communications access in transportation for people
with hearing loss
Travel is difficult for people with hearing loss, because
they are often denied communications access on commercial transportation.
Ever been frustrated while traveling, because you
couldn't understand what was being said? Then you will relate to some of
the stories and information on this page. Communications problems
can make traveling a real nightmare for people with hearing loss.
April 2012 -
Airport Terminal has Visual Displays AND Loops!
December 2011 - Closed Captioning for Live Television
on Continental Airlines
March 2011 - Minneapolis-St. Paul International
Airport Introduces Visual Paging Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
February 2011 -
Indian Trails Busses
install hearing loop technology
February 2011 -
Assistive Listening System Designed for Airplanes
January 2011 -
Access to the Airlines - Are We There Yet?
December 2010 - TSA Guidelines for Airport Screening
the Hearing Impaired
November 2010 - A Dark Night, a Hearing Dog, and a
Day in Court
November 2010 - Ferry System to Install
June 2010 - New DOT Rule Extends Disability
Protections to Passenger Ships and Boats
March 2010 - Airport Making Good on Accessibility
March 2010 - Guide to the Air Carrier Access
February 2010 - Legal Issues with Getting
Captioning in Airplanes and Airports
November 2009 - DHHCAN Releases New Consumer
Action Guide on Air Travel
June 2009 - Changes to Air Travel Regulations
November 2008 -
Public Venue Access Coming to
October 2008 - Important Information for Air
October 2008 -
Access Board Advisory Committee
Presents Report on Vessel Alarm Systems
June 2008 - Airborne Captions on a Handheld
May 2008 - DOT To Require Accessible
Communication for Air Travelers with Hearing Loss
May 2008 - Jacksonville Airport Provides
November 2007 - Captions Coming to
July 2007 -
How to Get Communications Access During Air Travel
June 2007 - Facts
About Traveling with Service Animals
September 2006 - IBM develops mobile system for the
hard of hearing
September 2006 - OnStar by GM enhances TTY capability
July 2006 -
DOT hears criticism of rights plan for deaf flyers
April 2006 - WGBH Working to Make Air
Travel More Accessible
March 2006 - Here are Cheryl
Heppner's synopsis of the DOT's proposed rules and instructions on how
to file your comments!
December 2005 - SFO to Install Message Screens
for the Deaf - "Passengers
with hearing disabilities will be able to read public-address
announcements on dozens of large video screens at San Francisco
International Airport in the coming months under terms of a
lawsuit settlement announced Wednesday." Full
September 2005 - The Department of
Transportation is considering a change in rules regarding assistance
dogs on airplanes. The proposal would require, in the case of a full
plane, a disabled person to buy a seat for her hearing dog, wait for a
later flight, or have the dog travel in the cargo hold!
July 2005 - US Disability Law Applies to
Foreign Cruise Ships.
July 2005 - How has the terrorism threat affected air
travel for folks with hearing loss? Joan
Cassidy's report on an SHHH Convention workshop provides lots of
information and several perspectives on this important topic.
December 2004 - Are we FINALLY going
to have airport announcements captioned?
March 2004 - Think the US is leading the way in access
for folks with hearing loss? Maybe not!
July 2003 - There's actually more to the previous story
than we knew at the time. The situation with the Department of
Transportation looks like a great opportunity to really
improve communications access while flying.
June 2003 - With the summer vacation season at hand,
many of us will be flying somewhere in the next few months. The U.S.
Department of Transportation has set up a hotline for travelers with
disabilities. Here's the scoop!
November 2002 - DOT Issues Guidance on
Access at Airport Security Checkpoints
August 2002 - Aviation Consumer Disability Hotline Opens
April 2002 - Suit Claims Lack of Access at SF Airport
July 2001 - JAL Introduces Magnetic Slate to Assist in Onboard Communications
June 2001 - One of our readers thought about a way to
improve communications in airports and came up with the idea of Text
Pagers in Airports. Naturally, some of our other readers also had
thoughts on this topic. If you've ever been frustrated at not knowing
what's going on in an airport, you should read these articles.
Read what people with hearing loss had to say about air
travel in the air travel survey
conducted by Northern Virginia Resources Center.
In addition to significant visual enhancements,
AZO's new terminal also features auditory improvements. Designers included
two new systems to help ensure that visitors with hearing loss don't miss
boarding announcements and other crucial information. The new terminal's
Ascom paging system is integrated with WinFIDS, an electronic display
system from Infax that drives flight information, ticket counter, gate and
baggage claim displays. Announcements heard through the paging system are
visually displayed on the monitors using an XML-based interface provided
by Infax. Visitors who prefer to listen for announcements but have
difficulty hearing them can use the airport's new hearing loop system. The
system magnetically transmits sound to hearing aids and cochlear implants
with telecoils. To use one of AZO's "hearing loops," travelers switch
their personal devices to the T (telecoil) position for clearer, amplified
versions of public address announcements. Signs with the universal symbol
for hearing loops identify their locations throughout the terminal,
including individual devices at ticket counters and in-floor systems in
the meet-and-greet hall and boarding areas.
The high noise environment in airplanes is adverse
to spoken communication regardless of one's hearing ability. Presently an
estimated 10% of the population in the U.S.A. have a significant hearing
loss and can benefit from the use of hearing aids and assistive listening
systems (ALS) in difficult listening environments. With airline traffic
exceeding 40 million passengers per year, addressing the needs of the
growing market of hearing impaired travelers is significant to the airline
industry and hearing health care professionals. Many hard of hearing
travelers have affirmed that on board listening conditions often result in
miscommunications, social isolation and potentially dangerous
circumstances. Comments received in a recent survey also highlight the
fact that hard of hearing travelers are not able to enjoy the same
in-flight movies, entertainment channels and pilot announcements that are
readily available to their fellow passengers.
Department of Transportations' (DOT) forum on the
Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), "Working Together to Improve Air Travel for
Passengers with Disabilities" January 11, 2011. We joined members of the
disability community, the domestic and foreign airline representatives,
and staff from DOT, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the
Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the US Department of
Justice. In short, the room was filled with people interested in access to
air travel for people with disabilities taking time out of their busy
schedules for the two-day forum.
I think it's absolutely ridiculous that people
with hearing loss don't have access to announcements when traveling. Some
of this is safety information (like the safety info that the attendant
provides at the beginning of the flight), and some is essential to getting
where you're going. I think the real issue here is that the people with
hearing loss are the ones who pay the penalty for the failure of the
airlines to act responsibly. Is there a way to make the airlines pay that
YES, there is. I'd like to see every person with
hearing loss (and interested hearies!) make the airline personnel
responsible for getting the information contained in all announcements to
everyone with hearing loss. All this requires is the following:
- on an airplane, every time there is an
announcement, ring your attendant call button and ask them what the
- in the terminal every time there's an
announcement, go to the desk and ask what it was.
If everyone with hearing loss did this, the
airline personnel would pay the price for the airlines' irresponsible
behavior, and they would read the riot act to their management! I bet
after about a week, we'd see captioning boards, loops, etc. spring up in
terminals and on airplanes!
Editor: I think I understand disability rights legislation pretty
well. But one thing that's always puzzled me is why airports, train
stations, etc. are not required to caption their announcements. (If
anyone has an answer to this, I'd love to hear it!)
Anyway, it's looking like announcement captioning may finally happen.
Here's a report by Kelby Brick from the NAD's "Eye on
David Nelson, a truly wonderful volunteer and leader in Washington
DC, has been working with the NAD for a number of years to push for
access in transportation - especially airline access. Recently, David
and I attended a conference on this specific issue. Representatives from
many airlines and disability groups attended the conference. The meeting
was productive but very little progress was made regarding access
related to deaf and hard of hearing air travelers. The best thing to
come out of that meeting was that we learned (through a third party)
that the Department of Transportation is seriously considering proposals
to require access such as captioning and text announcements. We learned
that they are in the process of hiring a consultant to do an economic
analysis of the proposals. We view this as wonderful news as we have
been hard at work for almost eight years to push for new rules that will
provide access to deaf and hard of hearing air travelers. We'll
definitely keep you posted on any new updates.
Those of you who take cruises (or want to) will be happy to learn
that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to foreign cruise ships in American
waters. Under the ADA's public accommodation and public transportation
sections, ships must not discriminate against people with disabilities.
The case involved three people in wheelchairs who cruised aboard
Norwegian Cruise Line ships in 1998 and 1999. The suit claimed that the
plaintiffs were denied access to facilities such as public restrooms,
restaurants, swimming pools, elevators and cabins with a balcony or a
window, and that this constituted discrimination under the ADA.
The Supreme Court ruling overruled a lower court ruling that the ADA
does not apply to foreign cruise ships.
Editor: Have you had a problem with airline travel related to your
hearing loss? Like you couldn't understand what the gate agent was
saying over the public address system? Or you couldn't understand the
safety instructions they gave you on the airplane?
The Department of Transportation has just opened toll-free hotlines
for reporting these kinds of problems. Here's a note from the BH list
with information. Please call them early and often to complain about the
lack of communications access in air travel for people with hearing
This message received today from Blane Workie in the Office of
General Counsel at the Department of Transportation:
The Department of Transportation's aviation consumer disability
toll-free hotline will become operational at 7 a.m. local time in
Washington, D.C., on August 5, 2002. The toll-free number for our
aviation consumer disability hotline is 1-866-266-1368 (voice) and
1-866-754-4368 (TTY). We ask that you advise members of your respective
organizations about the establishment of the hotline and encourage them
to call the hotline to obtain information and assistance if they should
experience disability-related air service problems.
At this time, we would also like to express our sincere appreciation
to those individuals who tested our Hotline system by calling our
toll-free number with simulated air traveler disability-related issues.
The testing of the hotline system by disability community organizations
has been very helpful and we have used the comments provided by
representatives of the disability community to improve the hotline
system. After several weeks of operations to fine tune the hotline's
operations, we will ask that a press release be issued to announce its
availability to the general public.
The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that the Deaf
Counseling, Advocacy and Referral Agency (DCARA) and an individual
plaintiff named Colin Piotrowski have filed a civil rights lawsuit in
federal court claiming that the San Francisco International Airport
fails to provide adequate access to hard of hearing people, and that
this failure causes hard of hearing people to face significant problems
and dangers at the airport. DCARA is a social service agency serving
deaf and hard of hearing people in the Bay area. The suit was filed
against the San Francisco Airport Commission, Airport Director John
Martin and the city of San Francisco.
The suit claims that the airport suffers "systemic
failures" that prevent people with hearing loss from obtaining
adequate information regarding flights, emergencies, and pages. It
points out that travelers with hearing loss must rely on the information
provided on the arrival and departure screens, supplemented by whatever
additional information they are able to obtain through written notes and
other ad hoc communication methods.
The plaintiffs are seeking certification as a class action suit, and
desire a court order requiring the airport to address these issues.
I say more power to DCARA and Colin Peotrowski. We've been hearing
people complain about lack of communications access at airports for
years, and there seems to have been no improvement. We'll be watching
this development closely; hopefully, the desired result will be achieved
and the movement will spread throughout the country.
The Japanese newspaper "The Yomiuri Shimbun" recently
reported that Japan Airlines (JAL) has introduced magnetic writing
boards on all domestic and international flights. The purpose of the
slates is to improve communication with passengers with hearing loss.
I haven't seen a picture of the slate, but I'm assuming it's a
beefed-up version of the magnetic slates we boomers played with as kids.
For our younger readers, these are devices that have a plastic film over
a black "tablet". The user writes with a stylus, and the text
shows up almost as if it were written with a pencil. Simply lift up the
plastic film to erase.
When I first read this, I thought that it was a pretty low-tech
solution, but the more I think about it, the better idea I think it is.
The user doesn't have to be computer-literate, it's easy to pass back
and forth, and it's kind of fun to use. I've known a couple of people
who carry them in lieu of pencil and paper, and it works great for them.
It seems like an effective, inexpensive, and convenient solution to a
nagging communications problem.
The bottom line is that it looks like a step in the right direction,
but it appears that these recent actions do not comprise a total removal
of existing restrictions.