With Covid-19 travel restrictions loosening, many people are looking forward to traveling again. But as a deaf or hard of hearing there are still barriers to navigate.
Being a deaf traveler isn’t always easy, but these strategies should help.
Nearly 30 years ago, the United States implemented the Americans with Disability Act Title II, which requires local or state level agencies to communicate as effectively with deaf or hard of hearing individuals as they are with others. However, traveling in the U.S. with hearing loss can still be difficult difficult.
Sarah Katz, a writer and traveler, recounted her frustrations as a deaf traveler in a piece for Business Insider.
“Whether by road, the tracks, the sea, or the air, traveling is an indispensable aspect of modern life that connects people to jobs, education, and leisure activities,” Katz says. “Yet, many forms of public transportation remain inaccessible to 15% of the world population.”
Katz wrote that disabled travelers are routinely excluded from services offered to non-disabled travelers, with “deleterious effects.”
However, difficulties for deaf travelers arise not just the United States. According to a study from UK equality charity Scope conducted in 2019, “80 percent of disabled people felt stressed, 79 percent felt anxious, and 56 percent felt scared using or planning journeys on public transport.”
While this study examined individuals with more than just hearing loss, it’s still relevant. It indicates that public transport across the world has a way to go to accommodate such passengers. And it’s not just one type of transport, either.
“While in flight, pilots usually verbally explain safety procedures without captions or text,” Katz wrote. “The visual demonstration by stewards and stewardesses only offer a sliver of the information, which means that, in a state of emergency, deaf and hard-of-hearing flyers risk not having the same resources that hearing flyers do.”
Additionally, she said, transport services like buses require deaf and hard of hearing individuals to pay extra attention to visual cues outside. Loudspeaker announcements are just not helpful.
Despite existing frustrations, some countries are taking extra steps to make their transport facilities more accessible. Syntagma Metro Station in Athens, Greece recently launched a new video communication station for the deaf and hard of hearing. This station provides a tablet with a built-in Relay app.
“Today, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labor, the National Foundation for the Deaf and STASY, Greece becomes the first country in the European Union to install a remote interpretation system for the deaf and hard of hearing at a Metro station, providing the service free of charge,” the Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation said, according to Greek City Times.
“Greece becomes the first country in the European Union to install a remote interpretation system for the deaf and hard of hearing…”
While Syntagma Metro Station’s approach is effective, there are also other ways to become more accessible. Inclusive City Maker cites numerous ways to make transportation more accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing, including:
Despite room for improvement when it comes to overall accessibility and travel, the COVID-19 pandemic has made life easier for deaf travelers in some ways — one being the increase in touch-less technology.
“Using your phone as a key, texting the front desk, texting room service — all of this was sort of starting to happen but is now so much wider spread,” Jan Freitag, national director for hospitality analytics at hospitality analysis firm STR, told CNN.
This type of technology means less face-to-face interaction. This can lessen communication stress for some, especially when masks are required.
While many ideas to make travel more accessible are great in theory, Katz notes they have yet to be implemented in many places. She has developed some strategies for travel over time, including purchasing tickets online, reading the information provided, and asking fellow travelers for assistance.
Read more: Traveling with hearing loss
“If the pilot makes mid-flight announcements, I ask my husband or strangers to let me know what’s said,” she says in the Business Insider article. “But, while it’s great to be able to rely on the kindness of others, I deserve a more independent, integrated experience…Disabled people deserve equal access to the same transportation services others enjoy.”