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May 14, 2004

Living with the loss of hearing

From: Waxahachie Daily Light, TX - May 14, 2004

Daily Light staff writer

Individuals experiencing a loss in hearing, and those that care for them, now have a multitude of options to choose from when searching for help. From specialized hearing aids to cochlear implants, the list of possibilities has grown to meet the ever-changing needs of those looking to regain what they have lost.

Joan Hester, owner of Advanced Technology Hearing Center, knows firsthand what it means to live with a loss of hearing. She was born without ear canals and drums. Until the time of her first prosthetic surgery at the age of 10, she spent many hours in speech therapy and lip reading classes. The second sur gery on her left ear came years later during the summer months between high school and college.

"When I was 21, I wanted to be able to talk like everyone else," Hester said. "I would listen to Zig Ziglar records while standing in front of a mirror. I would imitate them in order to speak clearer. I also reinforced my lip reading during this time."

No longer is it a challenge for Hester to sit in a classroom. In grade school, the one person that kept her going was her speech therapist.

"The hardest thing for me was the letter 'S,'" she said. "'Stanley the Snake' helped me learn to properly pronounce the 'S' sound."

In life, Hester learned that when she comes upon an obstacle or is faced with a challenge, she calls on "Stanley the Snake." Stanley taught her to keep plugging until she accomplished what she set out to do.

"I believe she can do anything," office manager Faina Harris said, "because she overcame old 'Stanley the Snake.' "

Things have changed drastically over the years since the time Hester wore aids similar to a microphone under her dress to aids that were large, unsightly and needed headgear to remain in place. Today, being able to navigate in society comes easier for those who are hearing impaired because of the advanced technology available.

Hester knows that understanding what can be done when someone begins to experience a loss of hearing, no matter the age, is very important to their continued quality of life. So important, that she offered the first of what she hopes to be many informative classes on hearing loss.

In her offices located at 2693 N. Highway 77 Wednesday morning, she introduced Esther Kelly, coordinator of hard of hearing programs from the Deaf Action Center of Dallas.

"This is wonderful," Kelly said. "It could be the start of something big." The program topic was "Learning How to Live with Hearing Loss." Kelly began by saying that one out of every three individuals over the age of 65 have some level of hearing loss.

"They don't admit it," she said. "It's an invisible problem they spend years trying to hide. There's a stigma with hearing aids."

There are specific guidelines that a hearing person can follow when communicating with a person who is hard of hearing. They include: • Get the person's attention before you speak. • Do not put obstacles in front of your face. • Do not have objects in your mouth such as gum, cigarettes or food. • Speak clearly and at a moderate pace. • Use facial expressions and gestures. • Give clues when changing the subject. • Rephrase when you are misunderstood the first time. • Don't shout and try to avoid noisy background situations. • Be patient, positive and relaxed. • Talk to the hard of hearing person, not about them. • When in doubt, ask the hard of hearing individual for suggestions on improving communication.

Kelly said the hearing impaired individual will many times become withdrawn. They will no longer try to interject themselves into a conversation for fear of not making sense.

The guidelines the hard of hearing can follow when communicating with a hearing person includes: • Pick the best spot to communicate by avoiding areas that are poorly lit and very noisy. • Anticipate difficult situations and plan how to minimize problems. • Tell others the best way in which to talk with you. • Pay close attention to the speaker. • Look for visual clues to what is being said. • Ask for written clues of key words, if needed. • Provide feedback that you understand or fail to understand. • Do not bluff. • Arrange for frequent breaks if the discussion of meeting runs long. • Try not to interrupt too often. • Set realistic goals about what you can expect to understand.

"What worked for me was getting a family member to include me in the conversation," Kelly said. "My son and daughter will take turns asking direct questions in order to include me in the family gatherings. Many times, I also need one-on-one time to fully understand a conversation."

Cochlear implants are one option offered for those with hearing loss. Just weeks after Kelly was implanted, her bouts with vertigo, dizziness and ringing in the ears subsided.

"Surgery gives quality of life back to many of those who cannot hear," she said. "It helps a large percentage of those with nerve damage. The stats have gone up every year in the rate of success after implant surgery."

Telephones were also discussed in length during the end of the class. The phone is a social connection, serving as the link to family, friends and the workplace.

The Texas Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers assistance that might benefit those with hearing loss or other permanent condition that makes using a telephone difficult or impossible. To find out more about eligibility requirements for a voucher, contact Kelly at (214) 521-0407 or Hester at (972) 935-0327.

"The hardest part is getting the right phone," Kelly said. "The technology is endless. There's something for everyone."

Classes will be held on the second Wednesday of each month. For more information on upcoming class topics and locations, call Hester at (972) 935-0327.

© 2004 Waxahachie Daily Light