Hard of Hearing? Nobody’s Listening.

There is an  interesting article in Sunday’s New York Times titled “Deaf and Hard of Hearing Fight to Be Heard.” Unfortunately it addresses only a small proportion of the “deaf and hard of hearing” that it purports to be about. People who are deaf like me — functionally deaf as adults with no knowledge of ASL — are once again ignored.

“Deaf” is sexy and attention-grabbing. “Hard of hearing” is something we try not to talk about. The Deaf have a beautiful expressive language visible to all. The hard of hearing are invisible.

But the hard of hearing face the same obstacles as the Deaf, and we are equally in need of accommodations — but not ASL. We need CART captioning — live captioning at all public events — and we need looping in public spaces. Ironically, considering the very small proportion of ASL using Deaf to the hard of hearing, many organizations offer an ASL interpreter but do not offer other services like CART or looping.

The article also neglected to mention the importance of the Hearing Loss Association of America, and the New York Chapter, which were instrumental in getting the recent disability-accommodation bills passed. The author mentions them without noting HLAA’s significant role, even though both the mayor and the bill’s sponsor, Helen Rosenthal, did.

Readers of this blog  probably saw the recent post about that celebratory signing. Those present included representatives of HLAA and other disability-rights organizations. No Deaf organizations. It was HLAA that was there for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

As of now there is no option to comment, but write a letter to the editor, or keep your eye out for the opportunity to comment.

And support HLAA. You can make a donation to our important work at hearingloss.org or hearinglossnyc.org. Or join us. Email info@hearinglossnyc.org for information.

You don’t have to be deaf or hard of hearing to support our work — mostly likely someone you know or love has hearing loss, and we’re here for them.

New Yorkers are turning to the courtroom to enforce their rights, including access to sign-language interpreters.

25 thoughts on “Hard of Hearing? Nobody’s Listening.

  1. Bravo, Katherine. I’m in exactly the same position as you: adult-onset deafness, one cochlear implant, one hearing aid (which doesn’t help much), no familiarity with ASL. Yes, we seem to be the forgotten minority among hearing-impaired adults.

    As you and my friend Arlene Romoff have found out, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Guess it’s time for me to get active with the local branch of HLAA.

    Liked by 1 person

      • And my audiologist is pushing me to get a second cochlear implant. As for lip reading, the irony is that years ago—when my hearing was normal—I completed all my coursework for an MA in speech audiology. Actually taught lipreading, but I’m not very good at practicing the art myself.


  2. I would think the Deaf, deaf, hard of hearing and late deafened would promote CART in the court room instead of sign language interpreters. Sign language would be difficult to interpret complex cases and spelling out unusual words while CART is word-for-word interpretation. Most Deaf who prefer sign language are able to read above the 4th grade in this century. I think the reason they promote sign language is to convince the hearing population that we people with hearing loss are all fluent in sign language and it is an easy to learn.


    • It’s an oversimplification to say that people (Deaf or not) promote sign language because of a desire to convince others that everyone with hearing loss is a fluent signer, or that the language is easy to learn.

      I agree with both those statements, as an oral deaf adult who only started signing in grad school. I use everything — lipreading/speaking, ASL, CART, etc — depending on the situation. There are so many ways to be not-hearing in this world; I don’t think there is a right/wrong choice for those who are able to make it.

      However, there are many who aren’t able to make it, and sign language advocacy is least in part for them. CART is great for HoH/oral/late-deafened adults who’ve already got English language foundations, but CART alone won’t help a deaf infant develop baseline language skills (imagine if we weren’t allowed to talk to babies, yet magically expected them to learn to read). Lots of deaf kids have permanent language delays because they were denied access to language — any language — early in life, a situation that ASL exposure could have easily prevented.

      In my experience, those who advocate for signing are not saying that captioning, loops, etc. should not be used — it’s a “both and” advocacy, not a binary where you can only make one choice.

      (The language preference in a courtroom is another matter. I’d imagine you’d want to use whatever would take the least cognitive effort and give you the greatest understanding, and that depends on the person’s linguistic background, communication preferences, and skill levels of available interpreters and CART providers — some are great and some are awful, as in any profession.)

      Liked by 2 people

      • I agree with you completely.
        It’s essential for babies to be exposed to some form of language in their first months, whether spoken or signed. Reading skills are highly correlated with the early exposure to language.
        But 90 percent of babies born deaf are born to hearing parents. Those parents and their doctors may not comprehend the extent of the deafness until the child is months or years older. We mandate post-natal hearing tests but these often show false negatives so medical personnel tend to reassure the parents that it’s probably just a fault in the testing. They do encourage parents to bring the child back for further testing but in a busy household with working parents, other children, stress, money worries, that may not get done soon enough.
        Also, I think most of us, like you, use a combination of methods of clarifying our hearing — CART, loops, some rudimentary sign language, lip reading. I just wish that article, which I thought was very good, had acknowledged that the vast majority of people needing hearing accommodation don’t benefit from an ASL interpreter.


  3. I looked for this on fb — didn’t see it. — an unusually good post. See you Mobday!!

    Sent from my iPhone



  4. I have seen numerous situations where someone was employed to “sign” the proceedings for the audience. It never occurred to me to wonder how many people in the audience actually needed that assistance. I simply assumed that there were some. I have never attended any meeting where the room was looped which would have been a huge assist for me and my tele-coil equipped hearing aids, or where CART was employed. Therefore, I simply don’t go to public meetings anymore. It is all I can manage to have another couple for dinner and feel I stayed up with what the conversation was about. 🙂

    I have thought about learning ASL but real time captioning makes so much more sense. We do not have an HLAA presence in my state. Of course, that is a wide open opportunity for someone with organizational skills.

    The bottom line is this: it is not fun being opted out of public events because of an involuntary disability. The situation is made worse by a high level of public ignorance about hearing loss. The one thing I can do is to tell my story as often as I can. It’s the only “tool” I have that might make a difference to someone.


  5. Katherine, just because this article isn’t “about you” doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be written. This article is about a deaf rights movement and ADA violations. No one article can possibly cover everything having to do with hearing loss and I find this blog post petulant. Let this one article be what it is for what it is.


      • Keep in mind that the person who wrote the article didn’t write the headline for it. While the author did first mention “deaf and hard of hearing” in the second paragraph, and used it a few more times, “deaf” also appears by itself. And the example given in the first paragraph shows the article’s focus.


      • I used to be a newspaper editor so I know that’s true. But that doesn’t mean the editor who wrote the headline shouldn’t have been more careful.
        I think the writer did a very good job with the story.
        But I do think it’s important for the hard of hearing to remind people — and newspapers — that they vastly outnumber the signing Deaf and face the same obstacles. We’re all fascinated by sign language because it’s so beautiful and expressive — who doesn’t watch the interpreter standing next to the Mayor at a press conference? But that doesn’t mean it helps the 98 percent of those with hearing loss for whom ASL is as incomprehensible as any other complex foreign language. Not all 98 percent of us need accommodations, it’s true, but many of us do and we tend to be overlooked.
        Thanks for writing, though.
        I agree my focus is narrow — but that’s because I’m an advocate for people with hearing loss.
        “People with hearing loss” encompasses the Deaf. We always include ASL among the necessary accommodations. But Deaf doesn’t encompass people with hearing loss. So we have to speak up.


  6. While I agree that the NYT article doesn’t mention about the “forgotten majority” of deaf and hard of hearing people who don’t sign, there’s one thing I would like to note that HLAA often excludes deaf/hoh people who sign or use sign language due to their oral communication limitations (like myself). I feel really frustrated with HLAA providing only CART and hearing loop but being selective about sign language interpreters or not providing them at all. We are all in the same boat about communication access and need all types of access for events related to deafness/hearing loss without any of us asking for it.

    Also, not all deaf people who sign would prefer sign language interpreters for all situations – many of them can read and write well and some may prefer CART live captioning for certain situations. For example, I was raised oral using spoken languages (Russian and English) and learned sign language later in my life, so I prefer captioning for most situations and use sign language mostly to facilitate oral communication. Just because I use sign language it does not mean that I’m culturally Deaf.


    • I admire your ability to learn sign language later in life — as a third language, no less. That’s not an easy thing to do.
      HLAA is always willing to provide interpreters, but we ask for three days notice so that we can locate a qualified interpreter. We are a small organization without a lot of revenue. Paying for an interpreter when no one is there to “hear” him or her is not a good use of our funds. We provide CART and looping at all our meetings and the majority of our members take advantage of those assistive services. Interestingly, the reverse situation is more often the case: an organization will provide an interpreter but no assistive services for those who are hard of hearing but don’t use sign.


      • I’m starting to see more events hosted by organizations of signing Deaf people offering CART captioning to non-signers. In any case, all events about deafness/hearing loss should be readily provided via both live captioning and interpreting services without anyone’s advance request.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Don’t forget that many people do both (speaking and signing). Organizations like AG Bell are guilty of perpetuating the either-or fallacy. Fortunately, people like us can help end it.


  8. If an article is going to include the demographic numbers of deaf and hard of hearing in a city, state or country, it should also likewise include the diversity of these numbers in terms of communication access needs instead of inferring that deafness equates to ASL when no other communication access needs are mentioned for the deaf and hard of hearing such as CART and audio induction loops. We don’t want to hijack the demographics and make it our own whether the deaf and hard of hearing person uses CART, ALD or ASL because it distorts communication assessment needs for all the deaf and hard of hearing. For example, The NY Times article says:

    According to a 2014 census, there are around 208,000 people in New York City who are deaf or hard of hearing.

    It should then have been followed by –and of those 208,000 x amount depend on ASL for communication access. This would give a better representation for identifying needs in the city for ASL interpreters (and other communication access).

    Not all 208,000 people in NYC who are deaf and hard of hearing can benefit form ASL communication access or use it.

    In fact, the majority of the people who are deaf on an audiogram do not know ASL simply because the majority of the deaf are late deaf and have already acquired the spoken language. Another fact is that about 90 percent of the deaf and hard of hearing do not use or know sign language so of the 208,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in NYC, only 10 percent would benefit from an ASL interpreter, more or less. By not mentioning that in the article it seems to infer that 208,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in NYC could benefit from ASL.

    When articles fail to mention the complexity and diversity of the deaf and hard of hearing population and the myriad of communication access that is used for them, it confuses the mainstream into thinking deafness equates to sign language when that is not necessarily true. It may for some, not for others. We are diverse.

    What can be helpful for all of us – whether you use ASL, CART, ALD, audio induction loops. cue speech/oral interpreter is to better represent any demographic numbers you throw out there on what accommodations they use. That helps all of us when educating the mainstream who the deaf and hard of hearing are.

    In the end of the day, each and every one of us can help each other by educating the mainstream that ASL, CART and ALD (etc) are needed because we are diverse. I’ve seen articles too about loops suggesting that if you wear a hearing aid/cochlear implant you can benefit from it. That is not necessarily true either. You may or may not. It all depends on the person. We are complicated. Many profoundly deaf/hoh people wear hearing aids and can’t use loops.

    I would like to see everyone mention a variety of communication needs in articles, especially if you are going to use the entire demographic numbers of the deaf/hoh so as not to skew the picture. We can help and support one another that way.


    • Hi Donna, I’m not sure if you’re responding to something I wrote or to something the Times wrote. But I have said repeatedly — on this blog and on other platforms — that there is no one accessibility for everyone with hearing loss. The majority by far need CART, many of them need ALD’s in addition to hearing aids or cochlear implants. Only 2 % of the deaf and hard of hearing use ASL. Some people with hearing loss can benefit from induction loops. Others can’t. So providing accessibility is complicated — But it has to be done.


  9. I’m responding to what the NY Times wrote and not your blogs/posts commenting on it. Sorry i didn’t make that clear.

    The NY Times wrote that 208,000 deaf and hard of hearing people live in New York City, but made no mention that of the 208,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in NYC, 10 percent use ASL (or your figures of 2 percent which I won’t debate on). If using entire demographics of the deaf and hard of hearing in an article then inclusive language representation of such should follow instead of providing a 2 or 10 percent snapshot of the 208,000 NYC deaf and hard of hearing and failing to mention that.

    By failing to mention or be accurate with what the demographics of 208,00 actually represent which is diversity in deafness and the myriad of communication access they use, the indirect but strong sumliminal inference suggests then to the mainstream that those figures of 208,000 people in NYC use ASL when in fact, only 10 percent (or your figures of 2 percent) of the 208,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in NYC use ASL. It infers that deafness equates to ASL when in reality the vast majority of those deaf on an audiogram do not use or know sign language so it distorts the demographics picture which in turn confuses the mainstream on what access the 208,000 NYC deaf and hard of hearing use and fighting to be heard about.

    Per ADA revision of 2010, effective communication access for the deaf and hard of hearing is based on what is effective for that particular person as well as the circumstances of the communication situation. That could be ASL, CART, ALD, cue speech/oral interpreter and so forth. The entire demographics of the deaf and hard of hearing often experience denial in their ‘effective communication’ access whether its CART, ALD, ASL, cue/oral interpreter and so forth in spite of ADA.

    The NY Times article author could have taken a valuable opportunity to educate the mainstream with better representation of the demographics conveyed in the article and the myriad of communication accommodations the 208,000 people in NYC use that is often denied in spite of ADA’s 2010 revision of the law for effective communication access who are fighting to be heard. It helps all of us that way. We all need ASL, CART, ALD, cue/oral interpreters and more.


    • Actually the NYT author, a freelancer, tried to get that in. He interviewed me at length and of course I urged him to make it clear that the majority of those with hearing loss are adults who do not use ASL. I was quite irritated with the Times for deleting all that.


      • Thanks for telling me that it was the Times that hijacked the NYC demographics of the deaf and hard of hearing and provided a skewed picture, and not the ‘author’ of the article with the inference that 208,000 deaf and hard of hearing in NYC are ASL users fighting to be heard in court cases when in reality 10 percent ( or 2 percent using Katherine Bouton’s figures) of the 208,000 deaf and hard of hearing are ASL users fighting to be heard in courts.

        Of course the public does not know that the Times falsified the information given at the interview, and knowingly misrepresented the demographics of the deaf and hard of hearing in NYC. Its fine if they want to convey that x amount of ASL users (2 or 10 percent of 208,000) are fighting to be heard in their court cases but not okay to also use the other 90 to 98 percent demographics and attach it to it. That’s misrepresentation.


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