On Thursday, April 6, 2017, at AudiologyNOW! (now AAA Annual Conference) in Indianapolis, Indiana, the annual Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Audiologists Meeting sparked connections and a desire to change perspectives. 

At first, only a few people were gathered around a conference table. However, people were soon grabbing chairs to accommodate everyone trickling into the room. At this meeting, a community was born. Audiology students and professionals with hearing loss went around and shared their own experiences. The hearing losses of those present spanned a variety of types, degrees, and etiologies. Surprisingly, of the 35 attendees, approximately 30 were students. 

One by one, the students began to realize they were not alone, and this was a safe place to ask questions and discuss their experiences. Their questions included, “What strategies do you employ to perform listening checks on hearing aids?” “How do you score word recognition more accurately?” “How do you deal with discrimination when it occurs?” At the end of the meeting, the students walked away knowing they established a community, even if they were the only AuD students with hearing loss at their respective universities. 

A couple of weeks later, Kelsey Roy, a third-year AuD student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Audrey Taylor, a third-year AuD student at the University of Texas at Dallas, reached out to the national Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) regarding their experience at the meeting. They had a desire to form a committee, with the goal of connecting audiology students with hearing loss, and empowering them to face the unique challenges that hearing loss presents on their paths to becoming audiologists. 

During the summer of 2017, the SAA Board of Directors voted in favor of Roy and Taylor’s idea, and the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students Subcommittee was placed within the SAA Chapter and Member Relations Committee. Amanda Demas, senior at Loyola University Chicago, joined Roy and Taylor on the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students Subcommittee. 

When asked about her experiences with hearing loss and the field of audiology, Demas said:

I had my hearing tested for the first time at age five during a routine school screening. My family was surprised by the results, and later testing revealed a bilateral, mild-to-moderate, sensorineural hearing loss. Since I did not have a family history of hearing loss, this was a startling realization. My audiologist helped my family cope with this diagnosis and helped as I adjusted to my first pair of hearing aids. 

Over the years, we maintained a strong relationship. She helped me develop a positive outlook on my prognosis, and encouraged me to consider a career in the field. My personal experiences with hearing loss and my audiologist is what ultimately guided me to pursue a degree in audiology. I hope that other students with hearing loss find the same motivation in their diagnosis. 

While there may be additional obstacles, I believe that audiologists with hearing loss bring a unique perspective to this profession, and can truly empathize with their patients. This deeper understanding of hearing loss helps foster patient care, and demonstrates that hearing loss does not have to be a debilitating diagnosis. 

Audrey Taylor had a similar experience, as she did not pass her hearing screening at a speech-language pathologist’s office when she was four years old. She was initially diagnosed with a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss at MD Anderson. Her follow-up care was performed at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she was the first child fit with a digital hearing aid. When recalling her experiences, Taylor said: 

As a pediatric patient with hearing loss, I received compassionate and quality care, which inspired me to give back to others. During my college summer breaks, I volunteered with Texas Children’s Hospital. 

My most memorable appointment while volunteering was with a three-month-old who underwent an ABR following PE tube surgery. The parents were devastated when their child was diagnosed with hearing loss. I remember the mother weeping as the audiologist spoke with her and her family regarding their options. After they finished, the family approached me to inquire about my hearing loss. We discussed that from my experiences, hearing loss does not prohibit one from achieving his/her goals. I told them about my accomplishments, and hope instantly came back into their eyes. Afterwards, the audiologist told me that I have a gift. 

Due to my own experiences with hearing loss, I could do something she could not, despite her years of experience. That clinical situation ignited a passion within me. I plan to be a lifelong advocate for individuals with hearing loss, striving to give them every opportunity to succeed. 

Kelsey Roy was diagnosed with mild-to-moderate hearing loss at the age of five years old, but did not receive amplification until 18 years old. She was diagnosed during a time when it was not as common to fit digital hearing technology on children with hearing loss unless it was a severe-to-profound loss. Roy said:

I did not realize how much I was missing until the day I wore hearing aids for the first time and had that eye-opening experience. Ever since that moment, I’ve wanted to help others with hearing loss appreciate how life-changing hearing technology truly is. I have a passion to help people who don’t know that things can get better, much like I was years ago. I empathize with patients, and I prove that hearing assistive technology is nothing to be ashamed of. I truly believe that hearing loss is not a disability, and audiologists with hearing loss have found their true calling.

Conclusion

While these young women are passionate and motivated about the profession and their future patients, they also have a desire to improve the lives of other audiology students with hearing loss. They know firsthand that students with hearing loss face additional challenges in the academic environment. Their hope is that, through education, they can reduce the discrimination and barriers that students may face, even within the field of audiology. 

This year, the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students Subcommittee is in the process of creating resources for students with hearing loss. These will supplement existing resources such as the applying to audiology graduate school packet, and will further expand on them by discussing how to register with the disability office at a university, providing suggestions for reasonable accommodations, and helping students gain a deeper understanding of their legal rights. 

Additionally, at the AAA 2018 Annual Conference in Nashville, Tennessee, the subcommittee has planned the inaugural Deaf and Hard-of Hearing Students meeting, to be held in conjunction with and prior to the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Audiologists meeting. The goal is to provide an outlet for students with hearing loss to openly discuss the unique challenges they may face in their local academic and clinical environments, and acquire strategies on how to best advocate for themselves as students and soon-to-be professionals. 

This meeting will provide students a safe space to share experiences with those who go through similar situations, separate from professors or potential employers. The Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Students meeting is the first of many steps in collaborating with colleagues to better the audiology profession.