You may have been discriminated against yourself or may know someone whom is deaf that is facing or has faced some form of discrimination based on their disability. In fact, a recent 2011 study by John Hopkins found that nearly twenty percent of Americans aged 12 and older have severe hearing loss that makes communication difficult for them and pose challenges in their day-to-day interactions.

Many of these challenges for deaf and hard of hearing individuals include accessing public services. In 1990, the federal government responded to these issues and issues faced by other persons with disabilities by passing the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a federal law that provides protections to persons with disabilities and prevents discrimination against deaf people in employment, housing, at places of public accommodation (such as movie theaters, restaurants, schools, doctor’s offices, etc.), public services (such as transportation services like a bus or train) and telecommunications.

Thus, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, deaf people are entitled by federal and state law to certain services and protections against discrimination. Because the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability, a lawsuit may be brought if certain services are not provided to a deaf person, or a deaf or hard of hearing person is discriminated against.

Are there Employment Protections for Deaf People?

Yes. Both the federal government and almost every state have laws which prohibit employment discrimination based on disability, such as being deaf, as long as the disability does not impair the employee’s ability to do the job.

Thus, so long as a deaf person can perform the functions of the job for which they were hired, the employer cannot take his or her disability into account when making employment decisions, such as: hiring and firing; job promotions; job discipline; transfers; training; fringe and retirement benefits; or investigations into hostile work environment and harassment. In order to qualify for protection though, the deaf person must apply for or hold an existing position and meet the minimum qualifications for the job.

If you make an employment discrimination claim under the ADA, you would likely be making a “Title I” claim. Under Title I, you must first file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) within 180 days of the date you faced discrimination, or 300 days if you file with a designated State or local fair employment practice agency. Only after filing first with the EEOC, may you file a lawsuit in court, as the EEOC will either grant you or deny you a “right-to-sue” letter.

Finally, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability. For a deaf person, this might include installing a speech-to-text service for phone calls, keeping written records of meetings, and hiring a sign language translator, if doing so would not place too large of a burden on the company. As a general rule, an accommodation is reasonable if the costs do not outweigh the benefits to the company.

Are there Housing Protections for Deaf People?

There are two laws that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in public or private housing, the ADA and the Fair Housing Act. In short, the ADA and the Fair Housing Act prohibit housing discrimination against deaf people who are seeking to rent or purchase a home.

As long as the deaf person can pay rent, follow the terms of the lease, and in general be a good tenant, it is illegal to deny housing or engage in any acts which would dissuade them from purchasing or renting housing. While the ADA applies to public spaces, the Fair Housing Act covers residential spaces, by prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities in public or private housing.

The exception to the reasonable accommodation rule, in the context of housing, is if such accommodations would create an undue hardship on the landlord or seller. The accommodations are considered an undue hardship in relation to the landlord or seller’s financial situation.

However, the Fair Housing Act ensures housing providers make reasonable accommodations for access and allow deaf people to make reasonable modifications, although sometimes at their own cost, to their dwelling.

What Other Services and Accomodations are Deaf People Entitled to by Law?

Any business that offers goods or services to the public cannot discriminate against people who are deaf, and must also apply reasonable accommodations. This includes stores, theaters, restaurants, amusement parks, public transportation, housing, hotels, motels, and government. However, it is important to note that many private clubs and religious businesses do not need to abide by these regulations. The following accommodations are required in most states:

  • Assistive Listening Systems (ALS): Computer-aided transcription must be provided in any assembly area with a public address system, as well as court hearings if a deaf person is a participant. Similarly, hotels must provide a caption-decoding device for the television.
  • Hearing Aids: Many states are required to provide a hearing aid if one is necessary for a person who is deaf to communicate in the workplace.
  • Insurance: A person who is deaf cannot be denied insurance on the basis of their disability.
  • Interpreters: Interpreters must be provided in police interrogations, as well as any administrative or court hearings, if a deaf person is a participant. They must also be provided by businesses, hospitals, and universities if a deaf person is a customer, patient, or student.
  • Signal Dogs: Deaf people may bring a signal dog to any commercial flight, business, public transportation vehicle, or rented housing. These establishments cannot require an extra charge, even if there is a no-pet policy.
  • Telecommunications: Teletypewriter (TTY) & amplifiers assist with telecommunications and must be provided to a person who is deaf, free of charge, by the local phone company.
    • They must also be provided at major airports, railroads, and other transit stations. Additionally in 2010, President Obama enacted the Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (“CVAA”), which updated federal and communication laws, including creating more accessible access to the internet for people with disabilities.
    • Further, the Hearing Aid Compatibility Act requires that all telephones, including wireless telephones, be hearing aid compatible, clearly labeled, and American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”) rated.

As can be seen, the law greatly protects persons who have suffered discrimination from businesses, employers, landlords, or the government, if they did not provide reasonable accommodations or otherwise discriminated against people with disabilities.

If you are facing a situation where reasonable accommodations are not being made or you feel you are being discriminated against, you may likely bring a claim for either intentional (disparate treatment) or unintentional discrimination (disparate impact).

Should I Hire an Attorney If I Am Facing Discrimination for Being Deaf?

As shown above, there is no single law that covers and protects deaf and hard of hearing people. Rather, there are multiple laws that address these disabilities, and some are more important than others. If you think you have been discriminated against because you are deaf, it may be in your best interest to contact a well qualified and licensed discrimination lawyer immediately.

An experienced employment lawyer will help guide you through your state’s discrimination laws, as well as the complexity of federal and state disability law, in order to help ensure you make a recovery or are reasonably accommodated.