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Nassau lawmaker backs bill to amend county's human rights law to include devices to aid hearing

On Tuesday, Nassau County Legis. Joshua Lafazan (I-Woodbury) introduced a bill he hopes will amend the county’s human rights law to include hearing aids and similar devices as a "reasonable accommodation" that private and public employers can make for hearing-impaired employees.   (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Nassau County Legis. Joshua Lafazan (I-Woodbury) has introduced a bill he hopes will amend the county’s human rights law to include the use of hearing aids and similar devices as a "reasonable accommodation" that private and public employers can make for hearing-impaired employees.

The measure, which he filed on Friday and presented to the public at a news conference Tuesday in Mineola, is the third bill Lafazan has sponsored aimed at improving life for the deaf and hard of hearing since he was elected in November 2017. Each measure, he said, has been well received by his colleagues in the Legislature.

The legislation would revise the county’s human rights law to say “Reasonable accommodation includes, but is not limited to, provision of an accessible worksite, acquisition or modification of equipment, support services for persons with impaired hearing or vision, permitting persons with impaired hearing to use hearing aids and other such auxiliary aids to effectively make aurally delivered information available to such persons, job restructuring and modified work schedules.”

“We have taken great steps in this county regarding expansion of access and inclusion of people who are deaf and hard of hearing,” Lafazan said, joined by Loretta Murray, Chris Oddo, Leah McCloskey and Marta Reeger of Mill Neck Services, which helps people who are hard of hearing.

He added: “The simple fact is this: When hearing acuity is a bona fide occupational qualification for a job, and a hearing aid or other auxiliary aid can allow an individual to reach a predetermined level of hearing proficiency, I believe the individual should be able to utilize the aid.”

Lafazan cited statistics from the National Deaf Center, which said that 42.9 percent of deaf Americans are not in the labor force, while 20.8 percent of hard-of-hearing people aren’t. What’s more, he said, as many as three million hearing aids were distributed in 2016 alone, demonstrating the potential impact of the measure nationally. He added that the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates one in eight Americans over 12 years old has hearing loss in both ears.

“We felt that there was serious concern with incidents across the nation of individuals who were deaf or hard of hearing being denied their use of reasonable accommodations,” he said. “So, we wanted here in Nassau County to put a specific clarification in the human rights law that would be applicable to both public employers and private employers.”

Lafazan has also introduced measures that require a sign language interpreter at emergency news conferences and an informational visor card that helps the deaf and hard of hearing communicate with police during traffic encounters.

Both passed and became law.

“My colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, understand my commitment to helping people with disabilities and making Nassau County as inclusive as can be for residents who are deaf or hard of hearing,” he said.

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