Hearing Loops Come to Oshkosh

Juliette Sterkens
Juliette Sterkens

Hearing Elmo welcomes guest author, Juliette Sterkens. Juliette Sterkens, AuD is a Wisconsin audiologist with 30+ years of experience in the field of audiology and hearing instrument fittings.  Dr. Sterkens is currently on a sabbatical from her audiology practice to speak around the country to consumers and hearing care professionals on the use of hearing loops in behalf of the Hearing Loss Association of America.  Her efforts have leveraged nearly 300 hearing loop installations in the Fox Valley and Wisconsin and many more beyond. She is the creator of the www.loopwisconsin.com website and her blog at http://loopwisconsin.wordpress.com .  She has received the Wisconsin Audiologist of the Year, the American Academy of Audiology Presidential Award and the Humanitarian of the Year Award from Arizona School of Health Sciences for her work on a local, state and national level.

Chris Prust of Oshkosh is one of 36 million Americans with a significant hearing loss.  Although she wears a hearing aid and a cochlear implant, it is still difficult for her to clearly hear and understand amplified speech in churches, auditoriums, or meeting rooms.  As a member of the Algoma Boulevard United Methodist Church in Oshkosh, she was delighted at the results the first Sunday the church turned on its new hearing loop system.  “I’m home now and can’t stop smiling.  The system went way beyond meeting my expectations.   I was in awe.  I thought I would never again be able to experience a church service where I could hear every world and be able to follow along with the music knowing I was singing the correct and note and verse,” Chris said.

A hearing loop takes a signal from a sound source — a television or a public-address system, for example — and transmits it through an amplifier to a wire that surrounds (“loops”) the audience. That wire sends a magnetic signal to a person’s hearing aid, which has a telecoil, a type of sensor. The hearing aid wearer then gets a direct, clear signal, one without interference from reverberation and crowd noise.

Hearing loops are most commonly found in auditoriums, concert halls, places of worship and lecture halls but  new applications make it useful for ticket booths, taxis, tour buses, service desks and airport gates. While public installations require a trained installer, a TV or computer can be self-installed by a handy individual. Hearing loops have been in widespread use in public venues in England and the Scandinavian countries for some time, and are now starting to catch on in the United States. (See www.hearingloop.org)

Jim and Vicki Denzin, parents of three daughters, two of whom use hearing aids, are grateful that St Raphael Catholic Church in Oshkosh has installed a hearing loop. “Our girls are now able to understand Fr. Doug so much better” they commented. So pleased were they with the hearing loop technology they also installed a system in their Neenah home. Jim commented installation only took an hour and was not hard to do. Vicki reports her girls love using the loop in the TV room but is also quick to point out that it makes it easier for the girls to ignore their mother when they are watching TV. The loop has one other downside Vicki laughs, “The loop broadcasts to other areas of the house including the upstairs which meant we quickly learned to turn the loop amplifier off when it is bedtime, otherwise they pick up the TV’s audio while in their bedrooms!”

Hearing loops make public facilities accessible for people with hearing loss and brings them in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the Fox Valley many libraries, nearly a hundred large churches, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, the Oshkosh Convention Center, funeral homes, the Grand Opera House and several retirement communities and senior centers all have taken the initiative to install hearing loops to better serve people with hearing loss.  A list of loops of loops around the country  can be found at www.aldlocator.com

“It is not because the sound is not loud enough, that people who have hearing loss complain that they can’t hear” said audiologist Dr. Juliette Sterkens, an Oshkosh audiologist at Fox Valley Hearing Center, who is on a sabbatical from her practice to
serve as the Hearing Loss Association of America’s hearing loop advocate, “it is because the reverberation and background noise in large rooms and churches make understanding very difficult for persons who use hearing aids. A hearing loop helps to overcome this problem”

Sterkens started a Hearing Loop Initiative in early 2009, similar to an initiative in Michigan (see www.loopwisconsin.info) and today nearly 300 hearing loops can be found around the state.  Sterkens continued “Hearing loops can profoundly affect people who use hearing aids.  When Chris Prust told me that the day the hearing loop was turned on at her church, was one of the most memorable moments in her life because it made her feel “normal’, we both cried a few tears.”

– Juliette Sterkens, AuD

———

 

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It’s the Little Things

Deborah is a bilateral cochlear implant recipient. She experienced familial progressive hearing loss, which presented at age 10. Her first ear was implanted in 2005, the second ear in 2008. A native New Yorker, she presently resides in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. She is involved with HLA-NC, is a volunteer at the Wildlife Rehab Center of the NC Zoo, and is a board member of the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina. In her spare time she takes courses at the local college, and enjoys walks and photography in the nearby Uwharrie National Forest

I love being out in nature, taking long walks and observing the world around me. I often capture some of what I see with my camera.  Trees, sky, colorful blooms, rivers and streams, rocks, fungi, ferns. All are a delight to my senses. However, there is nothing I enjoy photographing more than bugs. Yes, bugs. From the stingers to the crawlers, the colorful to the camouflaged, the loners and occasionally those in flagrante delicto. From the time I was a young girl, I loved the outdoors. When my family and I still lived in the city, you could find me in the back of the apartment building, climbing a small fence so I could wander around the grassy patches that remained among the asphalt yard. When we moved to the suburbs, on a dead end street that had many acres of woods adjacent to it, I was delighted! This was still a time in our culture where folks were not so afraid to let their children run around the neighborhood, playing at friend’s homes and backyards. I chose to run around in the woods, usually by myself. I was not yet so hard of hearing that it was a concern, nor was it an explanation for why I preferred solitude. I am still this way today.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my love for observing and photographing bugs ties in with my experience as a cochlear implant recipient. I was recently in New York for a visit, and one day a friend and I went to visit some museums. She, an artist and therapist, had been curious about my fascination with bugs. As we all know, bugs do not have a great reputation. Much time and resources goes into controlling or eradicating them. No one had ever asked me about this, and I can honestly say I’d never really wondered. I thought about all the people who seem to hate these fascinating beings! Nevertheless, my response was immediate and striking to both of us: it is in the little things that we learn the most about life. The whole world can be found in one of those little creatures. From the smallest of them we can receive the greatest lessons. When I observe a spider building a web, or an ant carrying an object many times its own body weight, and when I consider the role that each bug plays in the scheme of life, I am awed and humbled.

Seemingly Inconsequential

It is the seemingly inconsequential experiences of hearing with my cochlear implants that offer the most striking images of the radical impact that “hearing again” has had on my life.  When I mentor someone who is considering getting a cochlear implant, I have found that sharing the smallest CI moments, such as the one that follows, best illuminates the impact of the ability to hear with the technology.

Six months post activation of my first cochlear implant, I was driving across Colorado to visit with clients I served in a statewide program for individuals with traumatic brain injury. I made a stop at a gas station, and went inside to buy a soda. It was a busy time, and the gal at the register was moving customers through fairly quickly. We spent about a minute together as she rang up the purchase, collected my money and made change, made a joke about the crazy weather we’d been having which made us both laugh and to which I offered a humorous rejoinder. (No, I don’t remember what it was anymore, but she thought it was funny, and that’s all we need to know J ). She wished me a good day and I left the store, still smiling over our enjoyable interaction. Suddenly, a realization hit me with such force that I came to a complete standstill: I was able to have a quick, light-hearted interaction with the girl at the gas station. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I was half laughing, half crying: I had joined the living. Before I could hear again with my cochlear implants, my days were filled with experiences I call “smile and get the hell out of there” moments. If you are not hard of hearing, you cannot imagine how difficult it is to read the lips of everyone encountered each day. Struggling to accept that along the way I left any number of people with the impression that I was very pleasant but a bit slow was a fact of my life. But now I was one of those people who could banter, who could have lots of marvelous little interactions with people if I so wished, and I recognized right then the enormous impact this was going to have on my quality of life. I am sure that until that moment I had not fully comprehended that this is what people do, this is what is meant by “small talk”. It wasn’t long before I realized that I could also eavesdrop. LOL! To my hearing friends I say: Don’t act so shocked! You do it all day long and don’t even think about it! Six years hearing again and I can confirm that it’s not all brilliant commentary. But I like being able to decide that for myself.

So, the next time you see a little bug, think of me, and stop and watch it for awhile. If it’s in your house, don’t stomp on it. Scoop it up and put it outside, and observe it. Discover all those insights and life lessons right in front of you, free of charge.

Guest Writer, Deborah Marcus

© 2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Why I Love Winter

The woods near our home without their usual foliage…

(PART ONE OF FOUR)

Chloe and I took a walk after lunch today. I had to smile as I saw the snowflakes falling softly around us even though it wasn’t cold enough to “stick”. I just love winter. I love actually getting out IN the cold weather as well. I love bundling up and walking briskly – something I can do even with Meniere’s as my symptoms are usually much more mild in the winter. I love being able to see my breath in the air and being able to smell various fireplaces in use in homes as I pass. However, one of the biggest reasons I love winter might surprise you. As a person with hearing loss, one doesn’t expect to enjoy QUIET.

Winter Can Be So Quiet

When walking, many people are inside where it is warm. So in the wintertime, my walks are often much more quiet than when I go during other seasons. I love the quiet. Don’t get me wrong! I love being able to hear, but I hear best when it is quiet. Am I contradicting myself? (BIG GRIN). Eh… maybe.

Hearing with a cochlear implant is a mind-boggling thing. I hadn’t expected to hear this well again this side of Heaven. When my husband and I realized that my progressive hearing loss would ultimately mean I would not hear at all, we were concerned. Thankfully, through the support and relationships of the Hearing Loss Association of America, we learned that being late-deafened does not necessarily mean the end to hearing. We learned about cochlear implants and I took almost three years researching and “talking the much needed ears off” numerous cochlear implant recipients. As thankful as I am for my cochlear implant, it does not mean that I now hear perfectly. As a matter of fact, I become a little aggravated when people act as if my cochlear implant “fixed” my hearing. Yes, I can hear. But it’s a different kind of hearing, and one made more difficult when trying to understand speech in the midst of noise.

So I love the quiet. I hear better. When walking, as the world around me is more quiet compared to other times of the year, sounds that are present are crisp and clear. If it is quiet on our walks, I can actually hear much of what Chloe is hearing.

Chloe can HEAR the squirrels even though she hasn’t yet spotted them…

I love listening to nature. I pick up many more sounds in the winter because of the quiet. The lack of foliage also assists in allowing sound to carry. In some spots of our neighborhood I can even enjoy an “echo-like” effect in the world around me.

We Need the Quiet

I have had numerous late-deafened folks tell me that they too, go “deaf” on purpose. For those of us who are thrifty, it saves on battery life. However, for many it is simply a matter of being mentally fatigued. It takes a lot of effort to understand and communicate using technology and speech reading. People with hearing loss must employ a number of senses to communicate. Those with normal hearing are not required to use much more than their sense of hearing to communicate. I believe this is part of the reason I need 8-10 hours of sleep a night. (Yes… you read that right!) I am mentally exhausted at the end of every day just because I’m communicating with family, friends, and co-workers. It takes work to hear! Listening requires active participation for those of us with hearing loss.

The forest is sleeping during the winter…

When there is a great deal of background noise, I don’t hear well. As a matter of fact? There are times I don’t even try. Case in point… my church:

 

Want to know the noisiest part of every church service? I think it is before and immediately after the actual service. Or, how about when the pastor or minister of worship says, “Everyone take a few minutes to meet and greet those around you!” ? AAAARGH! I try to make myself invisible if you must know. I am petrified someone will come and talk to me because I know I won’t hear them. I’m getting better though when someone approaches with their hand out and a big smile. I’m taking a risk but “betting on” that they are saying, “Hello, how are you today?” I have learned to smile, shake their hand and say a simple “Hello!” My preference in communicating is definitely one-on-one.  I do really well – IF – it is in a quiet atmosphere.

But you know something? My exposure to multiple disabilities at Fidos For Freedom has taught me one very important lesson. We could ALL do with more “quiet” in our lives. Quiet can foster introspection – and friends? I’m big on reflection, meditation, and soul-searching! For many of us, we face many physical battles on a daily basis. We really NEED quiet time. Contemplation may provide us with resolve, a new “plan of attack”, time to absorb new information about our disease/disability, and the ability to recuperate emotionally and mentally. As a person of faith, it is my quiet moments that I can humbly ask for guidance or assistance… or scream for help!

It is often when we are quiet that we can plan and “gear up” for the journey ahead. Victor Hugo said, “One is not idle because one is absorbed. There is both visible and invisible labor. To contemplate is to toil, to think is to do. The crossed arms work, the clasped hands act. The eyes upturned to Heaven are an act of creation.” For some of you, life’s journey requires a little planning. I have a friend who cannot do anything spontaneously. Errands are planned, cleaning specific rooms of the house are planned a whole day in advance. Errands rely on the goodwill of family and friends who are willing to cart her “here and there” as her eyesight has deteriorated. Cleaning is done when the body isn’t on “strike”. Lyme’s and Chronic Fatigue insist that she double-up on recipes when she has enough energy to cook. That way she can freeze things so that she doesn’t go hungry on days she cannot cook meals. She requires a lot of quiet time. For her… it’s not a communication issue. She needs time to plan and to take strategic steps in organizing as best she can her journey. She even needs quiet time to COPE with her disease.

Winter allows me more quiet time. Outside – fewer people are out and about. Inside – family members at home tend to curl up and do quiet things on their computers or may catch up on reading. Like hibernating bears they tend to sleep more. Co-workers are quieter during the winter. Hubby says it is because of S.A.D. Who knows? I do think winter generates a feeling of “quiet” in many people.

I encourage you to find more quiet time. Winter, spring, summer, or fall – the season isn’t important. Finding time to be QUIET and use the time wisely is important to all. Even if you use the time for a power nap…

Denise Portis

©2012 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

Lipreading Mom

I can’t remember when I first “happened” upon Shanna. I do know I “bumped into” her online through her blog when she was writing “Lip Reader: A Novel by Shanna Groves“. I was excited that a hard-of-hearing woman was writing a book that had characters that were late-deafened.

Since that time, Shanna has become very active in the Hearing Loss Association of America and has worked hard to bring captioning to theaters in her area and to raise awareness in her community. I encourage you to check out Shanna’s website HERE. An active blogger, Shanna writes from her heart.

Shanna can also be found on Facebook HERE, and Lipreading Mom has their own page HERE. Below is some information about Shanna! Enjoy!

Denise Portis

© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal

I am Shanna Groves, but you can call me Lipreading Mom.

Ten years ago, give or take a few months, I had my first child. While cuddling, burping and kissing on my baby, my ears rang like crazy.

No problem, the doctor told me while I strained to hear him. You’re just going deaf. You need hearing aids.

That’s not exactly what he told me. The doctor used the term progressive hearing loss. Same thing as going deaf.

I walked out of that medical office with my head spinning. No way in heck I was going to wear hearing aids.

Me. 27 years old (at the time). Fresh off of maternity leave. A new job. My hair cut as short as singer Chynna Phillips from her Wilson Phillips’ days. Not a flattering haircut with behind-the-ear hearing aids that plugged into my visible ears like electrical cords.

My first confession as a lipreading mom:

I DON’T ALWAYS PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT  DOCTORS TELL ME.

Hearing aid wearing mom? Not me, no way. Back then, I’d rather have dyed my hair purple with pink polka dot highlights than worn chunky electronics in my ears.

I blew that doctor off.

Two years later, my son was old enough to talk. A lot. I had every reason to hide my ears from him. I couldn’t understand a word he said unless it was at piercing scream-level pitch. No more cooing and cuddling for us. It was Hard of Hearing Mom versus Screaming Child.

I went back to the doctor.

You still have those hearing aids, I asked him. ‘Cause I need them more than ever now.

That day, I finally accepted my hearing loss.

Now that I have three children ages 3, 7 and 10, communication depends on my acceptance. I must remind my kids to look at me so I can lipread them, speak up and repeat their words slowly.

I am a Lipreading Mom, not just Mom or a Lipreader. Both aspects must find a way to live together.

Come along on the ride with me.

Walk4Hearing – Washington DC – November 6th

Sponsor Me for the Walk4Hearing

Dear Friends and Family:

At the age of 25-years-old I began to lose my hearing. Over the following 12 years, I would eventually go completely deaf. I now hear through the miracle of a cochlear implant, and the Nucleus Freedom changed my life in allowing me to “hear again”.

If not for the intervention of a friend who invited me to my first chapter meeting of the Hearing Loss Association of America, I would have never learned that there IS LIFE after hearing loss.

Your support goes to help HLAA both on the national and local levels. This support will help them continue to provide assistance and resources for people with hearing loss and their families to learn how to adjust to living with hearing loss. HLAA is working to eradicate the stigma associated with hearing loss and raise public awareness about the need for prevention and the importance of regular hearing screenings throughout life.

Your support also will help HLAA continue to influence communication access, public policy, research, public awareness, and service delivery related to hearing loss. Its national support network includes an office in the Washington D.C. area, 14 state organizations, and 200 local chapters.

My team (Frederick Hearing Loss Advocates) is walking for one of these local chapters, the Frederick County Chapter in Maryland. Please know that even the smallest donations add up to help us reach our goal. Thank you in advance for helping in my goal of raising money and creating awareness about hearing loss.

Click here to visit my personal Walk4Hearing page and find links to securely donate online: Denise Portis

Sincerely,

Denise Portis

and Chloe (Hearing Assistance Dog)

A link to my cochlear implant activation: Click here

Reflections on National Invisible Illness Awareness Week

According to the Invisible Illness Awareness website, the following statistics are true:

  • Over 100 million people in the U.S. have a chronic illness;
  • 20.6 percent of the population, about 54 million people, have some level of disability;
  • 9.9 percent or 26 million people had a severe disability
  • 1.8 million used a wheelchair
  • 5.2 million used a cane, crutches, or a walker
  • So that is less than 6% who have a visible illness.
  • There are many illnesses that start out being invisible and as the disease progresses it becomes more visible.

Also note that:

  • 26 million persons were considered to have a severe disability;
  • yet, only 7 million persons used a visible device for mobility.
  • Thus, 19 million of the people who were defined as severely disabled, did not use a wheelchair, cane, crutches or walkers.
  • In other words, 73% of Americans with severe disabilities do not use such devices.
  • Therefore, a disability cannot be determined solely on whether or not a person uses visible assistive equipment.

U.S. Department of Commerce (1994). Bureau of the Census, Statistical Brief: Americans With Disabilities. (Publication SB/94-1).U.S. Department of Commerce (1997). Bureau of the Census, Census Brief: Disabilities Affect One-Fifth of All Americans. (Publication CENBR/97-5).

Why Do I “Plug” Invisible Illness Awareness Week?

I have been trying to raise awareness about this week for three years now. This year, a friend noticed my “don’t miss” posting on Facebook and couldn’t resist teasing me about it. After all, I don’t exactly allow my challenges to be INVISIBLE. I wear a bright red ear mold on the hearing aid in my “deaf” ear. I wear sparkly “bling” on the cochlear implant on my “hearing again” ear. I go about my life accompanied by a hearing assistance/balance assist dog 24/7. I learned long ago that it was in my best interests to make an invisible disability – VISIBLE. It kept me from being knocked out of the way, and helped people realize that something about me is different. I can still work, shop, go to movies, hike, and dance… yeah. OK, maybe not that last part…

I just don’t hear well… especially in big, cavernous places, or busy, buzzing atmospheres. Once you get my attention and I know you are talking to me, I can actually hear you great! I may have to ask for a very occasional repeat, but for the most part I do really well. I’m proud of how far I’ve come in my hearing. Despite all my visible reminders and “kissing sidekick”, Chloe, people who know me well (friends, co-workers, and family members) will forget that I may have trouble if you don’t get my attention first and that I can’t move FASTever. Heck… sometimes even *I* forget that I cannot move fast. Nothing reminds me quicker than when I

fall

down

and

go

BOOM!

Through the years I’ve been able to meet some wonderful people. Some examples include:

1) Folks through the training center at Fidos For Freedom.

2) People at Hearing Loss Association of America conventions or conferences

3) “Hearing Again” recipients at Cochlear America conferences

4) Individuals in support groups for tinnitus, Meniere’s disease, hearing loss, and assistance dogs users (both face-to-face and in virtual environments online).

Not every disability can be made visible. Not every person chooses to even try and make something invisible – visible. They have their reasons and it is an individual’s choice how they want to disclose or keep hidden any disabilities they may have. It could influence their work environment, relationships, and even self-esteem. I choose to support ALL individuals who live with chronic illness, invisible illness, or disability. Recognizing these illnesses once a year in a push for national awareness, I hope will eventually dispel erroneous ideas and information about these very populations. This is one of the reasons I “blog”, and invite guest authors to write for “Hearing Elmo” as well. Raising awareness makes a difference… one person at a time.

I read some incredible stories of courage, faith, and perseverance this week at the national website for invisible illnesses. You can check out some of them here. I’m proud to be a part of a community of people who choose to live a victorious life  – “in spite of”.

Take some time this week if you can to recognize the courageous people that you know who live with invisible illness and the choices they have made in order to live life to its fullest!

Denise Portis

© Personal Hearing Loss Journal