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Can Person with Hearing Loss be Airline Mechanic

Can Person with Hearing Loss be Airline Mechanic?

May 2000

One of the current issues in the hearing loss world is the ability of people with hearing loss to perform certain jobs. There are clearly some jobs that people with significant hearing loss can’t do; there are clearly many jobs for which significant hearing loss doesn’t matter. What’s difficult are the jobs in between and how to determine if hearing is really required for a job. Here’s an interesting story that illustrates the point. I’d love to hear your opinion on this situation.

In 1997 John Sprague was hired as a mechanic for United Airlines in Boston. He held both a pilot’s license and a mechanic’s license, and seemed ideally suited for the job. United Airlines must have agreed.

Two days before he was to begin work, United changed their minds and informed Mr. Sprague that he would not be hired. So he sued, and his case has finally come up in federal court. Mr. Sprague’s attorney is arguing that this is a classic case of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). He also contends that this is a pure case, because United Airlines admits that the only reason for the withdrawal of the job offer is because Mr. Sprague is deaf.

Mr. Sprague has been employed as a mechanic for a small airline at a regional airport for 13 years. He expects his current supervisor to testify on his behalf.

United lawyers said safety concerns prevented United from following through on the offer. They also said that a mechanic must be able to check out the entire airplane, including the entertainment systems and the flight recorders. They argued that Mr. Sprague would be unable to perform these duties, and he would not be able to communicate with other workers, the air traffic control tower, or the San Francisco maintenance headquarters.

Mr. Sprague, who wears two digital aids, says he can hear most of what he needs to do the job.