Civil Rights

Legal Rights and Resources for the Deaf

National Deaf History Month runs from mid-March to mid-April each year, and it's a chance to learn about hearing conditions and laws related to hearing disabilities. Legal issues are found in areas ranging from education and employment to public services.

Learn about how the law impacts your life, whether you have a hearing condition, or what your business needs to do to meet customer and client needs.

Key Laws and Your Hearing

Here are a few of the key laws concerning hearing:

The reach of these laws is widespread. For example, the EHDI provides for newborn hearing screening and early access to support services when a hearing problem is diagnosed. Roles and relationships in school, at work and as consumers are touched.

Making Technology Work for Everyone

Technology makes a huge impact on how those with hearing conditions manage everyday life. The Communications Act, including changes made over the decades, is the source for many of the services and devices to help make communication effective and accessible.

Other laws mentioned above add to access for those with hearing conditions. Here are some of the services and devices now available:

Phone relay services, starting with the teletypewriter (TTY) and TTY relay services in the 1960s. Voice-to-text and vice versa communication became a reality.

Phone equipment access and hearing aid compatibility. The law requires phone products and services to be accessible to those with disabilities. The law and FCC rules mean most phone sets can work with hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Video access. FCC rules mandate closed captioning for all new English programming, unless an exemption applies. Rules also cover emergency information broadcasts, so alerts are made in visual and audio formats. Federal law also requires tv sets and video monitors 13 inches and larger (and all digital tv tuners, no matter the screen size) to be closed-caption ready.

Keeping Up with Technology

The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 will help make sure access moves ahead with technology. The law covers web access, smart phone interfaces and provides funds for needed equipment for those who are deaf and blind.

Wide Reach of Disability and the Law

The ADA protects against disability discrimination in three key areas:

  • Employment
  • State and local government services and activities
  • Access in businesses open to the public

In many settings, the ADA mandates modifications to meet a disabled person's needs.

Disability, including hearing conditions, are common. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) recently settled an ADA case with Des Moines, IA, and reported 20 percent of its citizens were disabled and would benefit. The Des Moines case covered city web site access, city web-based services, and relay communications. The settlement ordered the city to recognize a certain relay service for those with hearing impairments.

The case was part of a DOJ initiative called Project Civic Access, which aims to make sure local governments comply with the ADA.

Filing a Complaint: Don't Stay Silent

Laws don't just bar discrimination, they give you relief when your rights are violated. Filing a complaint can be your first step in getting that relief. Where you start the complaint process will vary, depending on the controlling law.

Advocacy groups or a civil rights or employment law attorney are good resources to help you get started. In some cases, such as employment-related discrimination, you must file an agency complaint before you're allowed to file a lawsuit. Strict time limits usually apply.

Once again, the solution to your legal problem varies by law. You may be able to bring about change, stop discriminatory action, or recover money damages and attorney's fees.

Any hearing impairment or disability can have a serious impact on everyday life, but the law is there to help you cope.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Is cost a valid reason for a small town or city not to provide services for the deaf?
  • Can my child use school-provided equipment for her hearing disability over longer school breaks such as summer vacation?
  • What damages would a business be liable for when it doesn't treat deaf customers the same as hearing customers?
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