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- Fred Cohen wrote his last post for Law & Hearing on July 16, 2012. We appreciate Fred's contributions to Hearing Health & Technology Matters and look forward to reading an occasional Op-Ed at Hearing Views
On July 15 of this year I read with amusement that concert organizers pulled the plug on rock stars Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney after the pair violated the 10:30p.m. curfew at London’s Hyde Park. Apparently, “The Boss” had already exceeded the curfew by half an hour when he welcomed Sir Paul, who joined him for a duet of two Beatles hits.
The microphones were silenced before the stars could thank the crowd, creating an awkward moment for attendees but, I suppose, welcome relief for local residents. Hyde Park is known for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and as a traditional location for mass demonstrations and public debate on issues of the day. Noise is not new to the Hyde Manor, originally acquired in 1536 by King Henry VII and opened to the public in 1637.
The Park abuts some of London’s toniest hotels and wealthiest neighborhoods. The huge concerts have increased the friction between the genteel residents and the often raucous crowds of up to 80,000 concertgoers.
Noise pollution abounds here and abroad. Noise for me is music for others. Put a decibel number on it and reasonably restrict by area, sound level, and time of day and you are on safe legal grounds.
Springsteen and McCartney were silenced from thanking the crowd and offering a goodbye. This is my goodbye to the blog; to my colleagues and to those who may have wandered in here from time to time. Why goodbye? Too many pulls in too many directions to continue.
Thank you. Oh, I hope to make some guest appearances in David Kirkwood’s Hearing Views. We shall see.
The city candidly states it can save $6.3 million if it can deactivate the public boxes. The use of these boxes, of whatever type, has declined substantially. The increase in mobile phone usage is a significant factor in these trends. Emergencies are most often reported by phone, and the City has promoted calling 911 to report emergencies. Street alarm boxes report only 0.5% of all structural fires, 1.4% of non-structural fires, 0.6% of all non-medical emergencies, and 0.2% of medical emergencies. However, the rise of mobile phones and their significance in reporting emergencies from the street does not suggest that the deaf and hearing impaired, who cannot yet use mobile phones to report emergencies, no longer need street alarm boxes.
ADA is all about “meaningful access,” not equal access. See Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275 (2011).
The City continues to rely on the availability of 911 and what is known as the tapping protocol; a system of one and two taps indicating what type of emergency. Judge Sweet ends by stating,
“The Court is sympathetic to the burdens imposed by the expensive, false-report-prone street alarm box system. This case is living proof of the idiom that ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ The City’s efforts to bring emergency services to more people now require it to maintain those services in order to provide deaf and hearing impaired persons meaningful access to report emergencies and to comply with the ADA and RA. The injunction remains an equitable solution.
In the future, given the use of text-based communications in the deaf and hearing impaired community, allowing emergency reporting with mobile devices via text message or email may obviate that community’s need for street alarm boxes to report emergencies from the street. Regrettably, that alternative is not yet at hand.” 2011 WL 5995182 at
So, Judge Sweet upholds the injunction finding that while times have changed, they haven’t changed enough for him to allow the removal of public alarm boxes.
NYC, then, must bear the cost of continuing what really is a system relegated to the past. The payphone is in its final moments of survival and I suspect so is the public alarm system. Who remembers the earliest alarm system in early England? Whoever witnessed or discovered a crime was required to raise the hue and cry and call out against the offender. It was an offense not to join the chase. And — if you were hearing impaired could you use the “who knew!?” defense?
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