A lot has changed in the 31 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. We talked to audiologists to hear what they would include if it were written today.
Ever since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, it has advocated for the rights of people with disabilities.1 This month, we celebrate this monumental victory and look to the ADA’s past to see how technology has changed for Americans with hearing loss – and discuss with audiologists how it will continue to change in the future.
What Is The ADA?
The ADA is one of the most significant federal laws governing discrimination against people with disabilities. The ADA requires accessibility and accommodations for those with disabilities be made in communications, employment, housing, education, transportation, and access to public services. These accommodations are meant to provide all people with disabilities the same opportunities non-disabled people have.1
How Has The ADA Changed in 31 Years?
Since the ADA was enacted, Congress has passed additional legislation designed to provide increased accommodations for individuals with disabilities. For instance, the Assistive Technology Act provided federal funding for assistive technologies to help people with disabilities.2
Additionally, the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was passed in 2010 to “update federal communications laws to increase the access of persons with disabilities to modern communications. The CVAA makes sure that accessibility laws enacted in the 1980s and 1990s are brought up to date with 21st-century technologies, including new digital, broadband, and mobile innovations.”3
The addition and revision of these laws have continually provided protection and rights for people with disabilities. Even so, revisions may be necessary to keep up with ever-changing technologies, such as advancing artificial intelligence, voice recognition, bionic limbs, and more elements of our increasingly digital society.4
Regarding hearing loss, the ADA will need to account for the changes in smartphone technology, telecommuting technologies like video conferencing, cognitive hearing aids, and even advanced cochlear implants.
How Does The ADA Relate to Hearing Loss?
Title IV of the ADA covers all telecommunication services, such as talking over the phone or sending something over a wire service. It requires companies to provide services that allow people with hearing and speech disabilities to telecommunicate in a manner that is functionally equivalent to the ability of a person without hearing or speech loss.5
While the ADA remains a powerful and effective piece of legislation, technology is continually advancing. If it were written today, the ADA might include some more ways to help people with disabilities with effective and easy communication, especially when it comes to those with hearing loss.
What The Experts Say
We asked two audiologists what hearing-related items they would include in the ADA if it were written today.
“The ADA should require all employers to offer and fund, through their health insurance plans, at least one insurance option that contains a funded hearing aid benefit,” said Kim Cavitt, Au.D. “The Act also needs a 2021 reboot to take into account Bluetooth, streaming, video (telehealth), and real-time captioning.”
Hearing health care providers are crucial in embracing and upholding the requirements laid out in the ADA. Additionally, they can be a powerful voice when it comes to advocating for their patients to take advantage of the benefits the ADA provides.
“The ADA is a broad law and can be somewhat confusing when determining a patient’s coverage. Hearing health care providers can help by being knowledgeable of the law and advocate for people with disabilities,” said Steve DeMari, director of Business Development and Education at CaptionCall, who has more than 30 years of audiology experience.
“We have an obligation to support individuals with hearing loss and to seek a helpful solution for them so they can coexist in this hearing world,” he added. Such revisions to the ADA could include provisions for improved telehealth and website functions for users with hearing loss.
Cavitt thinks health care providers need to improve the ways they enact and use the ADA.
“I do not believe most health care providers, including audiologists, understand their rights and responsibilities within the Act,” Cavitt said. “I do not see many health care providers offering their patients assistive listening devices or public-safety answering points in their offices to make communication easier.”
Cavitt also suggested the ADA be a bigger part of audiologist training programs and continuing educations events. “Honestly, it should be a required piece of continuing education,” she said.
Moving Forward With The ADA
The ADA has changed the lives of many Americans with disabilities and, with advocacy, it can continue to improve as technology advances. In the same way, we at CaptionCall believe in using the latest technology to help people with hearing loss that need captions to use the phone effectively, employing the use of our advanced call captioning.