|11-25-2006, 05:56 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Join Date: Apr 2004
Blog Entries: 3
Hearing impairments and the ADA
Northwest Indiana News: nwitimes.com
As we have noted on prior occasions, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title I of the ADA covers employment by private employers with 15 or more employees and state and local government employers of the same size.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces the employment provisions of the ADA. Recently, the EEOC published a series of questions and answers about deafness and hearing impairments. We will discuss this potential disability in the next two articles.
Estimates of the number of people in the United States with a self-described "hearing difficulty" range from 28.6 million to 31.5 million. The number of individuals with hearing difficulty is expected to rise rapidly by the year 2010 when the baby boomer generation reaches age 65. A "hearing difficulty" can refer to the effects of many different hearing impairments of varying degrees.
Hearing impairments are conditions that affect the frequency or intensity of one's hearing. The term "deaf" describes a limited group of individuals.
Deaf individuals do not hear well enough to rely on their hearing to process speech and language. Individuals with mild to moderate hearing impairments may be "hard of hearing," but are not "deaf." These individuals differ from deaf individuals in that they use their hearing to assist in communication with others. People who are deaf and those who are hard of hearing can be individuals with disabilities within the meaning of the ADA.
A hearing impairment is a disability under the ADA if: (1) it substantially limits a major life activity; (2) it substantially limited a major life activity in the past; or (3) the employer regarded (or treated) the individual as if his or her hearing impairment was substantially limiting. The determination of whether a hearing impairment is substantially limiting must be made on an individualized case-by-case basis.
If an individual uses mitigating measures, such as hearing aids or other devices that actually improve hearing, these measures must be considered in determining whether the individual has a disability under the ADA. Even someone who uses a mitigating measure may have a disability if the measure does not correct the condition completely and substantial limitations remain. If an individual does not use mitigating measures, then the hearing impairment must be considered, as it exists, without speculation about how a mitigating measure might lessen the hearing loss.
Study after study indicates that individuals with hearing impairments can perform successfully on the job and should not be denied opportunities because of stereotypical assumptions about hearing loss. Some employers assume incorrectly that workers with hearing impairments will cause safety hazards, increase employment costs or have difficulty communicating in fast-paced environment. In fact, with or without reasonable accommodation, individuals with hearing impairments can be effective and safe workers.
Next time, we will discuss the types of reasonable accommodations available to individuals with hearing impairments.
James Jorgensen practices law at Hoeppner Wagner & Evans in Valparaiso. Opinions in this column are solely his.
"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."
- Helen Keller