Suing to hear


Islander John Waldo has joined a group in a lawsuit to force Washington State Ferries to pump up the volume of onboard announcements. Read Josh Farley’s story below.

Lawsuit Says Ferries’ Loudspeakers Aren’t Loud Enough for Everybody
By Josh Farley

Car alarm need securing? A wallet’s been found? Extra Mariners tickets available at the second mate’s office?

Announcements aboard the state’s ferries range from trivial to crucial. But they all require good hearing, a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Kitsap County Superior Court says.

The newly formed nonprofit Washington State Communication Access Project is asking the ferry system to outfit all its vessels and terminals with a visible display for public announcements for those deaf and hard of hearing.

“When I’m on a boat, I can’t hear a word they’re saying,” said John Waldo, a Bainbridge Island attorney who serves as the project’s advocacy director and counsel. He is also hard of hearing.

“If they were to say, ‘Return to your car,’ or if it had been my wallet in the second mate’s office, I wouldn’t be able to hear them,” he said.

Waldo said he’s been talking with ferry officials since November. He said they have acknowledged that riders who are hard of hearing might not be able to hear announcements, but they haven’t committed to any changes, he said.

“It should be ‘how and when’ instead of ‘whether,'” Waldo said, referencing the state’s law against discrimination, which the suit is hinged upon.

The suit also says the ferries have technology that is readily available to “display the gist of information” voiced over the public address system. They include electronic message boards and video monitors at Colman Dock, the Bainbridge terminal and on board at least one vessel.

“It’s not exotic technology,” Waldo said.

A spokeswoman for the ferries said she had no knowledge of the suit.

About 3 percent of adult Washingtonians suffer from deafness or “a lot of trouble hearing,” according to a 2006 state Department of Health survey that Waldo cites.

Another 13 percent said in the survey they have a little trouble hearing.

“Even if the information is of a trivial nature and is of no concern to them, deaf and (hard-of-hearing) patrons unable to understand the message do not know that the message is of no importance,” the lawsuit says, “and are therefore subjected to constant anxiety over what may have been said that they did not understand.”

Waldo said he’s personally experienced difficulty because of missing announcements. While meeting his wife one day at the Bainbridge terminal, he couldn’t hear the crew’s announcement that passengers would be offloading from the car deck.

While he waited above flights of stairs at the passenger ramp, his wife, “lugging a heavy suitcase,” was “kind of annoyed after huffing and puffing” up the stairs, he said.

No hearings have been set in the case.