I was at a meeting recently where a frequent flyer mentioned that when he books his flights online, he’s able to make a note in the special services section that he has hearing loss.
It’s important to him because he has missed many flights as a result of not being able to fully understand the Public Address system in the airport. Apparently, every time he flies, he informs the airline that he has hearing loss and well over 90% of the time he has a wheelchair waiting for him when he lands. “Even though the wheelchair doesn’t help me hear better, I take it anyway; it can be a long walk to the baggage claim.”
Although, good-natured about it, this man has a pretty good point. Most people when they think of a disability or the ADA equate it with being in a wheelchair, even though far more people have hearing loss than any other disability.
Hearing loss is the number one disability in America. It is estimated that around 20% of Americans have some degree of hearing loss—to compare, those in wheelchairs are around 1.7%—yet, when the Americans with Disabilities Act is mentioned, most people associate it with those we see in a wheelchair because we can immediately understand and empathize with their struggle. When we meet people with hearing loss, however, we tend not to have the same amount of empathy, or we have none at all.
We are very quick to notice when a venue doesn’t proper wheelchair access, yet venues that are in violation of the ADA to offer assistive listening devices go unchecked on a regular and frequent basis. A man in need of an assistive listening device at the airport should be offered an assistive listening device, not a wheelchair. Can you imagine what would happen if the situation was reversed? What if a man in need of a wheelchair wasn’t accommodated with what he needed?