Is Restaurant Noise a Form of Discrimination?

Woman yelling into the ear of her husband.

Yes, restaurant noise is a form of discrimination.

Oh. You want a bit more information. That makes sense. We’re not used to thinking about a noisy restaurant as anything out of the ordinary. We take for granted that many fine eateries are obnoxiously loud, leaving diners no choice but to shout, raising the decibel levels of these establishments even further.

For many diners, these noisy restaurants can be an irritant. But for those with hearing loss, a loud restaurant can be a painful, exclusionary experience–and that’s the point at which simple restaurant noise becomes a form of pervasive discrimination.

A Tale of Volume and Access

Say you have some level of hearing loss and want to have a nice dinner out with your husband. You try that new trendy place downtown (the place that does the fish and chips). But it’s loud. And because of your hearing loss, this high noise level might affect you in the following ways:

  • Lost conversation: In a noisy environment, you might find it impossible to hear or make out any of the conversations around you–which can be frustrating, as most of us enjoy the part of the meal where we converse with our party.
  • Pain: Noisy restaurants can become quite loud–in some cases, as loud as a diesel engine right in your ear. If you already have hearing loss, this could cause a great deal of pain. Sometimes you could feel that pain immediately, and sometimes you might feel it the next day.
  • Tinnitus: Hearing loss and tinnitus often go hand in hand. And a noisy restaurant can certainly set the stage for a tinnitus flare up.
  • Hearing loss: Hearing loss is a cumulative issue–meaning exposure to loud levels of sound can damage your hearing, whether you already have hearing loss or not. If you have hearing loss, you’re likely to be a little more protective of your hearing!

If you have hearing loss, you might experience any combination of these reactions–and even that’s still just the tip of the iceberg. A noisy restaurant can quickly become an uninviting–even inhospitable–place to be.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (under Title III, if you were curious), public places–including restaurants–must make accommodations for those individuals who have disabilities. Under the ADA, hearing loss easily qualifies as such a disability.

What Should You Do?

So how do you assert your needs in a way that is both polite, effective, and unobtrusive to your lifestyle?

Theoretically, under Title III of the ADA, restaurants are required to be accommodating, up to a point. But just because that’s what’s written in the law doesn’t necessarily mean you can expect that in reality.

If you’re having trouble in a noisy restaurant you can do two things:

  • Ask the staff to be seated in a quieter area: Many restaurants have an isolated seating area for parties and big groups. In some cases, these areas might be perfect for your needs. That said, some restaurants might be resistant to this for any number of reasons.
  • Ask the staff to turn down the music: Sometimes, the only reason the people are so loud is because they have to shout over the loud music. Again, in many cases, the staff will be happy to do as you ask. But you may occasionally run into someone who is less than happy with your request.

If all else fails, you can always discuss your issue with management (or the management above the on-site management) in the hopes of getting the restaurant to change its policies.

How Much Information Should You Divulge?

Here’s the thing. You shouldn’t have to discuss your hearing loss with anybody to be accommodated. You shouldn’t have to explain, in detail, how you’re hard of hearing at every new restaurant you visit.

But if you want results, that might be the best way to do it. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, your right to enjoy a nice night of dining without aggravating your hearing loss is enshrined in law. Unfortunately, it’s a law that can be difficult to enforce (calling the police, for example, is not a solution, as it’s a civil issue–so your only legal recourse is hiring a lawyer).

Usually, a polite request will go a long way. And new apps are designed to help you find hearing-community-friendly dining establishments. Restaurant noise is indeed a form of discrimination. But with a combination of education, tact, and tech, hopefully, it’s not a form of discrimination you’ll have to put up with for long.

Want more information?

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