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This is a big accessibility issue for deaf frequent fliers

deaf frequent fliers

I recently had to pay full price for a flight that wasn’t accessible to me. 

As a deaf frequent flier, this isn’t a new occurrence, and despite recent discussions about changes, it continues to be a problem. 

Captions on airline entertainment

As I’ve grown up, I’ve experienced a major problem with in-flight entertainment. I turn on the screen in front of me to watch a movie, and can’t enjoy it because I can’t hear.

“I turn on the screen in front of me to watch a movie, and can’t enjoy it because I can’t hear.”

I’ve tried multiple attempts of rewinding TV episodes and movies over and over again, trying to understand by lipreading on a tiny screen, but it often ends in disappointment and frustration.

Recently, I was on a 9-hour flight from the UK to America. A couple of months before traveling I tried researching on the airline’s website, as well as contacting the airline social media and email, to learn about subtitles on their in-flight entertainment. Instead of getting a clear answer, each channel came back with a different response. There seemed to be no consistency and nobody seemed to know the right answer. After a while I gave up and hoped for the best.

When I was on the flight, I discovered that only half of the in-flight entertainment content had the option of subtitles, leaving me to struggle for the next 9 hours to watch the few movies and TV episodes with subtitles.

In the end, I was left to entertain myself in other ways, while everyone else sat comfortably around me being able to understand everything on their screen.

Is it getting better?

In 2016, the Department of Transportation made am agreement with disability advocacy organizations, airlines, aircraft manufacturers, and content providers to establish the Advisory Committee on Accessible Air Transportation. 

Since then, the committee agreed to ensure everyone – deaf, blind and hearing – to have access to the same in-flight entertainment, according to a press release from the DOT. 

The department is expected to propose rules for the agreement this summer.

“It is (also) unfair for passengers who are deaf or blind not to be able to enjoy the same entertainment that is available to other passengers,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the release. “Under this agreement, certain movies and shows displayed on such aircraft would be captioned to provide access to deaf and hard of hearing passenger.

“In addition, audio described entertainment would be available to enable people who are blind to listen to the visual narration of movies and shows.  Airlines would be permitted to display content that is not closed captioned or audio-described only if non-captioned or described versions are not available from the airline’s content provider.”

I hope these rules are implemented quickly and other airlines address this issue directly. I look forward to seeing more accessibility on airlines and finally being able to enjoy my flight as much as the other passengers. 

Are you a deaf frequent flier? What are your experiences with in-flight entertainment? Please share your thoughts below!

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Ellie Parfitt
Ellie was born profoundly deaf, uses verbal communication, lipreads and wears Phonak hearing aids. She is currently learning British Sign Language. Ellie hasn’t let her disability stand in the way and embraces every new challenge. Her deafness didn't prevent her from achieving major accomplishments in her life, such as excelling in her education, working as a Marketing Executive for a Spa & Health Club, Events and Promotions Staff for a local newspaper as well as blogging for Hearing Like Me. She is passionate about deaf awareness, campaigning for equality and helping others through her personal blog as Deafie Blogger.

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