The other day a friend of mine, and committee Loop Utah member, shared a link with me: Hearing Impaired Man Sues Hotel and Coaching Company. After reading it, I thought good for him. I shared it at a meeting without too much thought. Two days later it’s stuck in my head and this morning I knew I had to write about it.

Todd Rich attended a seminar and he emphasized his need for an assistive listening device (ALD) in advance multiple times. When he got there, there was no ALD. The hotel called a sister hotel and brought over some “ALDs.” They gave him a smoke alarm. He is now suing the company who put on the seminar and the hotel (both are liable) for $30,000 for “having been humiliated, embarrassed and suffered from emotional distress.” Good for him, I thought. That’s a big, brave step he’s taking to get his/our needs recognized.

And I know how he feels. A few years ago I went to a workshop at a writing center downtown. I paid for it in advance and the room was an acoustic nightmare. There were cement floors as well as cement walls which did not go all the way up to the ceiling allowing noise from the other rooms. A big, long white board lined a wall and the opposite wall had a shelf with some books on it but it wasn’t enough to soak up reverberation.

Of course I prepared in advance by showing up early, talking to the presenters about my FM system and how it worked. I showed both presenters how to slide the neck piece up and down so they could trade it back and forth telling them the closer it was to their mouth the better I would hear. I asked them to give me an outline so I might follow along better. I also told them I do a fair amount of lip reading and while I didn’t expect them to cater to me specifically, it would help if they faced the table as much as much as they could. After the first break, I asked one of them if they could please spit out gum. I wasn’t annoying or demanding, just informative. I would have thought all this would help me immensely but the acoustics killed me.

Too often the presenters spoke to the whiteboard as they wrote with my FM between the board and their body making a vibration of their speech more than words. So even with that advantage, I still had a hard time understanding the instructors. They asked a lot of questions of the attendees and because my FM was geared only to the teacher, I could not understand any of my classmates. I had no idea what the others said as we all sat at a long table facing the whiteboard. I couldn’t whip my head around fast enough to find out who was talking let alone read lips. I caught bits and pieces of conversation only (probably 20%) and when I understood, thanks to my outline and what they wrote, I wanted to add my thoughts but was afraid to speak out. Maybe someone else said it already? So I sat there mute.

Later, we broke up into small groups at the end and I had to confess to those in my group I heard nothing and didn’t know what we were doing. One young girl barely bothered with me. As the three of them began talking, I followed only about half because their eyes and mouths wandered from person to person instead of looking my way. I still couldn’t participate! I felt the sting of humiliation and it was embarrassing. I spent three nights like that, struggling to get as much as I could out the workshop. I learned a few things but how much more would I have gotten out of it if I could “hear?” The third night I went home in tears.

They had another workshop coming up that I wanted to attend. I told them I did my best and could not hear so I needed more accommodation. I asked for CART (real time captioning). That’s the only way I can follow what the instructors and participants I said. “Oh no, we can’t do that. We don’t have a budget for that sort of thing.” I told them I thought they could find a way. Since they were a part of the community college, they needed to get in touch with their disability office. Long before any kind of resolution, I wound up moving out of state for a year so I didn’t get to pursue it.

Good for Todd Rich for not slinking away. Instead he said, “This is wrong!” I’m not saying we should all go out and sue places and events but we should all stand up and say, “This isn’t right! I deserve better than this.” It’s a public venue and anyone can come except maybe the hard of hearing. We can’t accommodate them.

Do I want to attend more workshops? You bet but I haven’t since I’ve been back in Salt Lake. I think Todd Rich just inspired me. Next week I’m going to the scene of the crime because there is a class starting May 1st I’d like to take. I’ll start well in advance because I bet it won’t be easy. I would hope they understand but it most likely will take some action on my part. Not only will I talk about CART but I will leave a card with hearing loop information. I can’t be the only one with hearing aids to attend these workshops. It won’t be easy but I’m going to do this.

Since the writing center is in the same area as the downtown library, I’m going to stop there afterward. Our library is gorgeous! Windows for walls with a view of the mountains and the valley. It has five floors all open to each other. Books soak up some sound and the fact that people tend to be quiet in the library helps but it can still be difficult to hear in there. There are meeting rooms there which are the same as the rest of the library; high ceilings and windows as walls (nothing to stop the reverberation.)

First I’ll go the information desk and ask about ALDs, see what they have available. I’ll be sure to drop off a hearing loop card and share a link to libraries who’ve looped in Colorado. I deserve this. You deserve this.

I’ve been hard of hearing for most of my life and as my hearing dropped, I pulled back from life. What fun were movies when I couldn’t understand them. I spent years not going to the movie theater. When CaptiViews came out, I took a long time to get back into the habit of going to the movies again but I now go as often as I want without a second thought.

The possibilities are unlimited with the hearing loop and I want to attend other public venues now, such as stand up comedy and plays. I went to a play when I was about 19 years old, The Greater Tuna, with my aunt near San Jose somewhere when I still heard fairly decently. I loved it and laughed with everyone else. My hearing started declining noticeably after that and I didn’t attend another play for another twenty something years. Then Utah-CAN got a few plays captioned here in town but it’s on going battle. Why?

The hard of hearing have withdrawn. We are used to being excluded. Many people don’t know how many options are available so they stay in their muted world in the comfort of their home where there’s no possibility of being embarrassed or humiliated. The truth is, we could enter society but we have to get over being meek and start asking for what we need. There’s so much helpful technology these days and we’re going to have to force others to accept it. When one of us does, it opens the way for others. Let’s not forget we are 48 million strong. We aren’t a minority culture. How much longer are we going to take this?

So now I have questions for you, my hard of hearing friends. I’d appreciate it if you took the time to comment. What makes you afraid of bothering the hearing folk? What keeps you from requesting equal rights/accommodations?


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