Are loud restaurants a violation of the ADA for the hearing impaired?

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Disability Act

Are loud restaurants a violation of the ADA for the hearing impaired?

People who are hard of hearing may have difficulty understanding speech in a noisy restaurant, even with hearing aids. Noise is also a problem for people with ringing in the ears and noise-induced pain, which can intensify with exposure.

Does the noise violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits public accommodation from discriminating against people with disabilities? The Washington Post is looking into the matter.

Daniel Fink, a retired Los Angeles doctor and noise activist, argues the law should apply. He recently presented an article on the matter to the Acoustical Society of America.

“High ambient noise levels are a barrier to access, just as curbs are a barrier to wheelchair access,” Fink told the Washington Post. “Hearing problems are invisible disabilities. The problems associated with hearing loss are underestimated.

Restaurant noise often reaches 70 decibels, at which only half of the speech can be understood by people with normal hearing, according to the Post. At 75 decibels, you have to shout to be heard. Some restaurant noise reached decibel levels in the mid-1980s.

Noise increases in many restaurants as table linens and curtains have been removed for a more modern or rustic feel. Crowds contribute to noise.

The simplest change restaurants can make is to refuse amplified music, Fink said.

But changes that would fundamentally change a business don’t have to be made by law, according to Ruth Colker, a law professor at Ohio State University who has expertise in disability law. The cost prohibitive modifications are also not necessary.

“I could imagine a court would say that the basic nature of a restaurant is to serve food,” Colker told the Washington Post. “Is it fundamental in the nature of a restaurant to provide background noise? This is an unverified legal question.


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