Checking In: Hotels and Hearing Loss

By Gael Hannan On May 22, 2012

It was 6 am and several people were waiting to check out of the hotel and get to the airport for flights home. We were all weary, slightly hunched and dreaming of the Tim Hortons coffee we would grab as soon as we paid our bill.

The 30th anniversary conference of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) had ended the night before. It had been a great event, with more than 150 people from across Canada gathering in Ottawa, our nation’s capital, which was in full bloom with lilacs, sunshine, cafés, and tourists.

Why were we so tired? Had we perhaps been up too late dancing at the closing banquet? Was our energy drained from attending workshops and discussing hearing loss issues for three solid days?

Maybe, but mostly we were tired because we hadn’t slept well. Being hard of hearing, we were nervous about sleeping in and missing our flights.  Each of us had done an individual version of the hearing-loss-night-dance: wake up to check the time, flop back on the pillow, fall asleep, and then repeat 20 minutes later, all night long. It makes for a never-ending, anxious night.

For many of us, hotel wake-up calls are useless because we can’t hear them. Wearing our hearing aids or CIs to bed is not an option; it’s uncomfortable, keeps us awake and we’re simply not used to hearing the night sounds.  OMG, what was that noise?!

When I travel, I use a shake-awake, a vibrating alarm clock that clips to my pillow.   The alarm sets off a continuous vibration, powerful enough to wake not only me, but probably the person sleeping in the next bed over – and the floor below me, as well.  On this trip, having forgotten to bring my shake-awake, I substituted my cell phone with its vibrating function. The only glitch – and a major one – is that the phone vibrated with every incoming text message and email, throughout the night. (Do these

message-senders never sleep?)

The ADA mandates that hotels and motels have guest rooms that are accessible for people with hearing loss.  In Canada, there is little in the way of  legislation that mandates accessible, safe accommodation for travelers who are deaf or hard of hearing. (The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is one exception). However, some industries, including the national hotel association, are self-regulating and many hotels are accessible .

But we also have a responsibility to help things along by self-identifying at check in. Even when we sport bright red or zebra-striped hearing aids, it’s a rare front desk person who would look at us and say, “Hey, I see that you’re hard of hearing. Would you like an accessibility kit, a special phone, a flashing alarm? Just name it!” 

We must let the hotel know what we need.  I usually follow up with specific instructions:  “If there’s a fire, I won’t hear alarms.  Please send the biggest, most handsome firefighter to break down my door and carry me to safety.” 

Which brings up an important issue: to bolt the door or not to bolt? This is a question that every hard of hearing hotel guest must ask themselves. Bolting the door can make it tough for the handsome firefighter to do his job, but we don’t want to make it easy for the bad guy to get in, either.

Personally, I don’t bolt. And neither, usually, does my fellow CHHA Board member, my good friend Myrtle Barrett from Newfoundland. We have been roommates at CHHA conferences for several years and have prided ourselves on knowing what’s what about hearing loss – until last year’s conference in Yellowknife, in Canada’s far north.

I had a 6 am flight out of Yellowknife, but Myrtle was staying on for a couple of days. At the airport, I was bumped to a flight later that day so I went fuming back to the hotel for a few more hours of sleep. I still had my room key but it wouldn’t work. There was no sense knocking on the door because Myrtle wouldn’t hear me. A second key from the front desk was also a dud.

“It must be bolted from the inside, Mrs. Hannan,” said the fellow on the front desk.

“It can’t be,” I said. “Ms. Barrett is deaf, she knows better than to bolt the door.”

He came up to the room with me and confirmed that the door was, indeed, bolted from the inside. With my permission, he used a master thingy to unbolt it, trying to be very quiet.

“She’s deaf!” I said. “Knock the damn door down!” (Did I mention I was grumpy?)

Inside the room, the TV was on; I turned it off and jumped into my bed. A couple of moments later, Myrtle woke up and saw the TV had been turned off by someone who was in the room!  She screamed and I bolted upright, screaming too.  After I had left, she had apparently arisen for a glass of water and had bolted the door without thinking. All’s well that ends well, kind of.

These days, hotels try to outdo each other in promoting their wonderful, comfy, sleeping-on-a-cloud beds. What would really help me sleep well at night is the knowledge that the following are in place:

  • Safety procedures that ensure guests and employees are safely evacuated in the event of an emergency
  • Visual fire and smoke alarms installed throughout the hotel, including individual rooms.
  • Visual and tactile alerting systems that notify guests when someone is at the door, the phone is ringing, or that it’s time to get up.
  • Phones that are hearing-aid compatible and have volume control.
  • Closed captioning on the TV. (I am relentless on this; if my TV has no CC, I will drive the manager and maintenance guy crazy until I have an accessible TV and a working remote control.)
  • Staff trained in communicating with people who are hard of hearing and deaf.
  • A hearing loop attached to the TV earns extra brownie points. It keeps the volume low, which would be appreciated by the hearing people trying to sleep in the next room.

Is all this too much to ask for? I love staying in hotels, but I want to feel safe and sleep well while I’m there.



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