Hello, my name is Janice Schacter and I am the Chair of the Hearing Access Program, which is a consortium for the three leading hearing loss organizations. I am also the mother of a 13-year old daughter who is hard of hearing. I am here today to discuss the needs of people with hearing loss as the TLC plans for the “Taxi of the Future”.
The words “Inclusive” and “Accessible” include people with hearing and visual loss in addition to people who use wheelchairs. Wheelchair accessibility is a component of access and not a solution for accessibility.
The taxis need induction loops to hear the driver and the Passenger Information Monitors (PIMs) and captioning on the PIMs to ensure that the taxis of the future are accessible to people with hearing loss.
Induction loops are a universally used technology that has been available for many years and has been mandated in every taxi in London since 1998. The TLC has recently approved a small pilot program to test induction loops in 15 taxis. The NYC Transit has also just approved a MAJOR pilot program for the subway information booths and buses. This occurred after a mini-pilot program at the Wall St. subway information booth. Induction loops are also in The New York Historical Society, MOMA, Temple Emanu-El and many other locations throughout the world.
Communication with a driver is difficult when a person has a hearing loss since there is a plexi-glass divider that inhibits sound and the passenger cannot see the driver’s face to read their lips since they are facing forward while driving. Induction loops allow my daughter and others with hearing loss to effectively communicate with the driver by switching their hearing aid to the “T” setting. The passenger can hear the driver directly in his or her ear. No longer does the passenger have to worry that he or she that will end up in Soho when they are headed to Noho. A goal that everyone can agree is important.
The induction loops can also be connected to the PIMs so that passengers who wear hearing aids with “T-coils” can benefit from this wonderful new technology. My daughter, personally, finds it frustrating that she cannot hear the PIM. To install an induction loop costs between $2-300/taxi, which is the equivalent of 2 or 3 round-trip fares to JFK.
We applaud the TLC for approving a pilot program for induction loops but the program is only for 15 taxis. This program is too small.
The pilot program is also a confusing process. The induction loop vendor must enlist the taxis for the program. It is impossible for myself who represents people with hearing loss to manage this process and ensure the needs of people with hearing loss are appropriately met. People with hearing loss are the beneficiaries of the induction loop’s installation but they are not party to the contract between the vendor and the medallion owner. This can create problems. One large consortium of medallion owners has already made it perfectly clear that they will only sign up for the program if we agree to a 5-year phase in process. No one should be able to manipulate a pilot program. Building induction loops into new taxis circumvents this issue.
Captioning on PIMs benefits passengers who have a hearing loss but who have not yet purchased hearing aids, have hearing aids without a T-coil or who cannot benefit from hearing aids because they are deaf. Captioning, frankly, benefits any passenger who is talking on their cell phone while watching the PIM, conversing with another passenger, cannot hear the PIM because of traffic or just wants silence in the taxi. It also benefits the driver because the passengers will lower the sound on the PIM, which is a constant complaint of the drivers that I surveyed. Captioning benefits everyone and is therefore, universal access. Captioning is now mandated by the FCC for all television programs. If it is on television, why not on television monitors in taxis?
Captioning costs a maximum of $750 for 15-minutes of programming or 6 cents per taxi.
If our goal is to really develop “Taxis for the Future” and to be the leader in taxi development in this country then lets ensure people with hearing loss are not overlooked. Please include induction loops to communicate with the driver and to hear the PIMs and captioning for the PIMs.
Thank you for your time