Many times when you’re eating out, you’ll receive something you didn’t order in addition to your entrée: noise. This can make conversations with your dining partner difficult; if you’re one of the 20 percent of people in Scottsdale with hearing loss, it can make your experience downright unpleasant. Some people believe noisy restaurants actually discriminate against diners with hearing loss.
Legal Protection for the Hearing-Impaired
According to your Scottsdale audiologist, 48 million people in the U.S. have hearing loss to some degree. Under Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act, all places of public accommodation – including restaurants – must protect anybody with a disability. Unfortunately, many do not consider hearing loss to be a disability and there is no consistent legal definition to provide clarity. This gives hearing-impaired diners few options.
Restaurant noise levels are often more than uncomfortable; they can be downright dangerous, even for those with normal hearing. Studies show that restaurant noise levels routinely average 75 to 85 decibels and can even exceed 95 decibels; that’s about equivalent to the sound of a lawn mower and loud enough to cause hearing loss in about an hour. Individuals with hearing loss aren’t the only ones affected; those with hearing disorders such as tinnitus or hyperacusis also feel the pain. Literally.
Short of eating quickly, what options do you have? You can always request a table in a quiet spot of the restaurant away from the kitchen or ask staff to turn down the music, but this isn’t always effective – or even possible. Washington, D.C. restauranteur Ashok Bajaj explains, “When you go to a restaurant, you are dining with others; you are not just dining by yourself. Diners have to be mindful that, if you go into a restaurant with 100 seats, it is going to be noisy no matter what you do. Sometimes you get a loud table, and there is nothing you can control about it. We accommodate our guests the best we can. It is difficult for the restaurant to please everybody.”
Because the Americans With Disabilities Act is rarely enforced for patrons with hearing loss, what options do you have? Your Scottsdale audiologist has a few suggestions. Try downloading a smartphone app such as Soundprint or iHEARu, both of which provide information on noise levels in local restaurants, helping you to choose quieter places to eat. You can also consult online review sites like Yelp for feedback from diners. Schedule your meals for less-busy times when it is likely to be quieter, and if you’re dining someplace that accepts reservations, request a quiet table away from the center of the room.
Worst-case scenario? Get your kung pao chicken to go.
Your Scottsdale audiologist is happy to provide you with more information on dealing with hearing loss in noisy environments.