Legal Rights for Deaf or Hard of Hearing People


There is no one law that covers only deaf and hard of hearing people. Rather, multiple laws address deafness and hearing loss as a disability, with some laws being more important than others. 


How You’re Covered

Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) ensures every newborn be screened for hearing loss prior to leaving the hospital. If the initial screening is not passed, a diagnostic hearing evaluation is to be completed by 3 months of age. If hearing loss is present, enrollment in a state early intervention program will be completed by age 6 months. 

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides free, appropriate early intervention services from birth to 3 years of age and covers school years (age 3-21 years). If a student is eligible under IDEA or has a 504 plan, the school must ensure the hearing aids are functioning properly, the student has access to assistive technology (such as an FM system), and that those using assistive technology- including teachers – are trained properly in the care and use of that technology. 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has five sections. Title I focuses on employment and applies to businesses with 15 or more employees. The second ensures all state and local government activities and programs are accessible to people with disabilities. Title III states that all businesses open to the public, regardless of size, must be accessible. Title IV created the nationwide relay service to make the telephone system available to persons with hearing impairment and/or speech disabilities. Title V is a miscellaneous category. 

While the ADA applies to public spaces, the Fair Housing Act applies to residential areas. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in public or private housing. It ensures housing providers make reasonable accommodations for access and allow persons with disabilities to make reasonable modifications (although this may be at their own cost) to housing. This act also ensured new covered multi-family housing meet certain standards of accessibility. 

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was enacted in 2010 by President Obama. The CVAA updated federal communications laws and includes accessible access to the internet for people with disabilities. 

The Hearing Aid Compatibility Act requires that all telephones, including digital wireless telephones, be hearing aid compatible, clearly labeled, and ANSI rated. A rating of 4 means the phone is usable, 5 is appropriate for normal use, and a 6 or better rating indicates excellent performance with hearing aids. 

The Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) provides accommodations for persons with disabilities by U.S. and foreign airlines. The person with disabilities must let the airline know of the disability and how they need communication to be conveyed. This Act ensures televisions are captioned in the airport and a service dog can accompany his or her owner. In some cases, such as with deaf-blind travelers, the airline may require a safety assistant to accompany the person with disabilities.

There are many laws protecting the rights of people with hearing loss; if you feel you have been discriminated against, the first step is knowing what laws are available for your protection.

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