October – Audiology Awareness Month

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There are over 48 million of people with hearing loss in USA above age of 12, but only one in seven who could benefit from hearing aids uses them. The main reason is stigma related to hearing loss and also high costs of hearing devices. I find it sad that more people are willing to take annual eye exams, but not hearing exams – unless their hearing became worse to the point they need to take one to confirm they have hearing loss. Hearing tests are usually performed by an audiologist who then creates an audiogram showing the results of their patient’s hearing.

I’m writing an article about audiologists because October is Audiology Awareness Month. Just like when you want to check your eye sight to see how good it is and if needed to get a prescription for eyeglasses, you would need to check your hearing to see how good it is and if needed to get a hearing aid fitted.

When someone starts to notice signs of hearing loss, they usually are referred by a general physician to an ENT doctor or an audiologist or both (depending on a type of a hearing problem). ENTs are focused more on medical side of hearing problems by performing surgeries while audiologists are focused more on non-medical side by performing hearing tests and if needed fitting their clients with hearing devices. Sadly many people – especially late deafened adults or people with progressive hearing loss – take about 7 years or more to do something about it. As a deaf person, I would strongly recommend to check hearing along with checking eye vision annually.

In honor of Audiology Awareness Month, I would thank all audiologists that helped me throughout my hearing journey. I don’t remember audiologists I visited during my early childhood or their names, but I remember Janie Barnett the audiologist and Dr. Paul Hammerschlag the ENT doctor whom I enjoyed visiting as a teenager to have my hearing tested as well to have my hearing aids fine tuned and to change ear molds.

Dr. Hammerschlag would later become my CI surgeon. He also happens to be hard of hearing. I like his great sense of humor which made my CI process less overwhelming. After my cochlear implant surgery, I was switched to another audiologist – Shelly Ozdamar – who now has been my regular CI audiologist in the past 18 years. She’s a pleasure to work with and I learned a lot from her about how mapping works and about different hearing technologies. Shelly also knows sign language and is easy to lipread which is great because I would not have to worry about communication access during my audiologist visits – even though the CI center she works for can provide a sign language interpreter.

When I was a college student, I met Catherine Clark, an audiologist who works at NTID/RIT and is well familiar with both hearing aids and cochlear implants. She also answered my questions during my CI process before deciding to go for the surgery and introduced me to other CI students. I enjoyed working with her to practice my listening with my new CI using cued speech. She also knows sign language and I could communicate with her effortlessly during my conversations with her. Catherine Clark recently earned 2016 Oticon Focus on People Award.

I’m glad that more audiologists are open about using sign language or sign language interpreters which I think is very important as it puts signing deaf people at ease. It’s also important for more audiologists to be at the forefront of the hearing technology. I was surprised to learn at a local HLAA meeting in NYC last night that many audiologists, for example, don’t suggest a t-coil to hearing device users and some don’t even know what it means. It’s also important for audiologists to refer their deaf and hard of hearing clients to local groups and organizations whose events they can attend – sadly many don’t do this.

There are also audiologists who are deaf or hard of hearing themselves and use hearing aids and/or cochlear implants and the number of them is increasing. Yes, being a deaf audiologist is possible and in many ways may help a deaf or especially deafened client feel better after realizing that even their audiologist is also deaf. I have a pleasure knowing many of them who are audiology students or practicing audiologists. I would like mention one of them – Tina Childress, a late deafened audiologist who earned 2013 Oticon Focus on People Award. I met her during an event hosted by Advanced Bionics – we both use cochlear implants from that manufacturer, and we have kept in touch with each other since then. She can sign and happened to know sign language before she became deaf. I learned quite a bit from her about what it’s like to work as a deaf audiologist and about various hearing technologies.

It may sound scary, but I would encourage you to test your or your child’s hearing – ideally it would be annually like with eye tests, but especially if you start suspecting problems with your or your child’s hearing. If you or your child has hearing loss and benefits from hearing devices, it would be best to start using them as soon as possible. Good quality and professionally trained audiologists are your good friends in your or your child’s hearing loss journey and are the best people to tell you what your or your child’s hearing status is and what hearing devices are a good fit for you or your child.