Airlines Seek to Serve Hearing-Impaired Passengers

person pulling suitcase

Sept. 3, 2019 -- Delta Airlines recently announced that employees who speak any of the 300-plus types of sign language will be identified by a notice on their employee nametag. In a press release, the company stated that this update will allow "customers and qualified employees [to] immediately be able to visually recognize when they hold sign language as a common connection.”

Delta becomes the latest major airline to take steps to help their customers who are deaf or hard of hearing have a smoother time traveling. In early 2019, Virgin Atlantic Airways introduced a “hidden symbol,” included on a slip with its tickets or worn as a pin, which allow people with disabilities that are not apparent to identify themselves to employees. The company also offers sign language interpretation in British Sign Language if notified in advance. Those services, however, are only available on international flights.

A number of other airlines, including Southwest, do not list their specific services for deaf and hard-of-hearing passengers on their websites but provide a phone number with relay service or teletypewriter service. Many airlines, including United, ask deaf and hard-of-hearing customers to identify themselves to staff.

Delta’s move comes months after a pair of incidents involving airline staff and deaf passengers. In one case, a pair of travelers threatened to sue the airline after a confrontation in Detroit. In another, a deaf man says a staff member was waiting for him with a wheelchair when he got off the plane.

Hearing loop technology, a system that transmits audio from public address systems directly to certain hearing aids, has been offered at eight U.S. airports since 2017.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 15% of U.S. adults report some trouble hearing, and about 30 million people aged 12 and up have some level of hearing loss in both ears, based on hearing exams.

“It is our hope airlines will continue to make concrete changes and develop inclusive resources to improve the experiences of deaf and hard-of-hearing travelers,” says Zainab Alkebsi, policy counsel and a spokesperson for the National Association for the Deaf.

But, Alkebsi says, these decisions and changes should be made “with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community at the table. We encourage all airlines to consult with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community to develop and disseminate systemic solutions to the barriers deaf and hard of hearing travelers face.”

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on September 03, 2019

Sources

Detroit Free Press: “Deaf couple threatens to sue Delta Air Lines over agent's behavior.”

Fox News: “Deaf model and activist calls out Delta for offering him wheelchair at airport.”

Delta News Hub: “On board soon: Employee uniforms to include Sign Language option.”

Virgin Atlantic Air: “Assistance if you are hearing impaired,” Virgin Atlantic Air: “Travelling with a hidden disability.”

Southwest: “Customers who are deaf or hard of hearing.”

United: “Assistance at the airport.”

Krista Sazalc, Audiology, PLLC: “Airports: Traveling with Hearing Loss.”

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: “Quick Statistics About Hearing.”

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