The World Health Organization has designated March 3 as World Hearing Day. With this year’s theme addressing the economic impact of untreated hearing loss, a group of 31 audiology students from the Ohio State University and the Northeast Ohio AuD Consortium (NOAC) came to Washington, DC, to deliver this important message to lawmakers and to discuss other issues impacting the profession of audiology. The timing of this Hill day was especially important given that March 3 was early on in the new Congress—an essential time to engage new and returning members of Congress and their staff and build relationships with these individuals.
During an incredibly productive and busy day that included 19 meetings with key legislative staff members, the students were able to draw attention to the World Hearing Day message and connect the theme of the economic impact of hearing loss to two key Academy legislative priorities: the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Act and the Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act.
Students met with congressional offices, including Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) and Senator Dean Heller (R-NV), as well as a number of House offices from Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Senators Portman and Heller are known champions within the hearing health community, with Sen. Portman being the lead sponsor of the EHDI bill and Sen. Heller being the lead sponsor of the Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act.
For many of the students, this was their first experience directly lobbying their elected officials on the importance of audiology issues. After the experience, Donna Green, a first-year audiology graduate student from Ohio State noted, “I really enjoyed getting to share my field with different representatives. I felt like I was really making a positive impact. Getting to meet with other audiology students gave me a great perspective on the different views and styles of the field. I am so glad that I was able to expand my horizons.”
First-year Ohio State audiology student Jillian Chapman agreed after reflecting on the experience. “Advocacy is something that I’m very passionate about, and this was such a wonderful opportunity to represent the profession of audiology. It was great to feel like my voice was being heard by my representatives.”
Having audiologists and audiology students visit Washington is critical to ensuring that the Academy is successful on Capitol Hill in promoting our public policy agenda. Congress started the legislative session in January with a significant number of broad issues on their agenda. These issues have ranged from the more mundane, such as several of the cabinet nominations and other administrative posts, to the possibility of some bipartisan consensus, like tax reform, to the hyper-partisan, such as the future of the Affordable Care Act.
Having the students from Ohio State and NOAC come to Capitol Hill also provided a significant boost to the Academy’s legislative portfolio this session by allowing us to cut through some of the greater noise and meet with Congressional representatives on issues that are important to our members and to the hearing health community as a whole.
Tracy Hoeppner, a third-year audiology graduate student from Ohio State, witnessed the importance of citizen activism to the audiology community. “My second trip to Capitol Hill was an amazing experience! I felt really empowered talking about a field I am passionate about to legislators who really value opinions from their constituents. It’s so exciting to be on the forefront of audiology standing alongside other audiology students who feel the same as me. I hope to continue this tradition for years to come, especially when I’m a practicing audiologist. I’m so thankful for the experience and recommend it to every audiology student!”
Angela Koenig, another third-year audiology graduate student from Ohio State agreed. “One of the largest accomplishments of our Student Academy of Audiology Advocacy trip to DC was having a greater understanding of the issues that will be impacting our field. Throughout our preparation for the trip, we learned about pieces of legislation that were introduced last year as well as what to look out for in the future. One of the best parts of this trip was seeing how much more confidence my fellow classmates gained as we went through our meetings. I am proud to be a part of a group that spoke with such poise and passion for the well-being of our patients and the field of audiology.”
The Academy’s Government Relations Department strongly encourages other student groups and members to get involved in advocacy and plan a visit to Washington, DC. As stated by Nicole Greenwalt, a first-year audiology graduate student from Ohio State, “Advocating on Capitol Hill was such a motivating experience! It is important that students, as future clinicians, embrace the responsibility of working with and educating our legislators on the issues impacting the profession of audiology. We must continue to foster these relationships to ensure our field, and the patients we serve, remain well-represented in Washington.”
The Academy has set up a grassroots network to help cultivate member interest and participation in the political process. All Academy members are encouraged to join the grassroots network. This network will help audiologists to develop connections with key members of Congress, engage on important legislative issues, and increase awareness of the profession on Capitol Hill and within the political arena. Grassroots involvement is critical if we want to see important legislation like the EHDI bill and the Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act become law this legislative session.
“Being graduate students, it’s easy to get caught up in coursework and either accept or become complacent with the issues and legislation within our profession,” said Jon Dirks, audiology graduate student and NOAC trip coordinator. “This trip to Capitol Hill was a great way for us to not only educate our congressional representatives about hearing loss and current issues, but also to educate ourselves. As the future of the field, I believe that advocating for our patients and our profession is of utmost importance. Expressing our concerns and letting our voices be heard was incredibly motivating and rewarding, and I can’t wait to take part in many more advocacy initiatives!”