Businesses Facing Risks of Discrimination Due to Mandatory Masking Policies
While mask mandates are starting to loosen up all across the country, many businesses are still requiring employees to wear masks for the continued safety of employees and customers.
Despite the onset of COVID-19 with drastic measures taken by local, state, and federal governments, employers and places of public accommodation are still required to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
The ADA discusses “effective communication” and that wearing a non-ADA compliant facemask in customer service areas can prevent customers with hearing disabilities from understanding.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, (NIDCD) 13% of people in the United States (one out of eight people) aged 12 years or older have hearing loss in both ears based on standard hearing examinations. Out of 30 million people, about 2% of adults aged 45 to 54 have disabling hearing loss and the rate increases to 8.5% for adults aged 55 to 64.
In a different study led by Johns Hopkins researchers published in the Nov. 14  Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that one in five of all Americans 12 years or older have hearing loss so severe that it may make communication difficult. These findings, thought to be the first nationally representative estimate of hearing loss, suggest that many more people than previously thought are affected by this condition.
Since 93% of the meaning of communication comes from the non-verbal and facial cues, employees can best accommodate visual communicators by facing them so the customers can lipread. If possible, try to talk away from loud machines (hearing aids and cochlear implants will amplify the loud machines which often drown out speech).
As stated in the title of this article, more and more businesses are beginning to face legal challenges due to discrimination against people with hearing difficulties.
Below are three simple, low cost actions you can take to avoid discrimination with mandatory mask mandates:
- Provide guidance to employees in how to accommodate deaf or hard of hearing customers who rely on speech-reading (lip-reading) to communicate.
- Post notices in store entrances informing customers that accommodations are available for hearing-impaired or deaf customers.
- Provide stores with transparent face masks and writing materials in the event a customer requires special accommodations related to hearing impairment.
By making these three simple changes in frontline areas, you may become an ally for those with communication difficulties and avoid the risk of discrimination. Customer satisfaction will improve and customers will see friendly faces and warm smiles from your employees.