By Cori Birkholz and Kelly Archer – University of Nebraska
As audiology graduate students, we knew that we would engage in opportunities throughout our program to expand our skill set in diverse settings. However, we were surprised to find that our academic endeavors would send us around the world to Athens, Greece, for the 2011 Special Olympic Summer Games. Having prior experience working with athletes with intellectual and developmental disabilities through the National and State games furthered our excitement to participate in Healthy Hearing at the International level. Furthermore, we were aware of the importance of advocating for hearing health and providing services to this underserved population.
Special Olympics guarantees a learning opportunity for all volunteers and never the same one. Unique challenges during hearing screenings, diagnostic evaluations and hearing aid fittings at the State, National and International levels required special individualized attention. It was through this experience that we developed a new appreciation for the meaning of patient-centered care.
Our Personal Experience
Through Healthy Hearing, we were able to employ our past experiences, educational skills and compassion in an environment of pathological, cognitive and cultural diversity. This experience has also given us the opportunity to utilize various testing techniques and taught us how to communicate and build trust with the athletes who had cognitive and language barriers. In addition, and greatly rewarding, was being a part of a team of professionals from different parts of the world, all having the same goal of providing appropriate, timely care. Through the Healthy Hearing program, we were able to recognize the overwhelming need for hearing health care within this population. Continued involvement in this program will help further educate students and professionals and provide them a greater insight into the needs of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Future Initiative – Student Involvement
The need for audiological services within this population has become quite apparent, and so much more can be done to serve these individuals. Being proactive and starting a program in your state can make all the difference. Apart from volunteering and providing initial services is the importance of providing follow-up and continuing care. Students can become involved by not only providing services through hearing screenings and hearing aid fittings, but also through monitoring their progress along the way. Currently, our home state of Nebraska is participating in a pilot study, in which our SAA members are assigned to follow up with an athlete after Special Olympics. This will assure the athlete is gaining maximum benefit from the assistance provided. Among this population it is critical to not only provide services, but also advocate for their needs.
Remember, what you do as a student is a reflection of how you will be as a professional, and becoming involved is an important part of your future career as an audiologist. So get involved and see what you can do to make a difference for Special Olympic Athletes in your home state.