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February 8, 2003

Businesswoman works to improve our hearing

From: Plano Star Courier, TX - 08 Feb 2003

By NANCY SMITH , Staff writer 02/08/2003
Plano resident Carolyn Tolley thinks people should hear what she's saying.

Now head of ASI Inc., an industrial testing company, the former teacher of the deaf wants to help people keep their hearing.

The audiologist became interested in the topic as a student at the University of Arkansas, where she took up sign language.

"That changed my direction completely," said Tolley. "I learned sign language to become a teacher of the deaf. I started my student teaching in Atlanta, Ga., in a school for the deaf, and once I started working with deaf children, I was very touched by what I saw."

Her emphasis now is on hearing impairments that affect people of all ages.

"Some of the OSHA (Occupational and Safety Health Administration regulations) have helped people. However, what we are experiencing in the younger people in the workforce is that they are already starting to have hearing loss due to increased noise levels in our everyday life."

She said that portable audio players can be "very bad for people, depending on how loud they turn it up and how long they listen. Noise damage is based on intensity and the amount of time exposed."

Baby boomers who attended rock concerts and discotheques may also lose hearing. Hunters may experience the same problem.

"At concerts, you should have hearing protection and stay as far back as possible at a concert hall, not right in front of a speaker," she said. "And hunters should use any hearing protector you would find in a sporting goods store. It's important that it is worn correctly and for the duration of noise exposure."

Tolley often attends Mavericks and Stars games, always with her hearing protectors in place, and she wears ear plugs every time she boards an airplane.

"I was on a crusade in the early '80s to save workers' hearing. I visited every kind of company, from cosmetic companies to food companies to transportation companies to heavy manufacturing. Even in cosmetic companies, all those little pink jars going down conveyor belts carry a lot of noise.

A rock band and sandblasting are both about 120 decibels.

"When you're up into 100 decibels or greater, you get into other physical effects noise has. It can cause vision to change. It causes people to have more stress and anger when working in 100 decibels or greater for an extended period of time," she said.

Born in DeQueen, Ark., she and her family moved to various towns because her father worked as an appraiser for the Army Corps of Engineers.

She went to high school in Tulsa, Okla., and thought she'd go into elementary education.

But her career plans changed to teaching the deaf, and she taught for more than two years in Fulton, Mo., when she transferred to a program at Kenedy, Texas. It was then she decided to enroll in SMU's master's degree program in audiology. She became an audiologist in an ear, nose and throat clinic in Dallas. After two years, she went to work for Sue Riggs, who had just started an industrial hearing practice, Audiometric Services Inc.

After a year, Tolley bought the practice and later changed the company's name to ASI when she expanded industrial testing to include vision, pulmonary, drug and alcohol screening.

Her business has gradually expanded. In 1982, Tolley had one other employee and one mobile unit. By 1984, she had four employees and two mobile units. Today she has 11 employees and five mobile units.

This month, she is acquiring a company in Pennsylvania that will add three more mobile units and seven employees to her company.

The company sends technicians nationwide,

"I work with the safety manager of each company who tells me what a specific need is in regard to the exposure of the employees," she said.

She has served as president of the National Hearing Conservation Association and chaired the Texas Safety Association. She was president of Women in Executive Leadership and named Woman of the Year in 1994.

Contact Nancy Smith at 972-543-2231 or

©Plano Star Courier 2003