Relevancy for Deaf, Late deafened, and Hard of Hearing Persons

Please note: This document is not intended to replace qualified legal advice or to serve as basis for any attempted or actual legal action. An attorney experienced with the Title II provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act should always be consulted if you think there is a possibility you may have been discriminated against by any official or institution of state or local government.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 only applies to persons who fall under the definition of having a disability. This is defined as a person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities such as walking, seeing and hearing;
  • Has a record of such an impairment;
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment

ADA Title I is a federal law that covers any public or private employer who has more than 15 employees. The law says that the employer must treat an employee with a hearing loss the same way as a person who does not have a hearing loss. It also says that an employer must provide a qualified employee with a disability with reasonable accommodations to do the job. A reasonable accommodation in this context is one that does not place an undue hardship on the employer. For detailed information on the actual ADA regulations, please visit the Department of Justice's ADA Home Page.

Examples of reasonable accommodations would include providing an interpreter for Deaf employees during staff meetings, company - mandated training sessions, and other such situations directly affecting the employee's work performance; it would also include provision of a TTY and a ring signaler at the employee's desk in order for the employee to be able to make and receive phone calls.

Reasonable accommodation for a hard of hearing person could consist of providing an assistive listening system during meeting and training sessions, as well as providing a volume-amplified telephone and a loud ringer at the employee's desk.

For a late deafened person, provision of Communication Access Realtime Translation would constitute effective communication access under similar circumstances. Since late deafened persons often cannot make use of a voice phone, a TTY should be provided at their desk upon request.

Reasonable accommodations must be paid for by the employer. The costs cannot be passed on to the individual with a disability.

If an employee with a hearing loss knows how to do a job - and is qualified to do it with or without reasonable accommodations - then an employer cannot refuse to hire the person simply because they are deaf or hard of hearing. During the interview, it is illegal for prospective employers to ask the person being interviewed if they are Deaf or have a hearing loss. They can, however, ask if the person has a disability that would make it impossible for him or her to perform the major functions of the job. For example, a Deaf/late deafened/hard of hearing person would not be hired to become an air traffic controller or telephone switchboard operator, where the inability to hear could pose a significant risk to the health and well-being of others.

This information is provided by the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.