IM this article to a friend!

May 30, 2003

Woman with hearing loss helps others cope

From: Democrat and Chronicle, NY - May 30, 2003

By Mary Chao
Democrat and Chronicle

(May 30, 2003) — Marcia Dugan knows how difficult it is to cope with hearing loss on the job.

She first discovered she was losing her hearing in 1971 while working as a math teacher at Penn Yan High School.

"I would ask the kids for an answer and I couldn't hear if it was 32 or 33," she said.

Years later, Dugan encountered the problem again as director of public relations for Keuka College in the 1970s. The president of the college mumbled when he spoke, she recalled. "I thought, if I'm going to survive here, I've got to do something about (the hearing loss)."

Dugan got a hearing aid -- which she describes as "her best friend."

As the years went by, she not only coped with hearing loss but faced her challenges head on. In 1997, she wrote the book Keys to Living with Hearing Loss -- an A to Z guide on what to do when you think you're losing hearing. The book was updated this month with an additional chapter.

In March, Dugan was named Yates County Business and Professional Women's Club 2003 Woman of the Year.

"I was very honored I was chosen, and chosen because of what I had accomplished with my hearing loss," Dugan said.

Now 71, she has retired from her last job as director of public affairs at National Technical Institute for the Deaf -- a college at Rochester Institute of Technology -- but remains active in deaf and hard-of-hearing causes.

Dugan is on the board of SHHH -- an acronym for Self Help for Hard of Hearing People.

Marlene Guild, awards chair for the organization, said Dugan has been an asset to the community.

"She is just an outstanding person here in Penn Yan and what she has done with NTID in Rochester," Guild said. "She has helped so many women."

Many advances have been made in the workplace since Dugan first lost her hearing 30 years ago.

But many stigmas remain. Some people will not wear hearing aids for fear it will make them look old or they do not want their employers to know their hearing loss, Dugan said.

There are 28 million Americans with hearing loss, 2 million who are totally deaf, she said. "Twenty-six million hard-of-hearing people can benefit from hearing aids. The sad fact is only 6 million wear hearing aids."

Rochester has the highest deaf and hard-of-hearing population per capita in the country, and many employers view deaf and hard-of-hearing employees as an asset, said Linda Iacelli, senior employment specialist at NTID. But hurdles remain.

"There are still concerns -- sometimes voiced and sometimes not voiced by employers. There's a fear that hiring a deaf person is going to slow things down for a company," she said.

But many employers who are skeptical find their own communications improve when they find ways to help hard-of-hearing workers -- such as speaking one at a time, Iacelli said. "Many of the strategies we talk about are not just good for deaf people but for everyone."

Dugan has many strategies to help her deal with people professionally and socially. She has an adjustable hearing aid that filters out background noise in a crowd. She also attempts to read lips and watches for facial gestures. "When you're deaf, you become more visual."

Copyright 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.