There’s no reason that being deaf or hard of hearing should prevent anyone from traveling. While it can offer its own challenges, nothing compares to sunning on an exotic beach, exploring a world-class museum or strolling through a quaint village. A little preparation and planning in advance can help make any trip—be it by plane, train, bus or boat—stress-free and fun.
Traveling by plane presents a few unique issues. First, getting through security can be a bit tricky. You are not required to remove hearing aids or other devices, but you do need to notify the TSA agent that you have them. You can go to the TSA website and download a printable card to pass along while going through security.
Scanners may cause distortion and other noises in hearing devices, so be sure to turn down the volume. If you prefer, you can ask for a full body pat-down instead.
Once you’re at the gate, it’s your responsibility to inform airline staff members that you are hearing impaired. This is very important because many last-minute announcements, including gate changes and delays, are made over the public address system. It’s easy to miss these announcements, particularly if you’re bored and trying to pass the time on your phone or with a book.
Even if you notify the gate staff, you should also sign up for flight alerts by text, email or phone. While airline employees should notify you of any changes, they don’t always remember to do so. This is an easy and worthwhile precaution to take. You can sign up for notifications through the airline or with a variety of travel apps.
Once on board, you should inform the cabin crew that you’re deaf or hard of hearing. Like the gate staff, they need to know that they should inform you of any announcements. Consider booking a seat near the front of the plane so it’s easier for the crew to find you. An aisle seat is another good option if you can’t get up front, but you should not sit in exit rows. They’re prohibited for the deaf and hard of hearing due to safety reasons.
Consider informing your seatmates that you’re deaf or hearing impaired, too. Most people don’t mind and they can let you know immediately if there’s an important announcement.
You do not need to remove your hearing devices for takeoff and landing. They don’t interfere with the plane’s navigation systems. In fact, it’s better to leave them on in case of an emergency.
Be sure to bring a tablet or iPad loaded with movies or TV shows, particularly for long-haul flights. While many airlines provide seatback entertainment, few offer closed captioning. Obviously a good book is also a great option.
By Bus or Train
Traveling by bus or train has many of the same challenges as air travel, particularly when it comes to announcements relating to departures, arrivals, last-minute changes and safety. As with plane travel, let the staff know that you need to be notified if there are any changes because you may not hear the announcements. You could let the person sitting next to you know, too. Most travelers are more than willing to help.
If the bus or train does not have visible names for the stops, you’ll have to figure out another way of knowing when to get off. A seatmate, bus driver or conductor might be able to help. If it’s a short trip, such as a subway ride, you could also count stops.
Amtrak offers a 15 percent discount to adults with disabilities, and that extends to one travel companion. So take advantage of that if you plan to travel by train.
Greyhound has a Disabilities Travel Assistance line (1-800-752-4841) to help customers plan their trip. It’s a great way to get recommendations and to request extra assistance.
Hotels, Resorts and Cruises
Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), many hotels now adhere to the standards of accessible design. That includes offering rooms that are equipped with visual or tactile alarms and notification systems, and with TVs that have easy to use closed captioning.
Before booking, ask the hotel, resort or cruise line if they offer rooms that are ADA compliant. Be sure to note that you are hearing impaired or you may end up with room that is just wheelchair friendly. When you check in, ask for an ADA Kit, which typically includes a visual or tactile alarm clock and notification system for the phone and door.
When choosing a resort or cruise, be sure to ask if they cater to those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Some activities, such as movie nights and guided tours, may be impossible for you to participate in if they don’t provide closed captioning or an interpreter.
Wherever you’re staying, you could leave your deadbolt unlocked and give the staff permission to enter your room. If there’s an emergency, this might be the quickest or only way to notify you.
Other Items to Bring
It may seem like a no-brainer, but you should bring a pad and paper so you can quickly communicate with staff or fellow travelers. Notepad apps for smartphones and tablets are also great for this, but remember that you may run out of batteries!
Along the same lines, print out reservations, itineraries and maps if you can. This is another way to quickly communicate with gate staff, bus and taxi drivers, hotel employees or anyone else.
If you use a hearing aid or other hearing device, be sure to pack extra batteries and tubes. If you can, bring a portable dehumidifier too, particularly if you’re traveling to a humid environment. If you have old hearing aids, you should consider bringing them as a backup. Because these devices are so important, pack them in your carry-on bag. Always assume that your luggage will be lost or delayed, and you’ll be prepared for the worst.
Cell phone apps can be a great resource for keeping your itinerary organized and receiving notifications about changes to your travel plans. Most airlines have their own apps and will send you text notifications if flights are delayed or cancelled.
There are also many third party apps available to help you with travel plans. Try Google Trips or TripIt to organize your entire itinerary, including hotel rooms, dinner reservations, directions and more.
To track your flights and watch for delays, FlightAware is the standard, but FlightTrack is also a good option. GateGuru offers flight tracking too, but it goes a step further and alerts you to check-in and gate locations, security wait times and airport amenities.
Of course there are many more apps out there that can help with your travels, including getting discounted transportation and hotel rooms and finding the most popular nightlife and museums. It’s worth taking the time to explore your options.
There’s no reason to limit your travels because of hearing impairment. With a little planning, every trip can be a fun adventure.