Signed into law on July 26, 1990, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is considered the most significant law that protects Americans with disabilities from discrimination and ensures they have access to employment, transportation, health care, education, communications, and places of public accommodation.

Access barriers experienced by deaf and hard-of-hearing people are largely communication-based. Accommodations, however, can reduce or remove these barriers, and when in place, they can help your business become deaf-friendly.

Here are the three most commonly requested accommodations by deaf and hard of hearing people that you as a business entity may be asked to provide: 

  1. Interpreters
  2. Captions
  3. Assisted listening devices


What is it?  Interpreters are professionals who provide a bridge between hearing people and deaf and hard-of-hearing sign language users. Interpreters are fluent in both English and American Sign Language (ASL), in addition to being trained in the field of interpreting. Using certified sign language interpreters can be a great way to reduce communication barriers for deaf and hard-of-hearing people who use sign language to communicate.

Why is it needed?  Many deaf and hard-of-hearing people do not use spoken English or lip reading for effective communication and instead use sign language as their primary language. Most hearing people do not know ASL. By utilizing ASL interpreters for access, you can ensure that all parties are able to effectively communicate with one another.

Interpreting myth:  Myth: Anyone who knows sign language can function as an interpreter such as a family member.

Fact:  Most people who know sign language cannot be an interpreter. Knowing ASL, even fluently, does not make someone qualified to be an ASL interpreter. Make sure the interpreter you hire is professionally certified. When in doubt, ask the consumer who they prefer to use or go through a reputable ASL interpreting agency.


What is it?  Captions are text-based translations of spoken English. There are three different types of captioning to know about: open captioning, closed captioning, and live-captioning. Open captioning is when the words are pre-recorded and permanently superimposed on the screen and cannot be removed; everyone can see it. Closed Captioning for video content is also pre-recorded and must be manually turned on by selecting the caption settings for those who wish to use it. Live-captioning is exactly that, a person (or computer) typing captions in real-time to translate spoken English into text.

Why is it needed?  Captions allow deaf and hard of hearing consumers to access video content and audio content in movie theaters, streaming services, social media, television, sports, and news reports. Beyond providing access to video content, live-captioning (also called CART) can provide access during classes, conferences, presentations, trainings, workshops, and meetings of all kinds, whether online or in person. It is important to note that automatic captions, which are frequently inaccurate, are not the same as CART and should not be used as a substitute in most situations.

Captions Myth:  Captions are the same thing as subtitles.

Fact:  Captioning differs from subtitles in that captioning provides information about sounds, and not just spoken dialog. It provides information beyond just spoken dialog: it includes descriptions about surrounding noises, music, etc.  

Assisted Listening Devices

What is it?:  Assisted Listening Devices (ALDs) is a generic term that covers a wide variety of things that help deaf and hard-of-hearing people hear better. They include equipment such as personal Hearing Loops, FM systems, FM systems in theaters and conference rooms, special alerts for doorbells, fire alarms, baby cry monitors, and alarm clocks, and amplified telephones are some of the many examples of assisted listening devices available today. Some ALDs can sync with a user’s hearing aids or cochlear implants and can be controlled through a user’s phone. 

Why is it needed?:  There are many situations in a deaf and hard of hearing person’s life where an ASL interpreter or closed caption isn’t an effective accommodation. These include those who want to access auditory sounds without a hearing aid, who do not know sign language, or for whom text-based captions aren’t a good fit. Alerting to important environmental sounds in particular are some of the ways in which ALDs can really prove useful. 

Assistive Listening Devices Myth:  ALD’s are just for old people. 

Fact:  Not true! ALDs benefit people of all ages and hearing abilities. Flashing fire alarms, vibrating alarm clocks, and amplified telephones can benefit people from all walks of life, even hearing people! 

When it comes to accommodations, interpreters, captions, and assistive listening devices are three of the top requests made by deaf and hard-of-hearing people. There are, however, many more. The ADA law emphasizes effective communication and this can look different for different people. Allow the customer to be the expert and guide you on which accommodation will be the best fit.

Do you have questions about deaf and hard-of-hearing people but are unsure how to provide an accommodation request? Reach out and we’ll help you!