Checking In: Hotels and Hearing Loss

It was 6 am and several people were waiting to check out of the hotel and get to the airport for flights home. We were all weary, slightly hunched and dreaming of the Tim Hortons coffee we would grab as soon as we paid our bill.

The 30th anniversary conference of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) had ended the night before. It had been a great event, with more than 150 people from across Canada gathering in Ottawa, our nation’s capital, which was in full bloom with lilacs, sunshine, cafés, and tourists.

Why were we so tired? Had we perhaps been up too late dancing at the closing banquet? Was our energy drained from attending workshops and discussing hearing loss issues for three solid days?

Maybe, but mostly we were tired because we hadn’t slept well. Being hard of hearing, we were nervous about sleeping in and missing our flights.  Each of us had done an individual version of the hearing-loss-night-dance: wake up to check the time, flop back on the pillow, fall asleep, and then repeat 20 minutes later, all night long. It makes for a never-ending, anxious night.

For many of us, hotel wake-up calls are useless because we can’t hear them. Wearing our hearing aids or CIs to bed is not an option; it’s uncomfortable, keeps us awake and we’re simply not used to hearing the night sounds.  OMG, what was that noise?!

When I travel, I use a shake-awake, a vibrating alarm clock that clips to my pillow.   The alarm sets off a continuous vibration, powerful enough to wake not only me, but probably the person sleeping in the next bed over – and the floor below me, as well.  On this trip, having forgotten to bring my shake-awake, I substituted my cell phone with its vibrating function. The only glitch – and a major one – is that the phone vibrated with every incoming text message and email, throughout the night. (Do these message-senders never sleep?)

The ADA mandates that hotels and motels have guest rooms that are accessible for people with hearing loss.  In Canada, there is little in the way of  legislation that mandates accessible, safe accommodation for travelers who are deaf or hard of hearing. (The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is one exception). However, some industries, including the national hotel association, are self-regulating and many hotels are accessible .

But we also have a responsibility to help things along by self-identifying at check in. Even when we sport bright red or zebra-striped hearing aids, it’s a rare front desk person who would look at us and say, “Hey, I see that you’re hard of hearing. Would you like an accessibility kit, a special phone, a flashing alarm? Just name it!” 

We must let the hotel know what we need.  I usually follow up with specific instructions:  “If there’s a fire, I won’t hear alarms.  Please send the biggest, most handsome firefighter to break down my door and carry me to safety.” 

Which brings up an important issue: to bolt the door or not to bolt? This is a question that every hard of hearing hotel guest must ask themselves. Bolting the door can make it tough for the handsome firefighter to do his job, but we don’t want to make it easy for the bad guy to get in, either.

Personally, I don’t bolt. And neither, usually, does my fellow CHHA Board member, my good friend Myrtle Barrett from Newfoundland. We have been roommates at CHHA conferences for several years and have prided ourselves on knowing what’s what about hearing loss – until last year’s conference in Yellowknife, in Canada’s far north.

I had a 6 am flight out of Yellowknife, but Myrtle was staying on for a couple of days. At the airport, I was bumped to a flight later that day so I went fuming back to the hotel for a few more hours of sleep. I still had my room key but it wouldn’t work. There was no sense knocking on the door because Myrtle wouldn’t hear me. A second key from the front desk was also a dud.

“It must be bolted from the inside, Mrs. Hannan,” said the fellow on the front desk.

“It can’t be,” I said. “Ms. Barrett is deaf, she knows better than to bolt the door.”

He came up to the room with me and confirmed that the door was, indeed, bolted from the inside. With my permission, he used a master thingy to unbolt it, trying to be very quiet.

“She’s deaf!” I said. “Knock the damn door down!” (Did I mention I was grumpy?)

Inside the room, the TV was on; I turned it off and jumped into my bed. A couple of moments later, Myrtle woke up and saw the TV had been turned off by someone who was in the room!  She screamed and I bolted upright, screaming too.  After I had left, she had apparently arisen for a glass of water and had bolted the door without thinking. All’s well that ends well, kind of.

These days, hotels try to outdo each other in promoting their wonderful, comfy, sleeping-on-a-cloud beds. What would really help me sleep well at night is the knowledge that the following are in place:

  • Safety procedures that ensure guests and employees are safely evacuated in the event of an emergency
  • Visual fire and smoke alarms installed throughout the hotel, including individual rooms.
  • Visual and tactile alerting systems that notify guests when someone is at the door, the phone is ringing, or that it’s time to get up.
  • Phones that are hearing-aid compatible and have volume control.
  • Closed captioning on the TV. (I am relentless on this; if my TV has no CC, I will drive the manager and maintenance guy crazy until I have an accessible TV and a working remote control.)
  • Staff trained in communicating with people who are hard of hearing and deaf.
  • A hearing loop attached to the TV earns extra brownie points. It keeps the volume low, which would be appreciated by the hearing people trying to sleep in the next room.

Is all this too much to ask for? I love staying in hotels, but I want to feel safe and sleep well while I’m there.

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.


  1. As a volunteer for the HLAA I have demonstrated hearing loss equipment to various groups for over the past ten years. I am retired and my wife and I travel a lot staying at hotels. As an advocate I use the HOH I use to check the hotels where I stayed for compliance with the U.S. ADA law requiring assistive listening devices to be made available to hotel guests. However, I discovered that although the vas majority of the hotels had the required equipment it took some time finding it because NO ONE had every asked to use it. Since this HOH equipment is not requested, even by needed guest, I don’t waste my time going through this procedure.

    Personally I have my “hearing ear wife” along and my personal equipment to wake up when we travel. However I always inform the desk when I make reservations, and upon signing in, that I am HOH and to make note of it for the front desk in case of an emergency at the hotel. Oh, frequently I am assigned to a physically handicapped room which is OK because it is frequently on the first floor, close to the front door and the breakfast center. The accommodating larger doors and easily assessable showers are not a problem either.

  2. Hi Gael;

    Did you happen to notice that the hotel check in desk at the CHHA Convention had a temporary counter loop system installed? Feedback from guests via the hotel staff was positive. We need to get more of these installed – permanently! Compliments of Better Hearing Solutions.

  3. I was in wisconsin at a motel last weekend for a graduation, the caption was on the small tv way up on a shell, the telephone wassupposevto be volume control and after I tried 3 times to call the desk & could hear she called me back.
    Also my son ordered the room so of course no special light to notify me if someone knocked.
    It is all about educating all.

  4. Gail your article is just right on!!! You just reminded me to order another shake awake alarm as I am going to be traveling alot this summer….

  5. My hubby had an experience similar to Stan where he didn’t hear the wakeup calls. In his experience though, he awoke to 3 security guards standing over his bed!

  6. Good information to have. I always am afraid I won’t wake up in time when I’m at conferences either. Usually my hubby is with on personal traveling and is my “ears” for the wake up calls.

  7. Funny antidotes and good humour throughout; but, seriously though I see the problem with the DHOH or DB alarm alerts. I have some suggestions: rooms designated for DHOH or DB (Deaf Blind)…if outside alarm goes off outside or inside door, a wireless signal/sensor should be sent to your accessability kit provided by the hotel (or bring your own). This signal will set off clip on pillow shaker. (make sure you have the shaker firmly clipped under your pillow under your head and try not to move your head during the night your asleep.) If you want to get more specific, on the accessibility kit (or bring your own Alertsystem), the kit will let you know fire or smoke in the motel/hotel;noise induced knock at your door for DHOH/DB through Braille; your cell phone; room phone; etc.

    At home, I uses Alertmaster and keep my bedroom open. If there is smoke in the house, a fire alarm alert sound will activate my system, setting off my clip on pillow shaker. I will look at the visual Alertmaster icons to see if it is indeed smoke or or other noise induced instruments throughout my house.

  8. Gael, your column addressed the issue right on the nail. And it’s a growing issue, with the ever-increasing and aging number of DHOH people.
    I don’t do that much solo travelling, but I had one experience in a New York City hotel that taught me to ALWAYS advise the hotel that I am a hearing-impaired guest, and to make sure they have that clearly notated in their systems.
    While in the Big Apple for a conference, I booked a normal 6 a.m. wake-up call and went to sleep.
    I didni’t hear wake-up call #1, or #2, or #3, and I don’t know for how long after the missed wake-up calls that the hotel employee stood knocking at my door to get me to respond.
    All I remember was the enormous look of relief that crossed the man’s face when I opened the door and he realized that he wasn’t going to have to bust into the room and discover a dead body lying there.
    So now I never forget to let a hotel know of my situation.
    Hotels could also help themselves by leaving reminders in the guest rooms, which might say: “if you are hard of hearing, or have any other specialized needs, please be sure to let us know”.
    That message is at least as important as the card that asks me to save the environment by re-using my towels.

    1. Yes – Stan
      It would seem important to let the front desk know that one if HOH or D.
      Sure wouldn’t want somebody getting worried or busting my door down because I don’t answer the wake up phone call, or their knocks.
      i often travel alone too, but don’t worry too much about bolting the door while I am in the room.
      don’t really want somebody coming in, unless it is security or the staff concerned for my well being.

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