Rep. Nardolillo Takes Plight of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community To Nation’s Top Executives
Writes letter urging them to allow full access to Drive-Thru Service to those who are deaf or hearing impaired
RI Legislation May Be the First of Its Kind in the Nation
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Robert Nardolillo III (R-District 28, Coventry) has written a letter to the Chief Executive Officers of McDonald’s Corporation, Burger King, Yum! Brands, and Dunkin Donuts asking them to install simple equipment to help the nation’s 26 million deaf and hard of hearing customers place orders at fast food restaurants.
His letter comes on the heels of introducing legislation (H-7490) which requires establishments selling drinks or food by the use of drive-through windows to install at the ordering station equipment to be used to assist the deaf and hard-of-hearing in ordering, and train its personnel in the use of such equipment.
“I introduced this bill because I witnessed a situation where a young mother had to enter a fast food restaurant to order food with three small children on a cold, snowy, and blustery evening. I wondered why she hadn’t ordered through the drive-thru but then I realized she was deaf and couldn’t access that convenience,” said Nardolillo. “In doing some research I found that there is a simple ordering system that can be installed for less than $1,000 that would allow people with hearing and other challenges to order at a fast food window.”
Nardolillo said he reached out to Stephen Florio, chair of the Commission on Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Rhode Island, to learn more about the needs of the community and whether this type of access was something the community wanted. The answer, he said, was a resounding, yes.
In addition, the representative contacted Howard A. Rosenblum, chief executive officer for the National Association of the Deaf.
"The National Association of the Deaf emphatically supports access at all drive-thrus for deaf and hard of hearing consumers, and encourages all restaurants to implement a system to enable this access," said Rosenblum.
In his letter Nardolillo stated, “Did you know there are 26 million people in our country who are deaf or hard-of-haring? The includes aging baby boomers who are wrestling with diminished hearing, people of all ages, including veterans, who suffer from ailments which affect their ability to hear through sounds systems, as well as people who were born without the ability to hear. All they want is the ability to go through a drive-thru, order food, get it, and be on their way… It is inconceivable to me that major businesses in our country would purposely exclude 26 million people from having the same experience at their restaurant that others do. I believe that businesses succeed when they are personal and inclusionary.”
The representative said another factor that must be considered is that preventing access to this population is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“The ADA, which has been law for 25 years, states deaf and hard of hearing people have ‘the right to fully participate in all aspects of society,” said Nardolillo. “It also says that public accommodations are required to reasonable modifications as well as provide auxiliary aids or services. Prohibiting deaf and hard of hearing customers from using a drive-thru or requiring them to go inside to receive service denies them the benefit of that convenience. Providing them with a separate but unequal benefit is a violation of the ADA.”
Patrick Hughes, Jr., founder and CEO of Inclusion Solutions which creates systems assisting people with disabilities gain equal access to the community, said he was moved by the testimony that Rep Nardolillo shared about his experience at the restaurant in his town where he watched the struggle between the cashier and the deaf customer and her three kids.
“His curiosity about this is refreshing. As someone who has been studying this issue since 2004, I am surprised that it has taken this long for someone to speak up like Rep Nardolillo is doing,” said Hughes. “In my knowledge, he is the first legislator in the country looking at this drive thru/communications issue and I applaud him for his leadership.”
Nardolillo said it is simply about inclusion and fairness. “Everyone should be able to use a drive-thru and when you see how simple and inexpensive it is to get this done, it should just happen. My hope is that these top executives will take the lead and make life more accessible for the deaf and hard of hearing.”
For more information, contact:
Louise Tetreault, House Minority Office
State House Room 106
Providence, RI 02903