HLAA is very much aware of the problems of not being able to hear well in the airport or on the plane and we have been working on this for years. There is no denying it has been a long slow process, but we are moving forward.
HLAA sits on the Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation (ACCESS Advisory Committee) that looks at disability issues. We know they receive training and have a complaint procedure if something goes wrong. Typically at security the problems have not been with people with hearing loss – much more likely to be a problem with someone who uses a service dog or uses a wheelchair. But if you have specific incidents to report, we can help you file a complaint and can get that information to TSA.
In the Airport
The airport is covered by the ADA, so stores and the airport itself are required to turn on the captioning on any televisions, and generally make themselves ADA compliant. So, some airports have installed an audio induction loop system, like the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, Grand Rapids, Michigan. An audio induction loop can be a big help, but will only happen after the local HLAA chapter or other group of hard of hearing people spend their time advocating for that kind of access. In fact, the local people are in the best position to help the local transportation authority understand the impact of accessibility because they must work with local authorities and will be more likely to join meetings. HLAA can and does help local initiatives by providing input on educating the facility or providing advice in general.
At the Gate, Airline Information Counter, Baggage or On the Plane
These are all covered by the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The airline is responsible to provide information to individuals with hearing loss, but they only need to do that once the passenger has alerted the staff to their hearing loss. We work with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) on these issues. Long ago, we send in comments and advocated for real time text displays of announcements at the gate, but this was not adopted by the DOT. Under the rule, people with hearing loss are entitled to get the information directly from airline staff, but only if they identify themselves as having a hearing loss. So, we suggest that individuals identify themselves as having a hearing loss when purchasing the ticket, again at the check in counter, again at the gate and once more on the plane. You are entitled to pre-board the plane as well.
We also continue to push for visual speech to text both at the gate and in the airplane. It’s still slow going, but changes are happening. More and more airlines are allowing people to either bring their own tablet to receive their captioned entertainment, or passing out those tablets to people with hearing loss. Some airlines have started to provide the pre-recorded announcements as text on the seat back display. We hope at some point to solve the problem of speech to text for announcements on the airline, but that is a technical problem. Still we will continue to work with DOT to increase the ability of the individual to get all the information they need every step of the way.
HLAA understands the problems and has been and will continue to work on solutions. They are not easy problems to solve, but we are here for the long haul.