Originally published in The Telegram on Tuesday, September 23, 2014
by Susan Flanagan
The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association in Newfoundland and Labrador (CHHA-NL) has been around for 30 years. That’s a long time. But what do you really know about them?
They sell dream home tickets for $25 a pop. Great Christmas gifts.
OK, keep going. What else do you know?
Did you know CHHA-NL has a lending library chock-a-block full of books and electronic devices that you can borrow for up to two weeks to help you decide if a certain product is what’s best for yourself or your aging parent or your child who has recently suffered hearing loss?
Did you know that it is thanks to CHHA-NL that every newborn in this province has his hearing tested so that parents can get a jump start on treatment if necessary?
And a note to ear bud addicts. Did you know that hearing loss is the fastest growing disability in the world?
I learned that and a lot more on September 14 at CHHA-NL’s 30th birthday party.
Celebrations kicked off at the Manuels River Hibernia Interpretation Centre with cookies, cake, bouncy castles and earplugs.
“Why does the Hard of Hearing Association give out ear plugs?” asked one of the Flanagan offspring. “Is it so you can experience what it feels like to be hard of hearing?”
Good thinking but no, CHHA-NL give out ear plugs to encourage you to wear them when you operate loud machinery like lawn mowers and power tools and motorcycles. Awareness and prevention go a long way.
The 30th birthday party also featured free tours of the one-year-old Hibernia Interpretation Centre which houses interactive exhibits and lab space for academic research. I participated in one of six outdoor guided tours of Manuels River itself. I have hiked the trail down to Conception Bay a dozen times, but I had never done a guided tour.
First we looked upstream towards the CBS Bypass Road. The granite in this part of the river is about 620 million years old and formed deep in the earth. But just below Manuels Bridge the rocks are completely different and about 60 million years younger. Here two viewing scopes direct your eyes to the igneous volcanic rock up stream and the conglomerate rock just metres away. As you go downstream towards Conception Bay the rocks continue to get younger and younger.
The next section of the trail is the part with the swimming hole. This we learned was once an ancient beach later smoothed out by a glacier that left behind balls of igneous rocks that it pulled down from farther upstream. This rock ball is known as an erratic.
“Erratic? I thought she said, ‘nomadic’,” commented one of the members of the CHHA, as he viewed what looked like a pockmarked grey snowball sitting alone near the river’s edge.
Our geological tour ended just below the first bridge you come to as you approach the ocean. Here in what was once a tropical marine area, you can clearly see the layers of shale and sedimentary rock that are full of trilobites that lived on the ocean floor and left trails as they crawled around and discarded shells which are now fossilized. A grassy raven`s nest towers above.
Tapping the uneven Cambrian rock surface with his white cane and asking his friend to repeat the odd thing in his left ear, Art Norris has followed this commentary with fascination. Norris, who has been blind since birth, caught a virus when he was 13 which rendered him deaf on his right side and hard of hearing on his left. Bummer, you say. How unfair for one person to get stuck with two disabilities? Norris does not let his disabilities bring him down. He graduated top of his class at St. Augustine’s in Trinity, Bonavista Bay. He then went on to get his CA and spent most of his career with Revenue Canada – all this having never once seen a chalkboard.
“One thing I applaud the federal government for is they’re accommodating. They encourage the use of close circuit TV and JAWS speech software.”
JAWS stands for Job Access With Speech and its software reads the computer screen for people who cannot see it or have trouble navigating with a mouse. Even with JAWS Norris uses hearing aids to understand what is on the screen. He greatly values the assistance CHHA-NL provides to the hearing impaired. In fact when he retired about a decade ago, Norris became more involved with CHHA-NL and is now acting president. He describes how the association has evolved over the years
“It started out as the NL Hearing Association. A group gathered in a kitchen at the old Janeway (Hospital) for monthly meetings with 10 or 12 people,” he says. “We’ve progressed from that to… national membership, education, advocacy, ten people on the board, seven full-time staff, two part-time staff and summer students.”
“We’ve donated $100,000 in equipment to Eastern Health for the infant screening program and started the tennis ball program for chairs to eliminate noise. In April we had our official launch of the Hear Here campaign to make staff at Eastern Health more aware of the needs of those with hearing loss.”
Leon Mills also remembers those early years of the association. Twenty years ago he was working on his Master’s Degree in Educational Administration at MUN and had been teaching seven years when he was forced to give up his teaching career due to hearing loss.
“…if today’s amazing technology had existed then, I probably would have managed,” he says. “But it didn’t, so I had to find a new career at age 37… My audiologist, Dr. Valerie Parrott told me about this small support group… I went to their office one day and met the amazing founder, Dr. Norah Browne, who sat with me for four hours and listened to my story and allowed me to vent about my shattered dreams for a teaching career, my anger, my fears for the future, and then… she said, ‘Leon, I know you’ve been through a lot, and right now things are confused about your future, but I’ve found, in my life and career, that when you help others, you help yourself, so I suggest that you get involved with our group and use your skills and background to help others with hearing loss, you never know where it may go.’
“So here I am almost 20 years later. I went from being a client, to volunteer, to board member to staff member, and then Executive Director, and I’ve been fortunate to… have helped thousands of people, directly and indirectly, with their hearing issues, created greater awareness of these issues and improved hearing accessibility in many public facilities across the province…”
“Hearing loss has always been called the “invisible disability” as you can’t see how it manifests itself like some other disabilities do… It mostly negatively affects people’s quality of life, but the secondary effects can be devastating and ultimately tragic. People lose their hearing, and often this leads to poor communication issues in all aspects of their daily lives, loss of self-esteem, loss of confidence, lost relationships, lost or no employment, loss of income, withdrawal from society, loneliness, and often dependency on drugs and/or alcohol, and is some cases, suicide.” “…Not everyone needs our services, but many do, and for those who do, we are here to help. If you need it, please contact us today.”
And many people do contact the association for hearing loss does not discriminate. It strikes young and old, male and female, rich and poor. Below are a few profiles of people here in our community who have reached out to CHHA-NL.
David Rees was a young engineer 35 years ago when a hunting accident caused him to lose 40 per cent of his hearing.
“(The) 12-gauge shot gun was two inches from my right ear. Both ears suffered nerve damage and loud ringing… That was the beginning of the condition I have today. Getting older and family history compounded my condition. As I grew older (my hearing) declined to where it is today at almost 50%. I went to (CHHA-NL) for help with assisted hearing for telephone,” he says. “They were very professional and very helpful. They allowed me to borrow some devices to try out before making a purchase. Nice people who try to help you to adjust to your hearing loss.”
Brian Marshall experienced his first Meniere’s attack in 1995. Every Meniere`s episode from that point on caused him to lose more of his hearing. Marshall decided to be proactive and take lip reading classes from CHHA-NL before his degenerating hearing was gone altogether.
“Members of CHHA try to get all hearing aid dealers on the same page with ALDs (Assistive Listening Devices),” says Marshall. “Dealers can send clients to us and vice versa for a broader education… A myth we try to dispel is that it’s not all about amplification; it’s more about clarity.”
Andrea Augot, Coordinator of Client Services with CHHA-NL for the past 4 years, first became involved with the association 20 years ago when she was starting Memorial University and was away from home for the first time.
“As a student with hearing loss, I needed to find a way to get up in the morning, CHHA-NL provided me with information on shake awake clocks,” she says. “In a short… time, with the help of CHHA-NL, I found friends my age with hearing loss and we started a Youth Group. Twenty years later I am still with the Association, I found my home away from home.”
Noreen Brazil became involved with CHHA-NL after receiving a cochlear implant about 10 years ago.
“As a late – deafened adult I was totally unprepared for the changes and challenges that hearing loss brought to my life,” she says. “Joining CHHA helped me and continues to help me… The resources available there, the phenomenal staff and the other people I have met through CHHA-NL all have played a major role in my coping with and living with this invisible disability.”
“I have made many great friends through our Cochlear Implant Resource Group, all of whom also have CI implants, or are family members of CI recipients or are considering having an implant. We all have experienced challenges and triumphs in dealing with hearing loss. Nothing feels better than sharing those experiences with others going through the same things… And this group came about under the banner (and budget) of CHHA-NL with wonderful guidance from the staff.”
So now you know CHHA-NL does more than sell Dream Home tickets. For the past 30 years they have been providing help, support, information and prevention to the province’s population. Lip-reading classes, Toastmasters, Youth Leadership and summer camps. Cochlear Implant, Parents’ and Meniere’s and Tinnitus Resource Groups. All free of charge. That deserves a big thank you.
If you feel your quality of life would be enhanced with a hearing product or support group, contact the CHHA-NL at 1081 Topsail Road in Mount Pearl across from Lester Lube with the car on the roof. Visit Andrea Augot in the lending library. She can show you things like TV listening systems, streamers that make hearing aids compatible with a box that can sit on a teacher`s desk for example. Although the CHHA does NOT sell products, Andrea can help you decide what product best suits your needs. She can provide precious advice as well as a list of all the stores that sell hearing assistive technology in the province. You can also check out the website chha-nl.ca; call 1-888-753-3224; email email@example.com or text 709-725-3224.
Susan Flanagan is a journalist whose daughter just started learning American sign language. If you would like to send a comment for publication, please email firstname.lastname@example.org