the Internet more friendly to those with disabilities. The “21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009” (H.R. 3101) plans to modernize disability standards by making such accessibility features as closed captioning, video description and real-time texting a standard for Internet technologies.   Full Story

Technology and Accommodations to Get You “Out There”

October 2009

It’s Saturday night! What do you have planned? For the hearing, it would seem that entertainment possibilities are limitless, with new choices popping up every day. But for the deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH), finding viable options for a night on the town can be more challenging. Fortunately, accommodations for D/HH are out there – and technology is increasing by leaps and bounds. Sometimes you just need to know where to look. Let’s see what’s available right now for D/HH, technologically speaking, and take a peek at what’s on the horizon. Better shine your shoes and slick back your hair – we’re goin’ out tonight!   Full Story

TDI VLOG Reviews Access Milestones

December 2009

TDI proudly announces the release of its second new online video It’s Our World!  Sponsored by Hamilton Relay, this ten-minute video blog (vlog) is another service by TDI to inform the public about shaping an accessible world. Many of our constituents will be able to learn timely topics on TDI’s vlogs through sign language, captions and voice-over.  This vlog takes the viewer on a review of some significant milestones in our ongoing journey of shaping an accessible world.  From the 10-digit telephone numbers for video and IP relay users, to the digital television transition, to the rapid growth of captioned online videos, the staff at TDI marks the different advancements in access. To watch the vlog and learn more about the work that TDI has done, go to

Funeral Access for People with Hearing Loss

February 2010

One of our Hearing Loss Group members passed away this past week.  Since there were quite a few of her friends that were D/HOH, I was interested to find out what, if any accommodations would be provided by the Funeral Home for the service.  Add in the snowstorm and things got a little crazy. Luckily, the minister printed out copies of the service for those with hearing loss to follow along with.  I was wondering why CART was not provided.  Due to the weather, the attendance at the funeral was small.  But, in researching this topic as well as talking with the Wisconsin Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, I was able to find out some more information. Did you know that the Americans with Disability Act Title III has specific guidelines as to what should be provided for those needing special accomodations?  Here’s the actual information taken from the Department of Justice Website.  Full Story

Hearing Better at the Movies

July 2010

With a popcorn flick like “The A-Team,” dialogue isn’t crucial to enjoying the action. Trucks … go … boom. That said, moviegoers with hearing disabilities have options that can enable them to follow along with the plot (even if the plot involves little more than trucks … going … boom). Most large chain theaters offer sound-amplifying headsets, infrared-linked listening devices or FM broadcasts to which hearing aids can be tuned. Then there is rear-window captioning – a service in which a small, reflective screen is placed in your cup holder and positioned in your line of sight so subtitles of dialogue appear as they would in a captioned film.  Full Story

Disabilities Act Imposes New Obligations on Broadcasters

October 2010

On October 8, 2010, the President signed into law (“enactment”) the “Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010” (“Act”). This legislation requires a number of communications industry sectors-including television broadcasting-as well as consumer electronics to make their systems and services accessible to persons with disabilities.

Among other things, the Act requires broadcasters, video programmers, video distributors, consumer electronics manufacturers and others to ensure that persons with disabilities can access communications, entertainment and media services. The legislation imposes new responsibilities on TV broadcasters with respect to video descriptions and closed captioning of Internet video content as well as initiates an FCC process that will likely result in additional obligations regarding the accessibility of emergency information delivered to viewers.   Full Story

President Signs New Accessibility Law

October 2010

On Oct. 8, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (Act), coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.Among other things, the Act (1) extends closed captioning requirements to video programming distributed on the Internet; (2) reinstates the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) video description regulations; and (3) requires customer digital equipment, including navigation devices (in particular, cable set-top boxes), to accommodate accessibility features for closed captioning, video description, emergency information, user interfaces, and video guides and menus.The Act phases in these various requirements after an Advisory Committee submits its recommendations to the FCC, and the FCC adopts regulations to implement the recommendations and the requirements of the Act.

Hotel ADA Defense Lawyer: How a recent ADA case affects all hotels but particularly conference centers and meeting hotels

What do movie theaters and hotels have in common? For one thing, both movie theaters and hotels are considered “public accommodations” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and both are required to provide disabled patrons equal access to facilities, including accessibility to movies, slideshows, and other audio and video presentations. In some instances, new technology can make it easier to achieve equal access… but it still can be a challenge.

A recent class action filed against Cinemark USA Inc. for discrimination against hearing impaired individuals due to lack of closed-captioning in theaters could have broad implications for hotels, particularly conference centers and hotels which cater to meetings and group business, in addition to hotels which cater to state organizations and governmental groups.

I was talking about this case the other day with my partner, ADA defense lawyer Marty Orlick. Marty is an expert in ADA defense and counseling, having defended owners and operators of properties in more than 400 cases. After a little collaboration, Marty put together a summary of the Cinemark case and its implications for the hotel industry. There is more to it than meets the eye.

What responsibilities do hotels have to deaf and hard of hearing guests? And what are the exceptions? How do hotels best protect themselves? How do hotels maximize business opportunities by providing auxiliary aides and services?  Full Story

Industry Attempts to Dilute 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act

September 2011

Lawmakers who spearheaded efforts to get makers of smartphones, tablet computers and communications services to better meet the needs of the disabled are pressing the Federal Communications Commission to resist industry pressure to short-circuit landmark law. As the FCC nears an Oct. 11 deadline for a vote on ways to implement the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, commissioners are being urged by some key House and Senate Democrats to stand their ground. The lawmakers are concerned that segments of the tech industry want to win blanket waivers for some services, shield some products from the law’s reach and delay implementation of the law. “This sweeping new law is designed to ensure that Americans with disabilities can access the technology tools that are indispensable for full participation in the 21st century,” Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) said in a statement to POLITICO. “My colleagues in the House and Senate have joined me in urging the commission to ensure that the implementing regulations are broad and do not delay or dilute the act’s provisions.”  

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