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January 4, 2005

Hearing program receives funding increase

From: The Powell River Peak, Canada - Jan 4, 2005

Isabelle Southcott , Peak Reporter

Cochlear implant program administered by Powell River's school district helps children learn through ensuring hearing

A provincial resource program run by School District 47 and funded by the ministry of education is being viewed as a success. It provides cochlear implants, assistive listening technologies and auditory training equipment to students and schools throughout the province. At a recent school board meeting provincial staff talked about the program's past, present and future. Joe Coelho is program director and a hearing resource teacher, and Dan Paccioretti is an audiologist.

Three years ago the program was on the verge of being terminated after the ministry of health walked away from it, said Coelho.

"It is important to recognize the risk that the board took three years ago that allowed us to pursue the provincial resource program," said School District 47's assistant district superintendent Jay Yule. "We didn't know if it was going to go. We had a contract for one year in the beginning."

Most provincial programs are located in larger centres, said Yule, pointing to the uniqueness of a small school district like Powell River running a provincial program. He noted that the cochlear implant program has an office in Vancouver.

Today cochlear implants are available for every student in the province from kindergarten onwards and there is no stigma attached, said Yule. The program helps students with special hearing needs by providing cochlear implant habilitation services and assistive equipment support, optimizing a child's listening and communication potential.

The first pediatric cochlear implant was done in BC in 1988 and, to date, there are no students with cochlear implants in Powell River.

"A cochlear implant replicates the function of the ear," said Coelho, explaining how it provides stimulation to the auditory nerve, allowing people who have gone through the procedure to hear.

"And listening is critical to a child's education," said Paccioretti.

According to statistics, children spend approximately 45 per cent of their day listening, 30 per cent speaking, 16 per cent reading and nine per cent writing. To listen effectively is critical and those who can perceive speech realize personal, social and financial benefits that a poor listener does not.

The earlier a child is identified with hearing problems and the earlier a cochlear implant takes place, the better the learning outcome will be in terms of developing language skills, Paccioretti said.

Coelho said classrooms are noisier today than they were in the past. He assists school districts with classroom acoustics and assistive listening technology.

He also spoke about how hearing aids have changed in the last five to 10 years. He compared the advance in technology to the difference between playing a record to a compact disc.

The provincial resource program was recently given a funding increase of more than $1 million over the previous year and a commitment from the ministry for another three years.

"The program was set up in Powell River because it was a district that was willing to show leadership in BC," said Yule.

©The Powell River Peak 2005