Should Assistive Listening Devices be Mandatory for Houses of Worship?
Many people attend worship services each week to be inspired. Yet, many houses of worship have acoustical challenges. Whether it is an HVAC system, reverberation, the distance from the pulpit, or the structure of the house of worship itself causing auditory problems, it can be difficult for congregants to hear the service properly, and this is exponential true for congregants that already have hearing loss.
Too often, congregants with hearing loss stop attending worship services because they cannot connect to what is important—the message. Assistive listening systems help people with hearing loss connect to sound in all kinds of environments, including houses of worship.
What Does the ADA Say?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires certain public spaces to provide assistive listening devices. Just like access ramps help people in wheelchairs, assistive listening devices help people with hearing loss in public spaces, venues, and assembly areas.
Most houses of worship are not required to provide assistive listening devices to their congregants—under the ADA, houses of worship have exemption status. However, this is not the case everywhere. California and Texas both require houses of worship provide assistive listening systems to their congregants.
Compliance Laws in California
The State of California relies on the California Building Code (CBC) to outline the compliance laws for assistive listening. While California has adopted a similar format to the ADA, there are two areas in which the CBC differs.
The first difference is in the CBC’s definition of an assembly area. Section 11B-244.1 of the CBC states “Religious facilities shall be accessible in accordance with the provisions in the code. Where specific areas within religious facilities contain more than one use, each portion shall comply with the applicable requirements for that use.” In other words, houses of worship in California are not exempt from providing assistive listening systems to their congregants.
The requirements for assisted listening receivers that assembly areas, public spaces, and venues are required to provide is also different in California then what the ADA outlines. Here are the requirements in California:
- If a building contains more than one assembly area that requires an assistive listening system the total number of receivers can be calculated according to the total number of seats in the assembly area, as long as the receivers are useable with all systems.
- If all the seats in an assembly area are served by a hearing loop (induction loop) system, the minimum number of receivers required to be hearing aid compatible do not have to be provided.
The CBC is reviewed and updated every three years. The latest update took effect on January 1, 2014. If a facility in the State of California is not compliant, the local building department is the enforcement agency per Health and Safety Code 19958.
Compliance Laws in Texas
The State of Texas also differs slightly from the ADA when it comes to legislative requirements for assistive listening. Like California, Texas has adopted a similar format to the ADA. However, the Texas code defines assembly areas different from the ADA. Section 3.5.11 of the 2010 Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) defines assembly areas in Texas as “a building or facility, or portion thereof, used for the purpose of entertainment, worship, educational or civic gatherings, or similar purposes.” Unlike the ADA, the ABA makes it mandatory for houses of worship in the State of Texas to provide assistive listening systems.
Why Does this Matter?
While it is important to follow stated guidelines in the American with Disabilities Act, you must also be in compliance with your state laws. And, if you are in California or Texas and your house of worship does not have assistive listening devices, you are breaking the law. While it is currently not mandatory in all states to provide assistive listening devices in your house of worship, it is still advisable you do so. In the US, one out of every five adults experiences some degree of hearing loss. And, because hearing loss is an invisible disability, it is often the most overlooked.
By implementing hearing assistive devices at your house of worship, you create better listening experiences for congregants with hearing loss, allowing them to stay connected and inspired to what matters most.