Thirty years ago, Rick Talbott facilitated a miniseminar session on the future of audiology. Reflections from American Academy of Audiology (AAA) founders involved in that meeting were published recently in Audiology Today (Fabry, 2018). The article reviewed how and why that miniseminar came to be and described the subsequent inception and development of the American Academy of Audiology. For anyone not there at that session, having the opportunity to read about the motivation, foresight, and raw determination of audiologists at the time to break with tradition and forge a new path is inspiring.
Audiologists banded together for a common purpose. Dr. Talbott recalled “the enthusiasm, dedication, and personal sacrifice of time and energy that so many folks gave to the cause, including many volunteers for the exponentially expanding needs of the new organization.” Because of the commitment, dedication, and grassroots efforts of many, the future of audiology changed.
In the 30 years that have passed, the profession of audiology has strengthened and continues to develop. The AuD degree became a reality. Partner organizations focused on accreditation, certification, and student development. Advocacy efforts and visibility in Washington continue to increase. The American Academy of Audiology is now nearly 12,000 members strong, and has scraped and clawed its way into the position of a respected representative for the issues of audiologists. Yet audiology again finds itself at a crossroads, and conversations frequently turn to the future of the profession in the face of disruption of hearing technology, continued challenges with low reimbursement, and ongoing questions surrounding the quality of audiology education.
As Lucille Beck observed, “audiology has not completely transformed into a mature profession and remains vulnerable to many threats.” Concerns about these challenges emerge from audiologists on social media, in community posts, in editorials, and in casual conversations with colleagues in the expo hall. Frequently, those concerns couple with the question of what is AAA doing about the challenges facing audiology?
When reflecting on the seminar where the call to develop AAA came 30 years ago, James Hall recalled “…a tingling combination of nervousness, anticipation, and wordless audiology comradery. Just before the session officially began, I remember standing… near the podium in the very large ballroom. Turning around, I witnessed a seemingly endless line of audiologists streaming through the open doors. There was an unmistakable buzz and energy in the room that reflected my excitement. By the opening remarks, the crowd was crammed into every corner of the room and standing along every inch of wall space.”
Despite the ongoing work of Academy staff and volunteers, sometimes it may appear that efforts are at a standstill. The reason, perhaps, is the very existence of the Academy. Thirty years ago, there wasn’t an organization that solely represented the interests of audiologists and the early founders realized the necessity of personally pounding the pavement to make it happen. They flocked to that early session and demonstrated their support, not only philosophically, but by committing to do their part to bring a vision to fruition.
Today, many Academy members may lack appreciation of the continued importance of their role in advancing the profession. The annual membership meeting each year is held in a relatively empty, echoing meeting room, typically with a few dozen former board members and committee chairs scattered throughout. The turnout to influence Academy leadership is a far cry from the endless stream of audiologists that packed the meeting room and drove the development of AAA. Dues are paid and members expect that their monetary contributions are enough for the organization to take up arms and defeat any challenges that come along.
But this expectation assumes that the organization is less than what it is. What the Academy founders built was not a building, or a staff, or even the leadership. The true strength and composition of the Academy is the membership. An “academy,” by definition, is “a society of learned persons organized to advance art, science, or literature.” A society, in turn, is “an organized group working together…because of common interests, beliefs, or profession.” It follows then, that by definition, the American Academy of Audiology IS the membership. The tagline in current Academy publications is very literally correct: YOU are audiology. WE are audiology.
AAA comprises a 34-person staff and more than 200 volunteers who work together to move the profession in a continued forward trajectory. While the efforts of these individuals are valuable beyond measure, it is important to realize that these volunteers make up just 1.95 percent of the membership. Imagine the impact if all of the membership worked together toward the same common purpose. Vince Lombardi observed, “individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” And individual commitment to action is what will make the American Academy of Audiology and the profession of audiology work.
The Academy leadership and staff work diligently to create materials, cultivate relationships, and encourage volunteerism. In the absence of everyone contributing the same level of enthusiasm, dedication, and personal sacrifice of time and energy so many gave to create this Academy, efforts to increase public awareness and sustain the profession of audiology will fall short.
Considering the challenges that audiologists face, perhaps 30 years is long enough, and audiology is again in need of a venue, a forum, a call to action, to evaluate our current status, to imagine the future, and to cultivate change. Our opportunity is now…this year is a call to action and a request for a commitment from the membership to stand with AAA, not only philosophically, not only by paying membership dues, but by dedicating time, talent, and yes, monetary resources, to a collective cause.
The Academy’s current strategic priorities are to deliver purposeful education; provide member value and engagement; advocate for the audiologist; and promote recognition of the Audiology Enterprise.
Over the past two years, Academy staff and leadership have introduced a new organizational structure including an Outreach Council comprising committees focused on public awareness, public relations, communications, and outreach to other health care providers and industry. A public relations consultant, Vicki Bendure, has been retained to identify opportunities for media involvement. Over the next few months, you will see AAA’s influence in several key national resources. In all venues, the Academy is promoting the message “Get Your Hearing Checked” and encouraging all members to work in their local communities to do the same. The Academy has launched and will continue to develop numerous resources that can be utilized by members for this purpose. No effort by membership, however small, will be without impact if everyone is contributing.
The Academy is here for you. The Public Awareness Committee, Public Relations Committee, and the Outreach Council are valuable resources staffed by your colleagues who can help facilitate your grassroots efforts. Contact us and let us know your challenges and accomplishments so we can help you navigate those efforts for the best results and share in your victories.
Audiology is in the press and we can do more. Don’t miss the recaps we e-mail to you and publish on the Academy website. We want to hear about your efforts, so please share them with us.
The staff, the board, and even the many volunteers of the American Academy of Audiology cannot alone reach the millions of Americans who need to hear our message. We all must engage to make it happen. Thirty years ago, this Academy, this society, agreed to band together to work for the common benefit of audiologists. The founders created a structure upon which to formulate a mission. Our call to action today is the opportunity to fully bring the intention of the American Academy of Audiology to fruition. YOU are audiology. WE are audiology. As Helen Keller said, “alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”