Sonic Drive-In and the misadventures of a deaf girl

Sonic is the one fast food joint that I avoid like the plague. Every few months my family might eat from Sonic, and even after so many years of being hearing impaired, and nearly two years of being deaf, I still have to remind my husband that I do NOT and I mean I do NOT order from Sonic. If we eat from Sonic, it is his sole responsibility to bring home the food. End of discussion.

If you’re not deaf or hearing impaired, you might ask why I don’t like ordering from Sonic. Heck, my husband still asks me that. He wonders why I can’t just tell them to send someone out to take my order. Well today I tried that.

I’m in Woodlands, TX, today for a conference that my husband’s work is hosting and because he is one of the directors at his work, both he and his spouse (that would be me) were paid for. Now I like to at least make myself useful (on occasion), so I offered to go grab lunch for my husband and one of the other directors who were both working on set-up for the conference. It just so happens that the freeway near to where we are contains virtually no fast-food places other than….. that’s right, Sonic.

I drive into Sonic, take a brief look at the menu, but I already know what the guys want. Two number one meals with fries and drinks. No problemo (I like to pretend I know a little Spanish since I live in Texas). I push that big red button near the speaker and pray very hard that I can do this. And at this moment I realize that there is a LOT of road traffic. I turned off my car to make it quieter, but all I hear is a lot of white noise from the freeway that’s a couple hundred yards away. There was also a semi trailer going down the street next to me too. And turning. And taking his little time while I’m sitting here wondering, did someone just say something from the speaker? It’s been about a minute. What if they already said something and I missed it?

I really thought I might have heard the speaker crackle with a voice saying “blah, blah, blah” (or something like that) so I say, “I’m sorry but I’m deaf. Can you send someone out to take my order?” This is what my husband always tells me to do at Sonic, so I’m finally taking his advice.

Now I’m waiting. And waiting. No one is coming out. So I guess no one was really saying anything? Or maybe they said something AFTER I did and I didn’t hear them, and they didn’t hear what I said? Arg! This is too tough!

At this point, I’m about to cry. I can feel the burn in my eyes as the tear ducts attempt to accumulate moisture and I try really really hard to hold back any tear that might possibly sort of be forming. I can sit at a fast food place and order my food. I am fully capable of doing it on my own despite my teeny tiny disability. It’s not that hard. I’m not going to cry when those people are looking at me. I can do this. I can be deaf and not be miserable. Right?

Crackle. Crackle. “Bla-blah-bu-bu-ba-blah-blah?”

I hear it loud and clear! Ok, well not loud and clear because I couldn’t understand what the guy said, but I distinctly hear the sound of SOMEONE saying something out of that darn speaker! Whew!

Yeah so that’s why I don’t go to Sonic. Too much emotion that I know this girl can do without.


8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Michael Farrell on April 18, 2010 at 2:15 am

    Aww, that sucks. Can’t you go inside and order off the menu? Or doesn’t Sonic do that? I wonder if drive-thru places don’t have some ADA responsibility to make them user-friendly for deaf folks, or is the option of going in considered “reasonable accommodation”?


  2. I know they don’t really like you going inside. They’ve got so many carhops going in and out, it’s pretty chaotic (or this is what I get from my own experiences). This particular Sonic didn’t have a drive thru, but I know that some of them do, making it much easier. I guess it’s ADA compliant since I could technically flag down a carhop, and I did try that, but the traffic was just too loud for them to hear me without screaming. I’ve really appreciated a lot of the new technology at other fast food chains where you can see your order at the drive thru. While technically Sonic is code compliant, they just don’t particularly go to great lengths for their customers as other places do.


  3. Posted by Michael Farrell on April 23, 2010 at 5:59 am

    Hmmm, inneresting. Any idea what % of the US population is deaf? I mean, if they can put Braille on drive-thru ATMs (no joke), they should be able to add touch-screen ordering for the deaf.


  4. According to Gallaudet University (the only university in the U.S. specifically geared for people with hearing impairments), about 1 million people are “functionally deaf”(meaning they use ASL, not hearing aids), although about 16% of our population has some type of hearing loss. It’s crazy to think that even though 16% of our population has hearing loss, only 29% actually wear hearing aids. Even with those statistics, Sonic might not change the way they do things soon, but I did walk in a Jack in the Box about a year ago and they were testing out a touch screen ordering computer, similar to those self-checkouts at the grocery store. I don’t know if it worked for them or not, but I remember coming home, heading to their website, and sending a quick note of of thanks for it.


  5. There is a similar case involving a deaf person and a drive through where she was denied service and the deaf person took the fast food chain to court…and won (ie. settled out of court, that is). It was McDonalds.


    • Thanks for stopping in. Very interesting article. I’ve seen a definite improvement in McDonald’s in my state but I didn’t realize they had a lawsuit that encouraged the changes. So sad to see what the woman went through to prompt that lawsuit, but I’m glad she stood her ground. I guess sometimes it takes those chain restaurants a little bit of fire under them to change things.


  6. Posted by Dan on March 9, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Theres actually appx 30 million to 35 Million in USa with some type of hearing loss, appx 10 pct of population and rising as boomers age.

    Fast Food and any SERVICE with drive through in my view should
    have at order menu a Button to alert order taker person is HOH/deaf and proceeding to the pickup window to order, the rights of deaf/hoh to be accomodated and have equal access trumps any corporate wishs to have drive through be done in 60 seconds in my view.

    Yes we can park and order inside, that however renders us to a second class status where hearing reap the benefits of easy ordering from a car, in that case we are NOT being accommodated nor getting EQUAL access

    When drive through windows were originally put in place, pre ADA in 60-70’s at first it was drive up to window, order and pickup…

    It was later the order from menu via speaker started up..again Pre-ADA…if had started after ADA was passed you can bet there would been challenges right off to the speaker ordering from sign menu way..

    As it is , many fast food had implemented the order then pickup way pre-ada and to change would possible require costly changes, ADA doesn’t demand it be accommodated if the accommodation would be a substantial cost (order window…pickup window replacing speaker ordering-pickup window.

    Even so, the speaker ordering system COULD be altered to include a button asi said to alert order taker a orders going to
    pickup window and they can hold up those behind a bit..too bad for hearing but hearing have to take a backseat..we MUST be accommodated.

    As to Sonic, they could easy enough put such a button in their drive through stalls so a car hop is alerted to go to that stall and take a order in person!!

    I think Sonic could be sued and successfully if they don’t


  7. Posted by Bianca Gibson on December 27, 2015 at 8:57 am

    I have worked at a Sonic Drive-In going on for nearly three years now and recently for the last year during holidays breaks away from college. Reading this story really made me sad because it reminds me of one of our regulars who is also deaf and mute. She’s a sweet older lately who always orders an ice cream cone and sometimes a chili cheese hotdog. She’s been coming to my Sonic location for many years before I first started and she’s kind of became a staple in our little Sonic community. We’ve had long conversations through pen and paper and she’s even introduced me to her best friend who is also deaf. It is terrible that you feel as if based on your disability you can’t order at Sonic, you should defiantly order at a Sonic close by home and put all of those negative thoughts behind you. I’m sure someone will be able to help you and hey maybe you’ll even become a regular. ☺️


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