HLAA Presentation at Access Board Meeting on Communication Access

HLAA Presentation at Access Board Meeting on Communication Access

Editor: Despite all the laws and good intentions people with hearing loss still do not have anything like equivalent access to information. Here’s a report on the recent presentation to the Access Board by Brenda Battat of HLAA.
This report is presented courtesy of NVRC. You are welcome to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC. (See full credit at the end of this article.)

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On July 25, 2006, the U.S. Access Board held a public meeting on Communication Access in Washington, DC. Brenda Battat, Associate Executive Director of the Hearing Loss Association of America, addressed nine areas in her testimony. Here is a quick summary:

1. Public Education About Americans with Disabilities Act Existing rules are not being implemented, and some entities still aren’t aware of their obligations to provide accessibility. These include hospitals, courtrooms, new construction and hotels. Many consumers also don’t know what their rights are.

2. Information Presented Over Public Address Systems Public address systems are in noisy, reverberant places, their equipment is of poor quality, and the voice or recorded message isn’t articulated clearly or at a frequency that people with hearing loss can easily understand. More research is needed to address those issues, and to provide visual information for people whose hearing loss is too severe to benefit from a public address system.

3. Emergency Information Over Public Address Systems Text alternatives should be delivered whenever audible emergency instructions are broadcast over a public address system. Emergency messages should be sent to various devices, and reverse 911 systems should be utilized. Transportation systems should have live visual emergency alerts. National rules and standards should address requirements for this.

4. Acoustics Acoustical standards are needed for all new construction; many brand new facilities are being built to impress with high ceilings and hard surfaces that do not permit people with hearing loss to understand what is being said. At the very least, minimum standards should be be incorporated for educational facilities.

5. Sound Input for Assistive Listening Systems Many venues are providing listening systems that do not have proper microphone installations and are not tested for sound quality. The Access Board should fund research to test how sound is captured in different venues. The results from this research might help illustrate the problem and lead to development of a training program that will eliminate it.

6. Access to Movies Many people with hearing loss cannot benefit from assistive listening devices in performing arts venues and movie theaters. Captioning is still needed, and progress has been extremely slow.

7. Fire and Carbon Monoxide Alarms The Access Board’s recommended guideline for fire alarms to be hard-wired is good, but the recommended method of using strobe alerts and high frequency sounds gives a false sense of security. A 1000 Hz intermittent tone should be used because the majority of people with hearing loss have better hearing in the low frequencies. This concern was brought to the attention of the Access Board by HLAA as far back as November 1995.

Current regulations requiring placement of visual fire alarms in bedrooms are not adequate. Research shows that vibrating bed shakers would be more effective that strobe lights for the majority of people who are hard of hearing. The Access Board should take strong leadership to fund a review of research and development of clear minimum accessibility standards.

8. Volume Control for Telephones HLAA has repeatedly asked that the rules on volume control for telephones be changed, because consumers with hearing loss find the volume control levels on all phones to be too weak. The current rule requires a minimum of 12 dBA and maximum of 18 dBA. The industry has claimed that a volume boost of more than 25 dBA will distort and degrade the signal for all users, but evidence is on record to dispute this.

9. Drive-Through and Point of Sales Machines and Counters Point of sales machines and drive through machines are not communication accessible. The speaker phones are usually of poor quality and a server may have an accent that affects the ability to understand their voice. Devices that take orders from a car are not hearing aid compatible. A text option to punch in an order, such as that used by McDonalds, is needed. Also some counters are shielded with plexiglas, which makes communication more difficult.

——————————————————————————- (c)2006 by Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons (NVRC), 3951 Pender Drive, Suite 130, Fairfax, VA 22030; www.nvrc.org Items in this newsletter are provided for information purposes only; NVRC does not endorse products or services. You do not need permission to share this information, but please be sure to credit NVRC