I just got back from Hearing Loss Association of America’s (HLAA) 2016 Convention in Washington DC. I loved it! I learned a lot in the plenary and small group sessions and had the opportunity to connect and reconnect with hearing loss advocates from around the world. Every aspect of the program was hearing loss accessible — through live captioning (CART), hearing loops and sign language interpreters. Attendance was strong and included people from 22 countries since the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People held their Congress at the same time.
This was my second Convention. Like last year, it was a time to celebrate the support we provide to one another within the hearing loss community. It was the chance to visit with old and new friends, learn from one another in the symposium and breakout sessions and try out innovative products in the exhibit hall.
But this year, I also felt a new sense of urgency among the attendees.
The recent report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) demonstrates a burgeoning awareness among those in the mainstream that hearing is a critical component of healthy living and that the millions of Americans with hearing loss need better access to hearing health care and a wider array of affordable treatment options. I sensed an overwhelming feeling among the attendees of the Convention that it is time for the hearing loss community to come together in support of these truths and to push for changes based on the report’s recommendations.
Several members of the NAS report team were at the convention, and each encouraged the sponsors of these reports to work together to spur action. “Without implementation of the recommendations,” one of the NAS team commented, “the report is not worth much more than the paper it is written upon.”
No advocacy group can take this on alone, but HLAA should be and will be a leader, representing the consumer’s voice in the fight. And a fight it might be. Change is always hard, especially when government regulations are involved. Bureaucracy and partisanship can cause many a well-meaning initiative to stall. The good news is that it looks like the recommended changes may help lower overall healthcare costs. That is a big selling point.
At the Convention’s research symposium a number of pilot studies were discussed, each of which demonstrated how providing hearing loss amplification equipment to those that needed it improved the efficiency and efficacy of medical treatments in both hospital and outpatient settings. And, it seemed to lower costs!
One example described a care facility for people with dementia. When patients’ hearing was assessed and amplification was provided for those patients who needed it, disruptive behavior declined significantly, lowering the overall cost of care. Quality of life at the facility also improved dramatically.
I left the convention inspired to take action to support this exciting shift in the landscape for people with hearing loss. Stayed tuned for ways that you can help drive progress forward by signing petitions of support for the recommendations, writing to your local and state government officials, and working with the hearing loss advocacy groups that are leading the charge.
Readers, are you ready to take action to improve the environment for people with hearing loss?