Airlines: Are they Deaf and Hard of Hearing friendly?

One of the toughest questions for me to answer is this one above. Why?

Because the definition of what it means to be hard of hearing and deaf friendly varies upon the person who uses it. Just like every traveller is different, every Deaf and Hard of Hearing (“DHH”) person is different. They have different preferences and different thresholds on what is acceptable for them.

As someone who is hard of hearing, I lead a very sound-dependent life-style, which means that my life revolves around sound, and being respondent to sound. Having travelled a lot with a variety of airlines, I require very little in the way of notices and information, as I prefer to seek it out myself, and don’t care much for the PA announcements made inflight. I check in, check out, and engross myself in a book or take a nap during a flight, ignoring everything around me as I figure that if it’s a real emergency, I’d be able to find out from the flight attendant and their action. That said, not every DHH traveller is like this.

So how DHH friendly are the airlines?

When you book tickets and/or check in for your flight, most airlines have a drop down option for any assistance that you may require. One of those options is for DHH, and supposedly they will have someone available who can translate into Sign Language (“SL”-I’m using this as a general term for all Sign Languages around the world) for you, or look out for you while you make your way through the airport (not necessarily SL-speaking in that case). The thing is that with this option, you can never be sure that an SL speaker will be available or on staff to help you navigate your way. In some places, it may actually be difficult to find someone who knows it, and is not DHH, or it might be even difficult to have more than one person on staff who uses it. As a result, sometimes it will lead to longer wait times to get what you need, and the quality of trip that you deserve.

At this point, it’s really a hit or miss. But there is a work-around for that, and any seasoned traveller will know this trick–downloading the apps for each airline that you are flying or checking their website. You can use either of these options to check any flight status changes, gate changes, and updates like that. This also saves you the time of not having to walk to the nearest screen to find the information on your gate. Another option, similar to the above, is called TripCase (not an affiliate link, just something I used recently that is pretty awesome). TripCase allows you to send your itinerary to an email they set up specifically for you. Once they receive all your information–Flights, hotel bookings, etc–they put it into your profile and start a countdown to the trip. Once you’re on your trip, if there are any changes to the flight–status and gate changes, they will alert you.

Despite all of this, once on flight, most airlines are NOT DHH friendly. While these days, it is more common to see closed captioning on in-flight entertainment than it used to be in the past, the two places that this information is lacking are:

A) Public Announcements made by flight attendants and pilots during flight. In this case, all you see is “PA Announcement” on your screen while the movie is frozen, but since it is all spoken, it’s hard to have a clue of what is going on. Even if you are very sound-dependent, the noise of the plane’s engine makes it dang difficult to hear anything anyway.

B) Economy class meal options. Most of the time, in economy class, the meal options are usually presented by the Flight Attendant vocally, and sometimes it’s hard to tell what options there are. For years, I’d actually take one of two options, knowing that flights usually have these (which really was a guess, at best): Pasta or Chicken. Then I found out that the magazines sometimes have the in-flight menu. But that really depends on the airline as some only give you information in a menu if they are selling the food (purchase options only). Rarely do their in-flight entertainment magazines have information on what options are available. The best workaround that I’ve come up with to this is to simply ask the flight attendant for the options and then have the answer ready when he or she comes to me.

The biggest portion of the answer lies with the airline’s industry people. It is the employees in this industry that make or break the experience, and truth of the matter fact is, like everyone else, some are educated in DHH, while others may be clueless.

So there is your long answer.

The short answer: Not really.

Have you ever encountered any hardships during flights beyond those listed above? Or have you had a particularly good experience with one airline that you think is DHH friendly? If so, let me know in the comments below!

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