My name is Conrad James McGeough and I’m over 60 years of age. I have impaired hearing due to age and this is not unusual as one in three people over 60 suffer from hearing loss. I wear modern hearing aids and therefore I have little difficulties in having a one to one conversations or in using my mobile or landline. My complaint relates to the lack of proper assistive hearing facilities in our theatres, concert halls and public places for people with a hearing disability. Under Disability and Equal Status legislation, any place that provides a service to the public is required to have facilities to accommodate people with hearing loss. In the past 24 months my wife and I have visited all of our major theatres in Dublin, our national Concert Hall and the national Opera House in Wexford. I found that none of these places had assistive hearing facilities that were working properly. My wife and I were both avid theatre goers all our lives and now, like quite a lot of people in my age category, I have to sit throughout the performance without fully hearing what is going on because of the lack of these facilities. This is unfair and discriminatory.
When I complain, the response I usually get is that the required facilities are in place. What in fact most places have is an infra-red assistive hearing system which does not work properly or at best may assist people with a very moderate hearing loss. For people with a moderate to severe hearing loss their systems are not effective. Hearing loss is not visible so it does not get the same attention as other disabilities. Imagine the case if some of these places were to install a ramp that would only accommodate certain kinds of wheel chair users but not all. One can imagine how unfair and discriminatory that would be.
By contrast if I attend church service, even in some very small churches in rural Ireland, I can hear every word spoken because these churches have an induction loop assistive hearing facility. A proper working assistive system for impaired hearing streams the sound directly to the hearing aids and cuts out all the background noise. Donnybrook church which is a very sizable building has an excellent loop system and I’m told it cost in the order of €5000.00. So the cost of a proper assistive hearing system is not prohibitive, particularly when one considers that most of major theatres, concert hall and opera house get substantial state funding.
It’s not just older people who have hearing difficulties. One in six people have some form of hearing difficulty and would experience difficulties at our train and bus stations, court rooms, airports and all public places where services are provided. One in six will not be able to enjoy the Abbeys “Waking the Nation Programme for 2016” and likewise some children and their parents will not be able to enjoy the Snowman’s Christmas Concerts at the National Concert Hall.
To tackle this unseen and very unfair discrimination, amongst other things, the following measures should be adopted:
- The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission should organise a public awareness campaign to highlight the right of people with impaired hearing to enjoy the performances in our theatres, concert halls and cinemas and to create the awareness for them to expect that all places that provide a public service have adequate specific assistive hearing facilities to cater for their disability as obliged by Equal Status and Disability legislation.
- Our theatres, concert halls and cinemas and places that provide a service to the public are inspected for compliance with the relevant disability legislation and those places that do not have any facilities or whose facilities are not adequate are put on notice.
- Ireland to immediately ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities