Removing the Barrier of the Ask: Why It’s Important to Have Accommodations Ready

You’ve seen meeting notices many times…

For accommodations, please call our disability coordinator…
Hearing accommodations available upon request
Please submit your accommodation request 14 days in advance

What’s the problem with that? After all, the hearing accommodation will be there, right?

No, not always. The hearing assistive device or system may not be available, or it may not work properly. People may not remember ask for help ahead of time—or even know what a venue offers for accessibility.

“When a person with a disability has to request accommodations, a lot of factors can stop that person from asking for what they need,” said Cheri Perazzoli, HLAA-WA president and HLAA board member. “First, some people with hearing loss are reluctant to ‘out’ themselves by admitting to their hearing loss. Second, if you’re new to the world of hearing loss, you may not yet know what’s available to you to help you hear.”

Cheri added that because people are optimistic by nature, we often come to a venue expecting to be able to hear and thinking we won’t need an accommodation. But in reality, much depends on the environment and the particular speaker. “Folks with hearing loss need to approach each outing thinking about the consequences of not being able to hear. We have to assume we won’t get a front row seat, the speaker will be wearing a mask or speak with an accent, and we won’t be able to speech read. That’s why hearing accommodation needs to be there.”

When venues place the onus of the “ask” on people with hearing loss, they’re effectively forcing people to ask permission to hear. That’s not really meaningful access, says Perazzoli.

But there’s a better way: hearing loop assistive listening systems.  “I’m passionate about hearing loops becoming a part of our neighborhoods—loops are always there waiting,” Perazzoli explains.

This sign in a venue means that a hearing loop is waiting for people with hearing loss.

If you have a hearing aid with a telecoil feature, you can connect directly to a hearing loop to reduce background noise and the effect of distance, so that you can hear and understand much more clearly. A hearing loop is part of a venue’s standard equipment and infrastructure—a loop doesn’t need to be requested ahead of time.

In Washington State, venues such as the Seattle Rep and the Seattle, King County, Spokane, and Bellevue councils have hearing loops. Other locations, such as the Seattle Opera and The Paramount Theater, have other assistive listening options, such as FM and infrared systems. These systems are usually available without prior arrangements, but receivers and neckloops need to be checked out onsite.

A recent Washington State law requires televisions in public spaces like bars and offices to have captions on automatically, all the time—another example of removing the burden of the ask from people with hearing loss. The captions are always there waiting.

In New York City, thanks to a push from hearing loss and Deaf advocates, cinemas will soon be required to offer daily open-captioned screenings with on-screen subtitles. Open captions are different from the closed captions that some movie theaters currently offer. Closed-caption shows require borrowing special caption glasses, or a digital device called a CaptiView. Some movie fans have been frustrated about by how poorly the closed-caption devices work, the delay in the text captions, and the distraction in looking back and forth between a device in your cupholder and the big screen.  

With the new NYC open-caption law, people with hearing loss don’t need to ask for a device; rather, anyone can simply find an open-captioned show that works with their schedule, and then attend as others do.

Is the future one with fewer “asks” and a more robust infrastructure of accessibility for everyone? We sure hope so.