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Info for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing passengers

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Hi all, 


Got so many requests for information, that I decided to share some here (as there is not much on these boards pertaining to Deaf/DeafBlind passengers that use sign language as their primary mode of communication, and that this group is oftentimes an "afterthought", putting priority on the oral/late-deafened and hard of hearing folks that don't use sign language communication. Plus the access pages on cruise lines' websites aren't always easy to find/use. 


From my experiences and the stories I have heard from fellow passengers (and interpreters too), it appears that the cruise industry varies greatly on the standards of accessibility for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing passengers. (In fact, there is practically zero mention of DeafBlind passenger accommodations, so I have drawn from both the Deaf and Blind categories whenever applicable). The Deaf community also have their 'preferred' cruise lines (usually the ones that lay out accessibility choices up front and don't put up a fuss about providing them, and have made the language transparent on their websites' accessibility pages), so that plays a factor on why some lines have more Deaf passengers than others.


But even so, not every line is a good match for the passenger in question, and vice versa. This is where it gets tricky - does a passenger sail with:

  •  "A" cruise line because it provides "better" access, but does not match their interest/preferences,
  • or do they go with "B" line, which is a perfect match for them and put up with less than acceptable access (and oftentimes after lengthy back-and-forth communication and document-sharing)?
  • Or do they go on "C" line on a Deaf chartered and/or group cruise (thus cutting options down to two a year, if even at that, with limited ship, cruise line, and itinerary choices, where the free cabin for every 10 cabins or so is given to the interpreters)?
  • Or even wing it with "D", with no access accommodations? 


In 2019, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) addressed the (many) complaints about lack of appropriate accessibility (namely sign language interpreters) provided onboard cruise ships by sharing a letter to be shared with the cruise line in question. This letter covers the ADA (which is a very gray area, and only guidelines at best), prior court cases involving cruise lines (Carnival, NCL, and Premier are all named. There is another one pending against RCI for the hurricane cruise


Resources from NAD:

NAD Statement on Cruise Ship Accessibility

The NAD Letter to Cruise Ship Operators

Ask Howard Anything: Cruise Accessibility (video, turn on CC for English captions)


Major Cruise Lines Accessibility Pages for Deaf & Hard of Hearing Passengers:






Holland America





Royal Caribbean


The general consensus seems that most if not all lines provide in-room ADA kit (including but not limited to the following: vibrating bed alarm, doorbell sensor and indicator, TTY, emergency notification system, etc.) Stateroom TVs have closed-captioning for SOME channels, however all safety announcements are subtitled (I hope?). Some cruise lines provide Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) to be used in the theaters and lounges, others have hearing loops that can be used with the passenger's own hearing aid or cochlear implant via the T-coil switch. 


Not all cruise lines make explicit wording clear on the provision of sign language interpreters. This is where it gets tricky - some have stated it clear that they are available upon request, while others are hidden in the "gray area" of the ADA (as determined on a case-by-case situation determined by ship, location, and the passenger in question). I would love for the cruise lines to be on the same page regarding sign language interpreters - this would lessen the confusion and frustration experienced by many (including myself). Let's not get into tactile sign language interpreters for DeafBlind passengers, which is a whole new uncharted territory at this point, and the only times I've seen them are on DeafBlind chartered groups where the charter shares the cost of providing the interpreters and Support Service Providers (SSPs - though they are also known as co-navigators - folks who help guide the blind around the ship and on excursions and aid with communication). One common statement among those lines who do state that they offer sign language interpreters is that they are available for cruises that begin and end at a US port. One cruise line actually insists that "guests with hearing disabilities must travel with a carer" - that is old school thinking, and I know MANY Deaf and hard of hearing folks who are capable of living on their own, so why would they need a carer to sail? 


And to add to even more confusion, all lines have varying communication contact options and number of days (30-90 days) before a cruise that a request needs to be made. Some lines don't mark "Accessibility" very well on their websites (some are on the bottom of the page in small print). 


None of the cruise pages share accommodation for the DeafBlind. There is a wide range of folks with DeafBlindness - some use their residual vision and function more like Deaf folks, while others function more like a Blind person who is losing their hearing. For example, I myself am DeafBlind, however I grew up Deaf before being diagnosed with a progressive retinal degenerative syndrome in my twenties, and still have enough sight to function as a Deaf person using sign language. Do they/we fall under Blind, or do we fall under Deaf? Not every accommodation for Blind passengers is a good fit for a Deaf passenger, and vice versa. The passenger in question needs to be upfront about what they need at sea (and in life in general). We all will have to deal with assumptions - not all blind passengers "can see nothing", and not all deaf passengers "can't hear anything" or "use sign language" among other many misconceptions out there. 


Please feel free to share ideas and thoughts (and wish lists) that may benefit cruising for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard of hearing passengers. You never know - you may find the idea implemented on a future cruise! If you have a review, or a thread outlining your experiences, feel free to share them as we all can learn from our own experiences (mistakes, should-haves, amazing moments, learning curveballs, you name it.) Example may include the small $5 purchase I made that went a LONG way on a cruise where I would not have had to depend on a sign language interpreter all day - a portable whiteboard, dry-erase marker, and eraser. I carried that board with me in a bag all day, and would lay it out on the table (I was on a long 16 day cruise where fellow passengers recognized me and remembered that I was Deaf) and fellow passengers would come over and start conversations on that whiteboard. After learning from this "surprise accommodation benefit", I resolved to bring a second one to leave with the Guest Services desk as they found it beneficial to draw maps and key words and such on them with OTHER guests (with normal hearing). 


This is not the page to bash certain lines for providing (or not providing) so-and-so. Please use this space to share resources, advice, and information that you found helpful (or wish you had known about for your own experiences). Yes, we all know some lines cater better regarding accessibility than others, and others have "horror stories" tied to them, but this is not the place to share them (cruise reviews and threads are fine, provide the link to them). One cruiser's experience is different from another's experience, even on the same line, or even the same ship. So, let's be respectful here, please. Thank you. 


The Basics that are a given on *most* cruise lines

  • Closed captioning on television for select channels.
  • Subtitled safety videos on stateroom televisions
  • ADA kits for the stateroom (with visual and/or tactile alerts)
  • ALDs and/or hearing loops for *specific* rooms on *specific* ships
  • *some* Braille signage (for DeafBlind & Blind passengers)


Extras seen on some ships on specific cruise lines but not all:

  • Extensive braille signage on ship, extending to public areas and elevators
  • Large print paperwork (including the daily schedules and menus)
  • App-based programs on computers to read text aloud (beneficial for Blind and DeafBlind with residual hearing)
  • Ship orientation tours
  • ASL interpreters on specific US-ported itineraries; some extend to include some European sailings)
  • Whiteboard and marker communications
  • Transcripts of shore excursions commentaries
  • Transcripts of shows and songs in the main showroom
  • Captioning in public areas and theaters
  • Hardwired staterooms with flashing doorbell and emergency lights
  • Ship-wide texting app


Would LOVE to see made standardized:

  • Better and improved captioning on stateroom TV (hearing sighted folks benefit from this as do children and folks whose primary language is not the main language used)
  • Visual alerts in stateroom (if we had option to switch to a flashing light, that would cut down on "annoying knocking noises"?
  • Ship-wide texting app (to replace the TTYs - let's be honest here, when was the last time you used one? I think it was 2005 for me, maybe?)
  • Large print options for paper media
  • Braille signage around ship (and a tactile map of the main decks would be AWESOME too)
  • Standardized ASL interpreting policies MADE CLEAR on their access websites.
  • Better people-first wording on access websites and guides (ie use Deaf and hard of hearing instead of hearing impairment, as the latter suggests a negative connotation). 
  • Ship Orientation tours (can extend to all disabilities, not just the Deaf, as some of us have overlapping disabilities.)
  • Paperwork having the option of an app (ie menus viewed on the ship app, which can be compatible with screen reading apps and/or voiceover). 
  • EASY-to-find information regarding accessibility on websites (no more hiding in the "fine print" area on the bottom of pages). Clear language with specifics, no more "gray" areas that are up for open interpretation. 
  • Captioned social media posts (videos on Facebook and/or Instagram, for instance) and transcripts. Let's add image and video description to this too. 
  • Paper or visual announcements (not all of us can hear the captain's noon reports. I love having the ship log sent to the cabin on the last day but would love to know the "facts" on a daily basis. Some of it is already covered in the daily schedule, but not "surprise" ones like "hey, look whales! Off the port side!" types). Can take a page from the Minneapolis-St Paul airport and have a electronic board dedicated to visual announcements. Near the front desk or near a central elevator/stair lobby may work? 
  • Print-out (or app-based text) of muster, safety & ship evacuation instructions. (This was promised on many cruises but not always delivered). 


What are others that you have noticed, heard, or wish for? 


Edited by PromenadeDeckWriter
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