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Rights for Those with Hearing Loss

A 2011 study by Johns Hopkins finds that nearly 20 percent of Americans age 12 and older "have hearing loss so severe that it may make communication difficult." These communication difficulties pose challenges for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in their day-to-day interactions, making it challenging to access public services and participate in everyday experiences that hearing individuals are able to do without obstacle. As such, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets forth guidelines and regulations outlining the accommodations and rights afforded to the deaf and hard of hearing in order to provide equal access and opportunity to the deaf, hard of hearing, and other disabled individuals.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was first signed into law in 1990 and amended by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 ("Amendments Act" or "ADAAA"). The ADA is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. Disabled individuals include "those who have impairments that substantially limit a major life activity, have a record (or history) of a substantially limiting impairment, or are regarded as having a disability," which includes individuals with hearing impairment.

ADA Applications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
The ADA applies not only in employment settings, but in public venues and at public attractions, where businesses, medical practices, and other Covered Entities are required to provide reasonable accommodations for the deaf and hard of hearing to ensure effective communication. This may mean providing an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter or offering assistive technology that makes it possible for deaf and hard of hearing individuals to communicate effectively in these settings.

The accommodations appropriate in a given situation depends on the length and complexity of communication, as well as the significance of the communication. For example, interpreters are almost always advisable in medical settings, such as hospitals, as well as in interactions with law enforcement. Writing notes may be an appropriate accommodation in a public location such as a restaurant, as these interactions are generally brief and needs are easily communicated via written notes. In the medical and legal settings, however, miscommunication can arise that has substantial impacts on the care or services received and the outcomes of these communications.

The ADA also prohibits discrimination against deaf and hard of hearing individuals, both in the workplace and in public access areas, such as public transportation. A deaf individual, for instance, may not be denied transportation on the basis of his disability. Certain conditions, such as the individual posing a safety risk to other passengers, are exceptions. An individual with a disability, such as profound hearing loss, may not be denied employment on the basis of her disability. These situations have been the focus of many legal cases where deaf individuals have been denied equal rights or access because of their disability.

A Few Noteworthy Cases:

  • A 1999 Supreme Court case, Sutton et al. v. United Air Lines, Inc., Case No. 97-1943, clarified the definitions set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it ruled that two sisters with uncorrected vision of 20/200 or worse did not qualify as "disabled" under the definition of the law, as their visual impairments were fully correctable, thereby their disabilities did not substantially limit their life activities as required by the ADA’s definition.
  • An earlier case, Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Case No. 97-1992, in 1992, also clarified the definition of "disabled" under the ADA guidelines as a disability that substantially limits everyday activities. The Court determined that "an individual claiming a disability under the ADA should be assessed with regard to any mitigating or corrective measures employed."
  • In 2012, the District Court of Massachusetts became the first court in the country hold that the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") applies to website-only businesses in National Association Of The Deaf, Et Al. V. Netflix, Case No. 3:11-Cv-30168.
  • In EEOC v. Procel International Corp., d/b/a Procel; Procel Temporary Services, Inc., Case No. CV05-7146, in 2005, the plaintiff, who was born deaf and communicated via TTY computer software and an internet-based relay services for telephone conversations, was awarded a judgment after being told she could not apply for an instrument technician position, despite having eight years of experience, due to her disability.

Organizations like the National Association of the Deaf play a key role in forwarding legislation on behalf of the deaf and hard of hearing community, as well as advocating for deaf rights across the U.S. "The NAD was actively engaged in the passage of key civil rights laws, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990."

The NAD worked for the passage of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which requires advanced communications services and products to be accessible by people with disabilities (including things like electronic messaging services and both interconnected and non-interconnected voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) service). This Act was signed into law in 2010.

Tips for Advocating for Yourself and Asserting Your Rights
It’s important for deaf and hard of hearing individuals to understand their rights and know how to advocate for themselves in day-to-day situations. These tips will help you be prepared to assert your rights and obtain the accommodations you require to communicate successfully in any situation.

  • Know your rights. Understand what you’re entitled to in different situations, and familiarize yourself with advocacy organizations and legal services that can help in these circumstances.
  • Make businesses and organizations aware of your needs.Profound deafness is an invisible disability; others around you may not be aware of your disability unless you tell them.
  • Request specific accommodations.The more specific you are when asserting your needs, the better others will be able to provide what you need. Instead of asking for communication assistance, for instance, the NAD advises, "Explain that you need a qualified interpreter, specify the type of interpreter, and provide information on where to find interpreter services."
  • Educate those around you.Staff at a public venue may not be aware of the rights of deaf and hard of hearing people or their legal obligations. They may not intentionally be discriminating against you; rather, it’s possible that they simply don’t know what their legal obligations are.
  • Contact the right people. Some organizations have designated specific individuals or offices responsible for providing accommodations. Make sure you’re in contact with the right people who can provide what you need.
  • Be polite and willing to compromise. You can assert your rights and advocate for yourself while remaining tactful. Be consistent and confident. Additionally, being flexible is sometimes necessary. A business or service may not be able to provide the specific accommodation you have requested, but may be able to provide a suitable and reasonable alternative.

Legal and Advocacy Resources for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing by State
Following is a list of legal and advocacy resources, as well as other services providing assistive technology and other accommodations for the deaf and hard of hearing by state. States are listed in alphabetical order for easy reference. These organizations advocate for equal rights and accessibility for the deaf and hard of hearing, offer supportive services to facilitate independent living in the deaf and hard of hearing community, and provide access to public services through specialized resources and accommodations.

Click on your state to view the specific resources for that state.

 

Alabama

Alaska

Arizona

Arkansas

  • The Arkansas Association of the Deaf advocates for equal opportunities for the deaf and hard of hearing in Arkansas, including advocating for accessible services and opposing legal, economic, and social discrimination.
  • Arkansas Rehabilitation Services is a division of the Department of Career Education offering opportunities for Arkansas residents with disabilities to lead productive and independent lives.
  • The Arkansas Coalition for the Education of Children who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing is an advocacy group advocating for the right and necessity of Arkansas children who are deaf and hard of hearing to develop adequate communication and language skills.
  • Disability Rights Arkansas (DRA) is an independent, private, non-profit organization designated by the governor of Arkansas to implement a federally funded and authorized protection and advocacy system throughout the state for Arkansas residents with disabilities.
  • The Arkansas School for the Deaf provides accessible educational opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing children.

California

Colorado

Connecticut

Delaware

Florida

  • The Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation is a federal-state program helping disabled individuals in Florida secure gainful employment.
  • The Florida Association of the Deaf, affiliated with the National Association of the Deaf, promotes awareness of communication difficulties, promotes the use of communication devices, and safeguards the educational system for self-preservation, as well as other services and advocacy efforts for deaf residents in Florida.
  • The Florida Coordinating Council for the Deaf and Hard of hearing "provides a forum for public input and outreach resulting in technical assistance, advocacy, education, and improved communication access among public and private entities to meet the needs of Deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, and deaf-blind persons." The Council also lists deaf service centers in Florida for easy access to contact information.
  • The Florida Department of Education summarizes state laws and regulations affecting the deaf and hard of hearing in Florida, as well as lists other helpful resources, both local and national.
  • Florida Educators of Deaf/Hard of hearing Individuals is a non-profit organization with members including teachers, interpreters, speech/language pathologists, audiologists, and other professionals serving the deaf and hard of hearing community in Florida.
  • The Florida Deaf Service Centers Association also provides a helpful map identifying the deaf service centers throughout the state.

Georgia

  • The Georgia Association of the Deaf was established in 1910 and today is the largest self-help consumer organization for individuals with hearing loss in Georgia.
  • GACHI (Georgia Council for the Hearing Impaired) is a non-profit organization serving the deaf and hard of hearing in Georgia, offering community education and outreach, assistive listening devices, public video phones, and other services.
  • The state of Georgia offers a number of educational institutions and resources for the deaf and hard of hearing, including the Georgia School for the Deaf, the Atlanta Area School for the Deaf, the Auditory-Verbal Center, Atlanta Speech School, and others.
  • The State of Georgia ADA Coordinator’s Office provides a list of resources for the deaf and hard of hearing in Georgia.
  • Georgia Relay is "a free public service provided by the State of Georgia to make communicating by telephone easy, accessible and reliable for everyone, including people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind or have difficulty speaking."

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Indiana

Iowa

Kansas

Kentucky

Louisiana

  • The Louisiana Commission for the Deaf "provides accessibility services for persons whom are Deaf, deaf-blind, or have hearing loss or speech impairment to gain equal access to any public or private service."
  • The Louisiana Association of the Deaf was founded in 1908 by alumni of the Louisiana School for the Deaf. Today, the organization advocates for the educational, economic, and social well-being of deaf and hearing-impaired residents in Louisiana.
  • The Louisiana Department of Social Services offers support and resources to help individuals and families become self-sufficient.
  • Search laws for laws and regulations related to deaf rights in Louisiana at the Louisiana State Legislature website.
  • For educational opportunities for the deaf and hard of hearing, the Louisiana School for the Deaf is the state’s leading resource.

Maine

  • The Maine Center on Deafness "is a nonprofit agency that serves people in Maine who are D/deaf, late-deafened or hard-of-hearing by providing resources and advocating for social equality."
  • The Disability Rights Center is a Maine-based organization offering education, strategic advocacy, and legal intervention on behalf of Maine residents with disabilities.
  • The Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services is a part of the State of Maine Department of Labor. The Division for the Deaf, Hard of Hearing & Late Deafened, an agency operating under the umbrella of the Maine Bureau of Rehabilitation Services, provides numerous resources and benefits for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • PineTree Society offers interpreter services for the deaf and hearing impaired residents of Maine.
  • For educational opportunities, visit the Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Maryland

Massachusetts

Michigan

Minnesota

Mississippi

Missouri

  • The Missouri Department of Mental Health Office of Deaf Services is an agency-wide policy and program development office for the Department of Mental Health (DMH), providing consultation and assistance to DMH facilities, policy development, evidence-based practices, and program development, among other services.
  • The Missouri Commission for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing "works with individuals, service providers, businesses, organizations, and state agencies to improve the lives and opportunities of all Missourians with hearing loss."
  • For education opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing children in Missouri, visit the Missouri School for the Deaf.
  • DEAF, Inc. is dedicated to providing effective communication access to the deaf and hard of hearing in Missouri.
  • The Governor’s Council on Disability "promotes full participation and inclusion of the nearly 1 million Missourians with disabilities in all aspects of community life by educating citizens, businesses, schools, universities and others of their rights and responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act."

Montana

  • Disability Rights Montana is a resource database with links to a variety of organizations, agencies, and advocacy groups serving disabled residents in Montana, including those who are deaf or hearing-impaired.
  • The Montana School for the Deaf & Blind is the state’s leading educational institution serving Montana children and teens who are deaf, blind, or hard of hearing.
  • Montana Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services was set up by the Montana Association of the Deaf in 1999 as a centralized location to provide interpreting services, as well as to gather and share resources.
  • Montana Vocational Rehabilitation advocates for equal opportunities for deaf, hard of hearing, and other disabled citizens of Montana, providing education, training, and other services to aid disabled persons in securing gainful employment.

Nebraska

  • The Nebraska Commission for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing offers help finding qualified interpreters, promotes the use of assistive technology, coordinates the application process for programs offering funding for hearing aids and other equipment, and more.
  • Nebraska Vocational Rehabilitation helps disabled individuals in Nebraska train for, secure, and retain employment opportunities.
  • The Rehabilitation Act "is the Federal legislation that authorizes the formula grant programs of vocational rehabilitation, supported employment, independent living, and client assistance. It also authorizes a variety of training and service discretionary grants administered by the Rehabilitation Services Administration."
  • The Nebraska Association of the Deaf is Nebraska’s local advocacy chapter furthering the goals and vision of the National Association of the Deaf.

Nevada

New Hampshire

  • Crotched Mountain operated the only School for the Deaf in New Hampshire from 1955-1979, and continues to provide educational opportunities for the deaf and hard of hearing in New Hampshire today.
  • The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education Initiative Project (DHHEIP) "provides information to families, educators and the community to educate, support and improve educational outcomes for deaf and hard of hearing children."
  • HEAR in New Hampshire has certified and experienced Itinerant Teachers of the Deaf, who travel to schools throughout the state providing ongoing supportive and direct services to deaf and hard of hearing students.
  • New Hampshire Family Voices lists local organizations offering services such as service dogs, access to hearing aids, auditory consultants, and other advocacy groups and agencies serving the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • The New Hampshire Association of the Deaf serves deaf and hard of hearing citizens in New Hampshire through advocacy, community outreach, access to programming, and other resources.

New Jersey

New Mexico

  • The New Mexico Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing focuses on impacting and empowering communication access for deaf and hard of hearing citizens in New Mexico.
  • The New Mexico School for the Deaf ensures that deaf and hard of hearing students in New Mexico receive an equal, quality K-12 education.
  • The Community Outreach Program for the Deaf provides sign language interpreting and consulting for conferences, training, interviews, doctor's appointments, legal settings and more.
  • Deaf Culture Center of New Mexico (DCCNM) "is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in Albuquerque that provides arts/culture/social/recreational services and residential living units for Deaf, Hard of Hearing, and Deaf-Blind residents."
  • The New Mexico Association of Deaf is New Mexico’s chapter of the National Association of the Deaf, offering advocacy resources, information, and access to helpful services for the deaf and hard of hearing.

New York

North Carolina

  • North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing provides advocacy, counseling, skills development, and other services.
  • The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services offers help for deaf and hearing-impaired individuals seeking to secure and retain employment.
  • The North Carolina Association of the Deaf is "a non-profit organization founded in 1908 when Deaf citizens in North Carolina were concerned about the education of deaf children and the residential school. Since that time, NCAD has evolved into a broad organization overseeing important educational, civil, health and social issues of deaf, hard of hearing and deaf blind citizens in NC."
  • Get information on educational programs and opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing children in NC from the North Carolina School of the Deaf.
  • Disability Rights NC offers a comprehensive list of resources for the deaf and hard of hearing residents of North Carolina.

North Dakota

Ohio

  • The Ohio School for the Deaf Center for Outreach Services shares and promotes best practices among all educational partners serving deaf, deafblind and hard-of-hearing learners in Ohio.
  • The Ohio Association of the Deaf is the Ohio chapter of the National Association of the Deaf, offering advocacy and resources for deaf and hard of hearing residents in Ohio.
  • The Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities serves as an advisory council for the Governor and General Assembly on statewide disability issues.
  • The Ohio Department of Education provides access to a multitude of helpful resources for the deaf and hard of hearing in Ohio, with a particular focus on resources for parents and educators.
  • Assistive Technology of Ohio aims to make access to assistive technology easier for Ohioans with disabilities. The website includes a comprehensive list of links to agencies and organizations offering services for the disabled.

Oklahoma

  • The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services advocates for and promotes equal rights and accessibility for all Oklahomans, including those with hearing loss or other disabilities, and offers vocational and other rehabilitation to help disabled individuals gain independence.
  • The Oklahoma School for the Deaf is the state’s prominent educational institution for deaf and hard of hearing children.
  • The Oklahoma State Department of Education offers information on educational interpreter services.
  • The Oklahoma Association of the Deaf does not have an active website, but they do maintain a presence on Facebook where the organization updates followers on legislation, services, and opportunities for the deaf and hard of hearing residents of Oklahoma.
  • The University of Oklahoma runs the Oklahoma Deaf-Blind Technical Assistance Project (OKDBTAP), which provides technical assistance and training to children (birth to 21) who have both a hearing and vision impairment.

Oregon

  • Deaf Services of Southern Oregon serves the Southern part of the state, offering resources and information on interpreters, assistive technology, legislation, and other resources.
  • Oregon School for the Deaf is a K-12 educational institution making education accessible for deaf and hard of hearing children in Oregon.
  • Oregon’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services is an informational and referral source on deafness and hearing loss issues, provides training on deaf awareness and sensitivity, and a multitude of services and resources for the deaf and hard of hearing in Oregon.
  • Oklahoma ABLE Tech aims to improve access to and acquisition of assistive technology for individuals with disabilities of all ages. The organization also provides a list of helpful resources and links to organizations serving the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • The Oklahoma Department of Rehabilitation Services provides information and services to help disabled Oklahomans live independent lives.

Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

  • The Rhode Island Commission on the Deaf & Hard of Hearing provides "innovative leadership in public policy, advocacy, service delivery and accessibility throughout the Ocean State, RI CDHH ensures opportunities for every deaf and hard of hearing person to become an empowered and contributing citizen."
  • The Rhode Island Office of Rehabilitation Services provides services and resources for disabled persons in Rhode Island to enable them to achieve independent living.
  • The Rhode Island Association of the Deaf is the state’s local chapter of the National Association of the Deaf, which advocates for deaf rights and provides resources and services to the deaf and hard of hearing communities the organization serves.
  • The Rhode Island Commission on Human Rights offers outreach and education, intake, investigation and settlement of discrimination charges, and administrative hearings for disabled individuals in Rhode Island.
  • For information on educational programs and opportunities for K-12 students, visit the Rhode Island School for the Deaf.

South Carolina

South Dakota

Tennessee

Texas

Utah

Vermont

  • The Vermont Division of Vocational Rehabilitation partners with human service providers and employers across Vermont to help people with disabilities realize their full potential.
  • The Vermont Association of the Deaf is "a membership organization and a partnership among individuals who are deaf, members of the deaf community, including parents of deaf children, and professionals working in various deaf-related fields and endeavors, organizations of, for, and by the deaf, and businesses at large."
  • Vermont RID serves the deaf and hard of hearing community in Vermont through workshops, education, legislative information, and access to interpreter services in the state.
  • The Vermont Center for Independent Living offers a Deaf Independence Program that promotes equality and fosters independence among the deaf and hard of hearing community in Vermont. The website also includes a helpful resource directory with links to other deaf and hard of hearing resources.
  • Deaf Vermonters Advocacy Services advocates on behalf of the deaf residents of Vermont and provides education and promotes awareness about crimes and abuse.

Virginia

Washington

West Virginia

Wisconsin

Wyoming

  • The Wyoming Department of Education offers Outreach Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, including technical assistance, educational strategies, workshops, and other resources to improve the quality of education for deaf and hard of hearing students in Wyoming.
  • The former Wyoming School for the Deaf, closed in 2005, is used today for housing programs for the deaf and visually impaired, according to HistoricWyoming.org.
  • The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services provides vocational rehabilitation services for disabled individuals in Wyoming, aiding people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and those with other disabilities train for, secure, and retain employment opportunities.
  • Wyoming Relay/Deaf Services is a facet of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, offering "numerous services to individuals who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind, or speech impaired, and to individuals, businesses, or agencies that work with or assist these individuals."
  • Wyoming Families for Hands & Voices provides support for families with children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing without a bias around communication modes or methodology.

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