Breaking down barriers

Lintz holds a sign with symbols that indicate the presence of critical accessibility services for people with hearing loss: assisted listening devices, open captioning and sign language interpretation.

Janice Lintz, BS ’84, vividly remembers when her daughter was diagnosed with hearing loss at 2 1/2 years old. 

“Don’t worry,” the doctor said, delivering the news. “There are special schools for her.” Lintz couldn’t believe it: Not knowing anything else about her, the doctor had instantly marginalized her child.

“I was furious,” she says. “My daughter was going to be whoever and whatever she wanted to be.”

Lintz set out to ensure nothing would stop her child from achieving her full potential. Initially, she started advocating for hearing access at places her family visited near their Manhattan home.

“There were all these artificial barriers in place preventing us from going to theaters or museums,” she says. “A lot of it was entrenched ignorance—people weren’t trained properly, equipment was broken and nobody seemed to care. My job was to make people care.”

Eventually, Lintz thought bigger and began advocating and partnering with major organizations and government agencies to increase access and opportunities for anyone with hearing loss—a group that includes about 48 million Americans, or roughly 15% of the population, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America.

“I often tell people that the ‘D’ in ‘diversity’ is for ‘disability,’” Lintz says. “Doing good and doing well are not mutually exclusive, but too many businesses view disability access as charity. When everyone cannot access your services, you’re losing potential customers.”

For one of her earliest projects, Lintz spent nine years working to convince the Taxi and Limousine Commission to add induction loops—which transmit sound directly to an individual’s hearing aid or cochlear implant—to thousands of New York City taxis. She testified multiple times before the city council, and a contractor even rented taxis from a company that leases them to film sets to pilot the equipment and prove its value to the commission.

“There’s always a creative solution,” Lintz says. “This project inspired me to think outside of the box in the future to figure out how to get around barriers that are in place.”

Lintz testified before Congress and helped the National Park Service write its accessibility guidelines. She was interviewed for the United Nations’ website, was twice appointed to the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Advisory Panel and served on the New York State Interagency Council for Services to the Deaf, Deaf-Blind, and Hard of Hearing.

In many of her advocacy efforts, Lintz goes straight to the top, convincing chief executives or senior government officials to address accessibility issues. Among other successes, she contacted the CEO of Delta Airlines and persuaded the company to add induction loops to its terminals; several other airlines soon followed suit.

In 2014, Lintz launched her own company, Hearing Access & Innovations, to show businesses, cultural institutions and other organizations how to grow their profits by improving accessibility for the growing number of people who are deaf or hard of hearing. After assessing an organization’s operations, she implements a three-pronged approach of audio and visual solutions and qualified interpretation to help reach customers with hearing loss.

“As the late Congressman John Lewis said, ‘Change doesn’t happen without a struggle,’” Lintz says. “My issue is hearing access, but I always encourage people to consider what they’re passionate about and how they can work to affect change in their community.”

Written by Matthew Biddle