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communications access in transportation for people with hearing loss

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.

There are some companies that understand the travel problems of people with hearing loss and attempt to arrange travel that avoids those problems. See the discussion on companies that provide travel services for people with hearing loss in the resources section for additional information.

Read what people with hearing loss had to say about air travel in the air travel survey conducted by Northern Virginia Resources Center.

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.

July 2001 – JAL Introduces Magnetic Slate to Assist in Onboard Communications

April 2002 – Suit Claims Lack of Access at SF Airport

August 2002 – Aviation Consumer Disability Hotline Opens

November 2002 – DOT Issues Guidance on Access at Airport Security Checkpoints

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!

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.

March 2004 – Think the US is leading the way in access for folks with hearing loss? Maybe not!

December 2004 – Are we FINALLY going to have airport announcements captioned?

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.

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!

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 Story

March 2006 – Here are Cheryl Heppner’s synopsis of the DOT’s proposed rules and instructions on how to file your comments!

April 2006 – Hearing-impaired may drive soon

April 2006 – WGBH Working to Make Air Travel More Accessible

July 2006 – DOT hears criticism of rights plan for deaf flyers

September 2006 – IBM develops mobile system for the hard of hearing

September 2006 – On Star by GM enhances TTY capability

December 2006 – Grand Rapids airport to help hearing impaired

January 2007 – Foreign-flagged cruise ships will be required to meet ADA requirements

June 2007 – Facts About Traveling with Service Animals

July 2007 – How to Get Communications Access During Air Travel

November 2007 – Captions Coming to Inflight Entertainment

May 2008 – DOT To Require Accessible Communication for Air Travelers with Hearing Loss

May 2008 – Jacksonville Airport Provides Accessible Communication

June 2008 – Airborne Captions on a Handheld

July 2008 – Washington State Group Sues for Communications Access on Ferries

October 2008 – Important Information for Air Travelers

October 2008 – Access Board Advisory Committee Presents Report on Vessel Alarm Systems

November 2008 – Public Venue Access Coming to Washington State

December 2008 – Can Air Travel be Made Accessible for People with Hearing Loss?

February 2009 – Washington State ferries settle lawsuit, will caption announcements

June 2009 – Changes to Air Travel Regulations

September 2009 – Seattle Ferry system unveils captioning plans

November 2009 – DHHCAN Releases New Consumer Action Guide on Air Travel

December 2009 – Washington State Ferries seek bids on captioning system

January 2010 – Jaunted’s Guide to Flying for the Hearing-Impaired

February 2010 – Legal Issues with Getting Captioning in Airplanes and Airports

March 2010 – Airport Making Good on Accessibility Promise

March 2010 – Guide to the Air Carrier Access Act

May 2010 – Continental Airlines to offer Closed Captioning on LiveTV

June 2010 – New DOT Rule Extends Disability Protections to Passenger Ships and Boats

June 2010 – NY Subway Information Booths Looped

October 2010 – Norwegian Cruise Lines Settles ADA Discrimination Suit

November 2010 – A Dark Night, a Hearing Dog, and a Day in Court

November 2010 – Ferry System to Install Message-Display System

December 2010 – TSA Guidelines for Airport Screening the Hearing Impaired

January 2011 – Access to the Airlines – Are We There Yet?

February 2011 – Indian Trails Busses install hearing loop technology

February 2011 – Assistive Listening System Designed for Airplanes

March 2011 – Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Introduces Visual Paging Services for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Customers

December 2011 – Closed Captioning for Live Television on Continental Airlines


JAL Introduces Magnetic Slate to Assist in On board Communications

July 2001

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.


Suit Claims Lack of Access at SF Airport

April 2002

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.


Aviation Consumer Disability Hotline Opens

August 2002

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 loss.


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.


Airport Announcements to be Captioned?

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 Washington”


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.


U.S. Disability Law Covers Foreign Cruise Ships

July 2005

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.


Hearing-impaired may drive soon


April 2006


Hearing-impaired people will be allowed to drive, possibly in two years, under certain conditions, the National Police Agency said Thursday. People who are hearing impaired have been asking to be licensed to drive to make it easier for them to participate in society. About 129,000 people in Japan are deaf, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.  Full Story


Burbank Airport To Add Facilities For The Deaf

October 2006

As part of a disability settlement, Bob Hope Airport in Burbank will add monitors and a kiosk to make security, baggage and other information available for the deaf and hard of hearing. The airport settlement with the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness calls for the terminals to add monitors displaying messages, according to officials. The airport will also install a video information kiosk to help hearing-impaired passengers navigate t he facility, arrange for sign-language interpreters and increase the number of teletype pay phones to at least nine.  Full Story


Grand Rapids airport to help hearing impaired

December 2006

By this time next year, travel out of Gerald R. Ford International Airport will be a lot less stressful for hard-of-hearing passengers. An upgrade to the public address system will add technology allowing flight announcements to be broadcast directly into hearing aids with a special receiver. The technology is said to be a first for U.S. airports. That’s comforting to Maggie Smedley, whose parents are deaf. She knows firsthand the pitfalls faced by travelers with hearing problems. “Many don’t dare go to the bathroom or get any food because they might miss when the flight is going to board,” said Smedley, director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service in Grand Rapids. “They become as dependent as children.”  Full Story


Foreign-flagged cruise ships will be required to meet ADA requirements

January 2007

The federal government proposed new rules this week that would apply the Americans With Disabilities Act to cruise ships for the first time. The rules, published in the Federal Register on Jan. 23, ban discriminatory practices by foreign-flagged cruise ships that dock in the United States. Guidelines for the design of ships have yet to be hammered out. Ted Thompson, a vice president at the International Council of Cruise Lines, said that when they are, the rules will be merged into one document. Full Story


How to Get Communications Access During Air Travel

July 2007

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 penalty?

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 announcement was

– 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!


Washington State Group Sues for Communications Access on Ferries

July 2008

For most frequent ferry riders, public announcements about safety, car alarms and misplaced wallets are a mundane part of the ferry experience. For riders who are deaf or hard of hearing, those auditory announcements can be a source of frustration and anxiety, said Bainbridge attorney John Waldo. Waldo is representing the nonprofit group Washington Communication Access Project in a lawsuit aimed at forcing Washington State Ferries to display announcements in text on ferries and in terminals.   Full Story


Can Air Travel be Made Accessible for People with Hearing Loss?

December 2008

If you have a hearing loss, you know what it’s like to be sitting on the edge of your seat, wondering just what the last announcement was and what the next one will be. A page for a passenger? A gate change? A boarding call? One member let us know she was so stressed at the airport she was reluctant to venture to the restroom for fear of missing those visual clues that would let her know when her plane was boarding. Another commented that it made a world of difference when her hearing husband accompanied her on flights: she could relax knowing her husband would alert her to every important announcement as it was being made, that she would not need to depend on overtaxed airline personnel who may or may not remember to notify her. So, what do the rules say and what can we do to make air travel less stressful for us all?   Full Story


Washington State ferries settle lawsuit, will caption announcements

February 2009

The Washington State Communication Access Project (Wash-CAP) and the Washington State Ferries have amicably resolved their lawsuit with an agreement that the ferries will begin to caption their public-address announcements made on board and at their terminals. The agreement is embodied in an order that will be signed by a court, giving it the same effect as if the case had gone to trial, and this was the decision. Wash-CAP’s lawsuit stated that passengers with hearing losses can’t understand those announcements. While some are routine and relatively trivial, others are specific and extremely important   Full Story


Seattle Ferry system unveils captioning plans

September 2009

At a recent Seattle meeting of interested organizations, Washington State Ferries explained how it intends to convert its public-address announcements made on its vessels and at its terminals into text form, then to display those announcements to make them accessible to patrons with hearing loss. The basic system will be modeled after the system used at San Francisco Airport, where all gate information and passenger pages are displayed in text on some 80 screens visible throughout the airport. Here are the notes from that meeting, as compiled by WSF.   Full Story


Washington State Ferries seek bids on captioning system

December 2009

The Washington State Ferries have issued a request for proposals for a visual paging system that will display in captioned form the announcements made on board WSF’s vessels and at its terminals. The request — a legally required step for a state agency to make a significant purchase — asks potential vendors to give specifications and quote prices for what it calls a “voice-to-text visual paging system modeled after the visual paging system at San Francisco International Airport.” Deadline for vendor responses is January 7 of 2010, and WSF expects to award a contract on February 1. (Read the full document here). Numerous announcements are currently made by public-address systems on all of WSF’s vessels and at its terminals, but those announcements are difficult for hard-of-hearing people to understand, and are totally inaccessible to deaf passengers. Both state and federal law require government entities such as the state ferry system to make communications effective to people with hearing loss. According to the bid documents, the  system “must be capable of converting regular voice messages from a variety of assigned vessel crew and terminal personnel.” Both routine and specialized announcements (such a information about cars with lights left on) will be displayed in text form on television-type monitors or on reader-board devices.  Full Story


Jaunted’s Guide to Flying for the Hearing-Impaired

January 2010

We’ve geeked out over the airlines in-flight entertainment offerings and the status of in-flight WiFi enough here on Jaunted but we’ve recently realized that these technological advancements still leave a certain group out of the loop–the hearing impaired.  You may take for granted that you can watch movies (whether you paid $8 for them on your seatback or if it’s playing overhead) but in fact, most in-flight entertainment offerings don’t even offer closed captioning.  And while some Southwest flight attendants get creative with their boarding announcements, there’s no sign language interpreter for the hearing impaired. This is probably fine when it comes to rapping flight attendants but what happens when there’s an emergency?  According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 37 million adults of all ages in the United States reported some degree of hearing loss in 2006. This includes a range of impairments, from those having problems hearing to those who are completely deaf.  So we thought we’d look at how airlines are accommodating these kinds of travelers.  Check out the options below for hearing-impaired passengers on the major U.S. airlines and learn what your rights are as a hard-of-hearing flyer.    Full Story


Continental Airlines to offer Closed Captioning on LiveTV

May 2010

Earlier this month, Academy award-winning deaf actress Marlee Matlin tweeted the following: “On Continental and they have DirecTV. DirecTV has captions on my TV at home but NONE here. Come on! What will it take? PLS RT” Marlee makes a good point. Why isn’t closed captioning (CC) available on LiveTV’s newest generation LTV3 system, which is being fitted to Continental’s Boeing domestic fleet?   The answer is that CC is coming to Continental!  Full Story


Norwegian Cruise Lines Settles ADA Discrimination Suit

October 2010

Norwegian Cruise Line has agreed to pay $100,000 to nine cruisers with disabilities who allegedly were discriminated against on one of its ships. The U.S. Justice Department, which announced the settlement on Monday, had sued the line on behalf of the cruisers, five of whom are deaf and four of whom use wheelchairs. The Justice Department says in a statement that the five deaf cruisers did not receive interpreters and other auxiliary aids, or a closed caption TV, while on voyages around Hawaii on a Norwegian ship, and “thus were unable to enjoy the activities on board the ship or the shore excursions because they could not understand what was going on and communicate effectively.”  Full Story


Access to the Airlines – Are We There Yet?

January 2011

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.  Full Story


Assistive Listening System Designed for Airplanes

February 2011

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.   Full story