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 Customers
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 Message-Display System
June 2010 – New DOT Rule Extends Disability Protections to Passenger Ships and Boats
March 2010 – Airport Making Good on Accessibility Promise
March 2010 – Guide to the Air Carrier Access Act
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 Washington State
October 2008 – Important Information for Air Travelers
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 Accessible Communication
November 2007 – Captions Coming to Inflight Entertainment
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 Story
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 theair travel survey conducted by Northern Virginia Resources Center.
Airport Terminal has Visual Displays AND Loops!
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. Full Story
Assistive Listening System Designed for Airplanes
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
Access to the Airlines – Are We There Yet?
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
How to Get Communications Access During Air Travel
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!
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
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.
Aviation Consumer Disability Hotline Opens
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.
Suit Claims Lack of Access at SF Airport
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.
JAL Introduces Magnetic Slate to Assist in Onboard Communications
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.