This year it was held in Austin. I was too busy at the convention to do much sightseeing but I did spend one afternoon at the LBJ Library, which was a surprisingly moving experience, and not to be missed.
This year, as other years, we heard about new advocacy initiatives that HLAA is pursuing in the interest of equal accommodations for people with hearing Loss. Anna Gilmore Hall, the new executive director, spoke about a Consumer Technology Initiative that should help hearing aid users deal with the complications of technology. We also met the new National-Chapter coordinator, who is working to make the national and state and local chapters cohere into a unified whole.
There were workshops and symposiums all day Friday and Saturday, as well as a three-hour science symposium, which this year was more about technology than science. But technology is the story of the hour, with new products coming on the market almost daily. We heard about some particularly interesting ones, including an FM system that allows four people with hearing loss to both speak to and hear each other in a noisy place.
A new cell phone captioning system was also introduced. I haven’t tried it so I’m not going to write about it but it looks promising. Captioning has always been a weak link, slow and garbled much of the time, but this system seems much more accurate and much faster. It will even translate messages left on your voice mail into text.
Richard Einhorn gave a moving keynote address about his midlife hearing loss. Richard is a composer and showed a clip of one of his pieces set to a silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. But he was also a classical music producer and if anyone knows about sound and acoustics, he does. Nevertheless, even he is jury-rigging systems and trying this and that trying to find the right technology for his hearing loss. And if he finds it, that doesn’t mean it will be right for my hearing loss, or for yours. Hearing assistive technology is right now a promising, exciting chaotic mess.
The workshop that I found most enlightening was a panel of veterans, Heroes With Hearing Loss, who told about their experiences. How they lost their hearing, how it overlapped and exacerbated – or was exacerbated by – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. Tinnitus is almost a universal condition of returning veterans. And hearing loss is by far the single largest category of disability claims.
The VA does provide hearing aids for those who qualify, but as we all know the VA has been having trouble of its own. It takes months to get an appointment with an audiologist and when you finally do, the panel said, a hearing aid is prescribed and it’s out the door. It can take six months to get a follow up appointment. Ideally, you should go back to the audiologist two or three times in the first month for reprogramming and other adjustments.
The veterans on the panel were articulate and deeply moving. Their hearing problems were sometimes one small part of much larger injuries. But they’ve banded together to share their experiences with other veterans and to encourage others to seek help. As one of them said, vets are stubborn, but they will take advice from a fellow vet.
The Heroes with Hearing Loss panel travels around the United States with its message. If they come to your area, be sure to get to the event.
Saturday night was the banquet, everyone in slightly nicer duds than they’d worn the rest of the time. Dinner was something for everyone on a single plate. (No need to advance order a special dietary menu, you just picked and chose). Fish, shrimp, steak, something that I think was mashed squash, asparagus.
Gael Hannan was the evening’s entertainment. Gael’s both a performer and a well known blogger about the experience of hearing loss. Her 20-minute routine poked fun at herself and all of us with hearing loss. Our quizzical expressions when someone is talking and we want them to think we understand them. The various head tilts to get your hearing aid or implant into the best place for hearing. The “un-huhs,” and “mmms” and nods that we all resort to when we haven’t quite gotten what was said. It was sharp – I certainly felt the sting, as I’m sure others did – but completely on target and truly funny.
This morning as I took at taxi to the airport at 6 am, I found myself thinking of Gael’s hilarious portrayal of the deaf-ish person who just doesn’t want to bother explaining. As the driver yakked for the 40 minutes of the trip I nearly had to laugh as I found myself saying, “Mmmm…” and “Un-huh” and laughing where it seemed appropriate.
Finally, back to that term “deaf-ish.” As Gael pointed out we have no quick and easy term for ourselves. We’re people with hearing loss, hearing impaired (some people don't like that one), hard of hearing, hearing challenged, whatever…… Gael suggests we just call ourselves HOH’s – Hard of Hearing-s. And her schtick on that had the HOH’s in the audience roaring with laughter. Thank you Gael!
There’s a lot going on at HLAA right now. We have a dynamic new Executive Director, Anna Gilmore Hall, who in her first year has made tremendous strides in bringing the local chapters, state organizations and the National organization into a coherent relationship. Some chapters, including my New York City Chapter, have adopted a One HLAA membership structure. When you join the NYC chapter you automatically become a member of the National Organization, and vice versa. A portion of the membership fee goes to National and a smaller portion to the chapter. In New York we all feel that this has already made us a more coherent part of a powerful national advocacy organization.
Anna has lots of other plans, including the institution of a Consumer Technology Initiative. As I said earlier, we are all confused by the plethora of technologies out there – even tech genius Richard Einhorn. So this is a very welcome initiative.
If any readers were also at the convention, please add your comments on the convention and tell us about your experiences.