Making Entertainment Relatable and Accessible for More

By C. Adrean Mejia

Films, plays, and television series have long served as platforms to create awareness of important topics that have otherwise been kept out of the spotlight. Hearing loss is one example of such a topic.


As an organization that seeks to inform the public about the prevalence, prevention, and treatment of hearing loss, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) applauds the growing prioritization of this issue in entertainment. We are pleased to know that the number of films featuring characters with hearing loss—played by actors with hearing loss—has risen with the years, generating greater public awareness of the third most common health condition in the United States. Complementing this trend of an increased presence of hearing loss on screen is the introduction of recent legislation to make entertainment more accessible to viewers with hearing loss.

Actors and characters with hearing loss expand society’s understanding of the condition. Hearing loss empowers abilities, emotions, and experiences unlike those of people with typical hearing. Some recent works with characters with hearing loss include the following:

The Silent Child tells the story of a profoundly deaf four-year-old girl who is about to attend a mainstream school with minimal support—until a social worker teaches her American Sign Language (ASL). The film communicates the disappointing statistic that over 78% of deaf children attend mainstream school without accommodations. A final comment that states that the creators “hope this film contributes in the fight for sign language to be recognized in every school across the globe.”

Children of a Lesser God, a play written in 1979, made its Broadway debut last April. The piece focuses on the professional and romantic relationship between a deaf janitor and a typical hearing teacher and shows the contrasting worlds off sound and silence. To Sarah, the janitor, deafness is an identity, not a defect.  

This Close is a TV series by two deaf writers and actors that narrates the true story of their lives. The show provides a close look of the everyday day life of two best friends, emphasizing their challenges and frustrations while highlighting the positive and beautiful things that their hearing loss brings to their existence.

HHF commends these and the artists behind similar works for the awareness their creations have generated. Likewise, the organization is proud to witness the introduction of new laws and procedures to make entertainment more accessible to the hearing loss community.

Credit: Naugatuck Patch

Credit: Naugatuck Patch

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) first broke barriers by advocating for the requirement that all video program distributors close caption their TV shows. But it wasn’t until recently, with the help of technology, that these rules have expanded. On November 2016, the Final Rule on the ADA Title III was signed, requiring all American movie theaters to provide accessibility for captions. Large cinemas now offer assistive listening, closed captions, and descriptive audio.

Broadway, too, has made tremendous improvements. In 2016, the Theater Development Fund (TDF) and The Broadway League, launched www.theatreaccess.nyc, a website with information about tickets prices, dates and accommodations for theatergoers with disabilities. In addition, TDF now provides accessibility programs with open captioning and/or ASL at select Broadway performances.

Entertainment has made progress in becoming more inclusive for people with hearing loss since the implementation of these programs, but additional work is needed. Though mandating captioning at movie theaters represents great progress, other entertainment settings, including sports arenas and concert halls, must follow suit.

To optimize the listening experience for audience members with hearing loss, more must adopt the use of hearing loops, which transmit sound from a PA system to hearing aids and cochlear implants. In December 2017, the state of Minnesota passed a bill requiring hearing loops in public meeting spaces, taking after similar New York City legislation from earlier in 2017.

HHF looks forward to a day where no one must live with hearing loss. As long as hearing remains out of reach for tens of million Americans, fair accommodations are the most ethical choice.

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Paying Tribute on Armed Forces Day

By Siera Whitaker

May 20 is Armed Forces Day and Hearing Health Foundation is paying tribute to the men and women who serve in our armed forces.

The number one and two war wounds for active service members and veterans are hearing loss and tinnitus, directly impacting their ability to conduct missions and follow instructions. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, by the end of 2014 over 933,000 veterans received disability compensation as a result of hearing loss, and about 1.3 million received compensation for tinnitus.

Extended, unprotected exposure to noise that reaches 85 decibels (the sound of a lawnmower) or higher can cause permanent inner ear damage. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states difficulty with hearing is the third most commonly reported chronic health condition in the U.S.; approximately 40 million Americans ages 20 to 69 have hearing loss in one or both ears, and one main cause is excessive, loud noise.

When it comes to hearing loss and tinnitus, soldiers are at an increased risk. They are susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) because they are exposed to loud machinery and explosions on a constant basis. In combat, soldiers are often exposed to sudden noises, such as from an improvised explosive device (IED) or other similar weapon, which are difficult to predict and be protected against. These sudden noises can result in temporary hearing loss and put military personnel at risk. However, the word “temporary” should be approached with caution. Repeated short-term hearing loss can damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss that becomes permanent.

Hearing loss as a result of noise is 100 percent preventable. Wearing hearing protection such as noise attenuating helmets, which use ear cups to protect against hazardous sound, or Tactical Communication and Protective Systems (TCAPS), can go a long way to reduce overall exposure.

Since these brave men and women are disproportionately impacted by hearing loss and tinnitus that likely affects many other aspects of their lives, Hearing Health Foundation is proud to pay tribute to them on Armed Forces Day. If you are a veteran, current service member, or have family or friends who have bravely served our country, please check out our veterans' resources and share your story about hearing loss or tinnitus with us.

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Under Normal Circumstances


By Morgan Leppla

March is Disability Awareness Month. In honor of this important awareness month, Hearing Health Foundation is raising awareness and celebrating all of our different abilities and doing our part to reduce the stigma of living with hearing loss and its associated disorders.

Whether we like it or not, people compare themselves to others. Maybe contemporary culture brings it out in us, or perhaps that impulse is rooted in Darwinism ideology of survival of the fittest, reminding us of competitive advantages. Who is taller, more intelligent, faster?

Possibly, it also has to do with how we conceptualize normalcy. In the mid-1800s, Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet introduced the idea of “l’homme moyen” (average man) when he realized that human traits are distributed over a bell curve. So the average man would have the mean of all human traits in a single abstract person.

“Normal” entered English vocabulary in 1840 and has since been used to describe bodies and behavior. However, before society focused on the “the norm” it concerned itself with “the ideal.” Take the most coveted parts of bodies and traits that exist and combine them, and that would be the ideal person.

So why is this distinction meaningful? Because every living person is non-ideal, since by definition it cannot exist in one person, whereas people (bodies and traits) can be “normal.” On the contrary, normalcy is attainable on an individual level. And society’s reactive effect to the creation of normal humans was the production of their dichotomous counterparts: the extremes or deviants at the tail ends of the bell curve, the abnormal.

However, a collision of the normal and the ideal occurred when English statistician Francis Galton decided to rank human traits, created quartiles on an intelligence bell curve, and ordered them one to four. One was lowest intelligence and least desirable while four was highest intelligence and most desirable. He reoriented the human ideal using the norm. And now, I would say, it is “normal” to want to be the smartest, most athletic, most attractive, etc.?

The latter half of the 19th century employed pseudo-empirical justifications for describing how bodies should be in fairly clear terms. And to focus on distribution of differences warps the way society approaches normalcy as a concept. It allows us to draw lines where perhaps they ought not exist.

Thus we arrive at the construction of disability. Anyone who does not physically look like others or does not act like others is perceived as deviant or abnormal because they are at the wrong end of the bell curve. Beyond the initial construction of the human normal, barriers that are literal, educational, communicational, and attitudinal further maintain “disability” since nonexistent or poor accommodations along with stigma exacerbate “disabling” differences.

Hearing Health Foundation is encouraging everyone to think about how “norms” have molded our preferences and attitudes and whether that translates to treating people differently. Life may be more arbitrary than you think, and more can be going on than what meets the eye.

HHF is committed to spreading awareness of hearing loss and its associated disorders as well as reducing the stigma attached to them. If you’d like to share your story and experiences with our community, please email us at info@hhf.org.

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Greatness Always Has a Price

By Morgan Leppla and Laura Friedman

Signed in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the most contemporary federal legislation related to disabilities, outlining important workers’ rights and their employers’ obligations to provide reasonable accommodations. However, it does raise questions in regards to union contracts under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which was passed in 1935 and protects workers’ rights to unionize, collectively bargain, and take action (e.g. strikes). Thus, portions of the NLRA and ADA conflict with each other, putting strain on union workers who need reasonable accommodations.

The ADA outlaws discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, stating that individuals must negotiate with employers for “reasonable accommodations.” On the other hand, the NLRA prohibits union members from negotiating individually. Once the ADA was passed in 1990, it outlawed any part of previously entered collective bargaining contracts that included discriminatory clauses. Additionally, an employer cannot use a collective bargaining agreement as a means to engage in discriminatory practices that are otherwise prohibited by the ADA.

The challenge for employers is balancing their dual obligations to comply with established collective bargaining arrangements while accommodating individual workplace needs.

Many union contacts contain seniority clauses, providing benefits based on how long union employees have been in their position. For example, an employee who is at a company for 10 years may choose their hours before the newest hire. However, if the newest hire has a disability, it may be necessary for them to pick their hours before the more senior worker as a reasonable accommodation. This violates the union contract and NLRA for two reasons: 1) it can be considered direct dealing with an employee, and 2) it overlooks the terms of the contract. Even so, this accommodation does not otherwise pose “undue hardship,” and therefore should be granted under the ADA.

NOT SO FAST: Firstly, the NLRA does not contain language that protects people with disabilities. Secondly, the ADA was meant to expand upon, not replace, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in federal hiring practices and requires affirmative action in hiring for federal agencies, programs that receive federal funding, federal contractors, and subcontractors. However, the ADA does not have an affirmative action requirement, so employers are no longer obligated to give applicants with disabilities preferential treatment throughout the recruitment or hiring process. Furthermore, ignoring the seniority clauses in collective bargaining agreements would be using affirmative action in the hiring of persons with disabilities, and therefore illegal, adding the web of confusion as to which legislation must employers comply with.

Other issues are related to privacy of medical records. In one instance, a union needed workers’ medical histories in order to meaningfully negotiate their contract, which is permitted by the NLRA but prohibited by the ADA. Due to lack of evidence, guidance, and clarity, the court had the parties settle. While in this particular instance the issue was put to bed, the inability to make a decision failed to set a precedent which could address future disputes.

This amounts to a murky legal landscape. While some of the language has been interpreted by courts, there is a lot employers and individuals need to navigate on their own. Such uncertainty and lack of clarity further hurts the disabled individual because they have to take extra strides to ensure that they receive reasonable accommodations and are not subjected to discrimination based on disability by either the terms of a collective bargaining agreement or the actual employer.

Have a personal experience with discrimination in the workplace or with negotiating reasonable accommodations with an employer? 

Please share it with HHF by emailing info@hhf.org today!


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We're Partnering With The Mighty!

By Benjamin Sherman

We're thrilled to announce a new partnership that will bring Hearing Health Foundation’s (HHF) resources in front of The Mighty's wide-reaching readership. HHF is excited to share with you our partner page on The Mighty and our logo will appear next to many stories on the site.

For those who don’t know, The Mighty is a story-based health community focused on improving the lives of people facing disease, disorder, mental illness and disability. More than half of Americans are facing serious health conditions or medical issues. They want more than information. They want to be inspired. The Mighty publishes real stories about real people facing real challenges.

HHF is dedicated to helping people with hearing loss, tinnitus, and other hearing conditions live their lives to the fullest. With this partnership, we'll be able to help even more people.

Interested in partnering with Hearing Health Foundation?

Learn more here: http://hearinghealthfoundation.org/become-partner

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Labor Day: A Reflection of Disability in America's Workplace

By Morgan Leppla

Did you know that the first Labor Day in the U.S. was celebrated on September 5, 1892, to commemorate the achievements of the labor movement? More than a century later, we still celebrate our workforce for their contributions and successes. Mandatory safety regulations in the workplace, anti-discrimination policies, and establishing minimum wage are some of the noteworthy milestones accomplished.

Labor Day exudes an inclusive spirit. 

But what about individuals who have a disability?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) mandates that employers must make reasonable accommodations for qualified candidates with disabilities in the workplace. However, many people do not speak up or are ashamed to disclose their disability and needs to their employer, including those with hearing loss.

The employment rate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing in the U.S. is 50 percent, compared with 70 percent among workers who do not have disabilities. There is also a stark disparity between annual income for those who have a substantial hearing loss or are deaf, compared with their typical hearing peers: $38,000 per year vs. $50,000 annually in 2011.

A hearing loss may affect one’s ability to remain communicative and productive in the workplace, as the majority of today’s jobs require some form of verbal correspondence. Whether that is listening to instructions on a construction site, providing medical expertise, or receiving feedback from a supervisor, the words people say tend to be important. Gaps in understanding lead to gaps in accuracy, productivity, and performance.

This is not just an individual worker’s problem either. When people stop working at optimal capacity, bottom lines shrink. And considering that 67 to 86 percent of the 48 million Americans who have hearing loss do not have hearing aids, more dollars than you’d expect could be lost.

Workers’ general wellness includes knowing about, managing, and treating hearing loss, as well as feeling comfortable asking for reasonable accommodations without fear of discrimination. Eradicating the stigma surrounding hearing loss is key to addressing it as an epidemic medically, economically, and socially—and we at HHF are working hard to eliminate that stigma through building education and awareness.

Labor Day is about honoring the workforce. Please join Hearing Health Foundation in celebrating the progress made for American workers, as well as acknowledging the obligation to improve the livelihood, both in and out of the workplace, of our fellow citizens. 

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Do You Qualify?

By Deanna Power

Hearing loss is one of the most common disabilities in the U.S., affecting 48 million Americans. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with hearing loss, there could be help available. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers financial benefits for people who are unable to work due to hearing loss.

There are two types of disability benefits someone experiencing hearing loss could qualify for: Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. Medical qualifications will be exactly the same for both programs, but each have their own eligibility criteria.

The first type of disability benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is awarded when an adult (ages 18-66) is no longer able to work due to hearing loss.

Only people who were previously employed and have been working throughout most of their lives will qualify for SSDI benefits. To find out if you have worked enough, you can determine whether you have earned enough work credits based on your age on the SSA’s website.

The second form of disability benefits is Supplemental Security Income (SSI). While there are no work requirements with SSI benefits, there are strict financial limitations. An adult SSI applicant cannot earn more than $733 per month.

For children applying for SSI benefits, parents’ income will be evaluated. The SSA is not as strict with household income limits evaluating children, but childhood SSI financial limitations are still difficult to meet. If you are married or have other children, your household income limit will be higher.

Medically Qualifying with Hearing Loss

When you apply for disability benefits with hearing loss, the SSA will compare the severity of your condition to its own medical guide known as the Blue Book. The Blue Book will list exactly how severe your hearing loss must be to be eligible for disability benefits. Hearing loss can be found in both the children’s and adult versions of the Blue Book.

The Blue Book listing for hearing loss is found in Section 2.10. For hearing loss not treated by cochlear implantation, you will need to have medical tests showing one of the following criteria:

  • You have an average air conduction hearing threshold of 90 decibels or greater in your better ear. You also must have an average bone conduction hearing threshold of 60 decibels or greater.

  • OR you have a word recognition score of 40 percent or less in your better ear.

If you’ve received a cochlear implant, you will be considered medically disabled by the SSA for one year after the surgery. After 12 months, the SSA will review your case. If you have a word recognition score of 60 percent or less determined using a specific test, you will still qualify. If your hearing has improved, you will no longer qualify for disability benefits.

A cochlear implant is only “automatically” disabling after surgery. Before surgery, you will need to meet one of the SSA’s other criterion.

The childhood listing is found in Blue Book Section 102.10. Children under age 5 will need to have an average air conduction hearing threshold of 50 decibels or greater in their better ear. Between the ages of 5 and 18, your child will need to have medical records showing one of the following:

  • An average air conduction hearing threshold of 70 decibels or greater in the better ear, plus an average bone conduction hearing threshold of 40 decibels or greater.

  • OR a word recognition score of 40 percent or less in the better ear, determined by using a standard list of phonetically balanced single-syllable words.

  • OR an average air conduction hearing threshold of 50 decibels or greater in the better ear, plus a marked difficulty in speech and language.

If your child has a cochlear implant, he or she will be considered medically disabled until age 5 or one year after implantation, whichever is later. After your child turns 5, or 12 months pass since surgery, your child will need a word recognition score of 60 percent or less on the Hearing in Noise Test (HINT or HINT-C) to stay on SSI.

Applying for Benefits

If you are interested in applying for disability benefits due to your hearing loss, your first stop should be the SSA’s website. The SSA has guides outlining exactly what paperwork and personal information you’ll need to apply.

If you are applying for SSDI, you can complete the entire application online. This is the easiest way to apply for disability benefits, as you can save your application and return to finish it at a later time. Be sure to list your spouse and any minor children, as they could receive benefits as well if your SSDI application is approved. SSI applicants can only file for benefits at their local SSA office. Fortunately, there are multiple SSA offices in every state.

If you have not had one of the SSA-recommend examinations performed to evaluate your hearing loss, it is wise to speak with your audiologist and have one or all of the tests performed. The more medical records you have show how severe your hearing loss is, the better your chances of approval.

Deanna Power is the Director of Community Outreach at Social Security Disability Help. She first started working with people with disabilities by volunteering with Best Buddies in college, and now specializes in helping people of all ages determine whether or not they medically qualify for disability benefits. If you have any questions, she can be reached at drp@ssd-help.org.

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URGENT: Demand Hearing Loss to be Acknowledged as a Disability

Recently, Hearing Health Foundation learned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study on the prevalence of disability in the U.S. The study examined vision loss, cognition, mobility, self-care and independent living, but failed to mention hearing loss, the third most common public health concern after diabetes and heart disease.

Hearing Health Foundation is outraged by this gross oversight and finds the exclusion of people living with hearing loss from the report to be a troubling concern. Failing to acknowledge hearing loss diminishes the fact that having a hearing loss is a concern worthy of attention and treatment, as well its impact on a person's quality of life, ability to work, and full participation in society.

Hearing Health Foundation is not sitting back quietly, and neither should you! We will be sending representatives at the White House and CDC a letter asking them to take swift and meaningful steps to correct this gross error, acknowledge hearing loss as a disability, and amend the report accordingly. 

If you would like to take action with HHF, please sign our petition on Change.org. You can also download this letter, sign and return it to us by e-mail or mail (Take Action, c/o Hearing Health Foundation, 363 7th Ave, NY, NY, 10001). We will be sending all letters on September 1st. 

If you have any questions or would like to share your own letter with us, please email us at info@hearinghealthfoundation.org.

Thank you,

Claire Schultz 

Chief Executive Officer 

Hearing Health Foundation

Sign up for our monthly Hearing Health e-newsletter to receive the latest research updates from the lab, hear from those directly impacted by hearing loss and learn about ways for you to help make hearing loss a thing of the past. 

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Catch the ReelAbilities Film Fest in New York City This Week

By Tara Guastella

The ReelAbilities Film Festival kicks off today in New York City and runs through next Tuesday. This is the largest film festival in the country—it includes films that are screened at more than a dozen locations across the U.S.—dedicated to promoting awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with different disabilities.

Launched in 2007 in New York City, the festival presents award-winning films by and about people with disabilities in multiple locations throughout each hosting city. Post-screening discussions and other engaging programs bring together the community to explore, discuss, embrace, and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience.

Festival highlights this year include Lindsey Dryden’s Lost and Sound, which follows three artists who lose their hearing and journey deep into sound and silence to rediscover music, and Sounds for Mazin, which chronicles how a 12-year-old boy with hearing loss looks forward to getting cochlear implants, but his friends make him second-guess the decision.

A special offer for friends of HHF - use code EFDHHF for $3 tickets to Lost and Sound at the JCC in Manhattan!

There are many additional films to enjoy: Check out the schedule for a complete listing and buy your tickets today.

If you’re not in the NYC area this weekend, don’t fret! The ReelAbilities Film Festival makes its way through many cities across the U.S., including Atlanta, Boston, Houston, the San Francisco Bay Area, Washington D.C., and many more. Find out more on the ReelAbilities website.

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