Hearing Assistive Technology workshop recap

 By Andy Chandler

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT) workshop sponsored by HLAA and the Consumer Electronic Association Foundation (CEA).  CEA paid for the attendees’ hotel rooms and meals during the workshop (thanks, CEA!).  All I had to do was get myself to Bethesda, which I was able to do, thanks to Southwest Airline points (thanks Southwest!)

As you might guess from the title, the weekend workshop centered on using technology to address the challenges of hearing loss. It was like a mini-HLAA convention, which means the very best part of the workshop was meeting people from all over the country, including Hawaii!  There were about 25 of us, some old hands with assistive technology, and some brand new to the topic.

The workshop was presented by Brad Ingrao, an audiologist from Florida, and a frequent speaker at national HLAA events. You might recognize Brad’s name from the HLAA magazine, where he writes a monthly column. What I like about Brad is that he can be a curmudgeon about his profession. It’s not all peaches and roses, as some hearing aid and CI manufactures claim. Brad made two key points about hearing aids and cochlear implants:

  • They make bad hearing less bad (notice it doesn’t say, “make bad hearing good”).
  • They work well, up to 6 feet away from the source of the sound.

So that’s why we use assistive technology — to make hearing better beyond six feet. How do we do that?  That’s what we covered in the workshop, learning about technologies such as:

  • Looping, FM and infrared systems
  • Television and telephone amplification
  • Telephone relay services
  • Personal listening devices (which sometimes can work as well as hearing aids, and are a lot cheaper)
  • CART and captioning (my personal favorite!)
  • Smartphones and the Internet

We talked a lot about loops and telecoils. A lot of people think it’s outdated technology, as it’s been around for a while. In reality, it’s gotten better over the years, and it’s one of the most accessible and effective technologies — as long as your aids/CI have a telecoil. But to loop a space correctly, whether it’s a ticket booth or an auditorium, takes some audio engineering, and should be done by an experienced professional.

Of course, the best part of any HLAA gathering is the people you meet, and the gatherings that take place outside the official workshop events. There is something life-affirming about meeting others who share a hearing loss. At the workshop, at HLAA conventions and meetings, we are the majority. We understand what it means to live with a hearing loss and the challenges thereof. And darn if we weren’t going to do whatever was needed to understand one another!

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Here’s a picture of a few of us enjoying one of Bethesda’s finer restaurants (I’m the guy on the right, in blue). I’m sure the wait staff had never seen so many hearing aids, CIs and ALDs at one table!

The reason CEA and HLAA sponsored this workshop was not just for the benefit of the attendees. In return for providing a “scholarship” (i.e, paying for lodging and food), attendees agree to take the information back to their local communities.  So if you or your organization(s) are interested in learning more about Hearing Assistive Technology, I would be delighted to share what I learned. Just contact HLAAKC at hlaakc@gmail.com or give me a shout at aqchandler@gmail.com.

If you are interested in attending a HAT training weekend, the next one is September 6-8 in Sarasota, Fla. For more information, including how to apply for the class, visit HLAA’s website. The deadline to apply is Tuesday, Aug. 13. 

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HLAA 2013 Convention Recap – Portland, Oregon

Fellow committee member Terri Shirley and I had a fantastic time representing the Kansas City Chapter at the HLAA convention in Portland, Oregon this past June!  It was Terri’s first convention and my third convention (over the span of 10 years).

I hope that everyone with hearing loss has the opportunity to attend an HLAA convention someday.  It is an eye-opening, inspiring and motivational experience.  The convention allows me to recharge and embrace my hearing loss before being thrown back into the hearing world.  Here are my top convention highlights (in no particular order).

  1. Networking – It never fails to amaze me how quickly I can make acquaintances at HLAA conventions – young and old.  A simple hello can turn into a one-hour conversation and you are friends for life.
  2. Exhibit hall – I always enjoy talking to all the vendors in the exhibit hall.  It’s a great place to ask questions, try out new technology, and learn all about the programs that are out there to assist people with hearing loss.
  3. Jacob’s Ride – I had the pleasure of meeting Jacob Landis and learning about his mission to raise money for CI recipients by bicycling to baseball stadiums all over the country!  He will be coming to Kansas City on September 2, 2013 to attend the Royals game, so be sure to watch for announcements from HLAAKC about this exciting event!
  4. Opening Session – There was an impressive lineup of inspiring speakers at the opening session to kick off the convention.  Howard Weinstein fascinated us with his story of how he came to be the inventor of solar ear (a solar powered hearing aid) and his quest to help low-income people with hearing loss in the developing world.
  5. Accessibility – An HLAA convention is by far the most accessible convention you’ll ever go to.  CART was provided for all the sessions.  Sign language interpreters were available for the opening session, research symposium and banquet.  Looping and infrared technology (along with receivers) was available as well.
  6. People Watching – HLAA had the pleasure of sharing the convention hall with Leakycon, which is a Harry Potter fanfest – imagine costumes galore and 4,000 attendees that are all about Harry Potter!  The clever costumes brought a smile to my face more than once.
  7. Portland 100 – I enjoyed attending the happy hour and connecting with other young adults throughout the convention.  The young adult attendance has come a long way since my first convention in Atlanta in 2003; they were pretty much non-existent at the time.
  8. Playing Tourist – This was my first visit to Portland, so I took advantage of using my convention public transit pass to explore Portland’s many attractions. I also enjoyed attending the HLAA World Forestry Center event.
  9. Transitions – We had a great time praising executive director Brenda Battat for her past achievements and many contributions to HLAA and wishing her a happy retirement throughout the convention.  We also welcomed Anna Gilmore Hall as HLAA’s new executive director (as of July 8).
  10. Workshops – There was something for everyone in the many workshops offered throughout the convention.  Workshops covered topics related to advocacy, assistive technology, hearing aids and cochlear implants, and relationship and communication. There were also presentations geared toward veterans with hearing loss.  Additionally, there were beneficial demo room presentations where you could learn about a product or service.
  11. Future HLAA Conventions – Big announcements were made regarding future HLAA conventions! HLAA has been selected by the International Federation of Hard of Hearing People (IFHOH) to host their next Congress in 2016 in Washington D.C.  And next year’s HLAA convention is a little closer to home – Austin, Texas!  So I hope to see y‘all there!

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New Benefit for HLAA Members

HLAA National recently announced the addition of a new benefit for HLAA members — discounts from American Hearing Benefits (AHB). If you are a member, you can start reaping these rewards immediately!

Some of the benefits you could receive are:

  • Free annual hearing screenings for you and your immediate family
  • Referrals to AHB’s network of recommended local hearing health care professionals
  • Advanced hearing solutions with the latest in hearing aid technology
  • Up to 60% off suggested retail prices
  • Free full two-year extended warranty with every purchase

You can read more about this new benefit, and see all of the others you receive, here.

Not an HLAA member? Consider becoming one today to enjoy all of these benefits yourself! There are two easy ways to become a member. Sign up online here, or fill out the PDF form below and mail it in. We look forward to seeing you!

HLAA Membership Form

 

HLAA’s Continued Fight for Hearing Aid Coverage

For some time now, I have been learning more about hearing aid coverage, a controversial topic that I am interested in, especially since it has been coming up in several instances through HLAA at the national and community level.  I want to share with our readers some of the things that HLAA has been doing to help bring more awareness to this issue. Also, to share what resources are available for us to use to help lessen the financial repercussions that come from paying for services related to your hearing health and/or from the purchase of a hearing aid or aids.

As many of you may already know, HLAA continues to be an avid fighter for hearing aid coverage – to get hearing aid benefits and hearing aids covered by insurance providers. Thus, I would like to highlight a few things about what HLAA and our community has been doing to advocate for hearing aid coverage.  One way to stay on top of what HLAA is doing to advocate for hearing aid coverage/benefits at the national level, you can watch for the latest news here.

In our Community: Recently, a public forum on Medicaid Reform took place on August 17th, 2011 in Overland Park and one topic that came up at the forum was insurance coverage for hearing aids.  This was the final meeting, with interpreters presented so that the deaf and hard of hearing people of Kansas could participate.  Governor Sam Brownback asked Lt. Governor Jeff Coyler help remake the state’s Medicaid program and improve healthcare.   So in an effort to improve the program, Coyler asked the people of Kansas to share their ideas and suggestions.  The D/HH community brought up several issues that they wished to see addressed during the year.  An issue focused on by the D/HH, and particularly with HLAA, was to see more insurance coverage for hearing aids.  Currently, the problem is while cochlear implants are often covered by insurance, hearing aids lack the support.

At National Level:  HLAA has been pushing for insurance coverage on hearing aids as part of federal health plans.  As of now, coverage of hearing aids for adults is included in several Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) insurance plans but is not a requirement for other insurers, especially for private ones.  The next step is to watch for other carriers to begin coverage on hearing aids.  Since the FEHB program is a leading model in insurance, there is hope that other insurance companies will follow.  The good news is that there are several states that require health benefit plans include coverage of hearing aids for children.  Unfortunately, only a few states require hearing aid coverage for adults.  Each state has varying requirements for the amount and ages covered.

To see if your state is covered, check the ‘State Hearing Health Insurance Mandates’ list.  Missouri made the list. Unfortunately, Kansas is not on the list yet.  However, with the recent Medicaid Reform public reform that took place in August 2011 in Overland Park, Kansas’s outlook looks more positive.  After all, to date, eighteen states have passed legislation on coverage for hearing aids, so more states are sure to add insurance for them in health benefit plans.

My Thoughts… & Some Great Reads from our last 2 Hearing Loss Issues (July/Aug & Sept/Oct): A plethora of information related to hearing aids can be found in any of our Hearing Loss magazines if you want to learn more. In our last two bi-monthly issues, I noticed that HLAA has been trying increase awareness on why hearing aid coverage continues to be a problem.  HLAA needs the help of our hearing loss community.  You can help advocate for change at national, state or individual level. At individual level, you could be presenting your case to your employer on why hearing aid coverage is a necessary benefit that needs to be included in health benefit plans.

In the last 3 months, I learned that there are alternative routes that we could consider giving a try if hearing aid coverage is not included in our health benefits plan.  **Did you know that your employer may possibly be able to help cover some of the cost that you have to pay for your hearing aids/services?** I’ll be honest with you here though-I haven’t seen anything about this “written in stone” but I know that there are some employers that may be willing to make an exception.  A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is generally said that, ‘As long it does not cause any undue financial hardship on your company,’ then it could be worth asking.  After all this can actually be considered an accommodation that is needed in order for you to be successful in your job!

**On HLAA’s website, there is a Workplace page which includes an Employment Toolkit on how you can present a case for health care coverage of hearing aids to your employer.**

Wrapping up…: I want to share a few articles and summaries that I found useful from our last two Issues:

1) In our July/August 2011 Issue:

  • Our Executive Director provided a great summary on HLAA’s “Campaign to Make Hearing Aids Affordable.” (p.6) Wow! I had no idea how much HLAA was doing to help make Hearing Aids more affordable for us!  Thank you!
  • HLAA staff spent a day on Capitol Hill advocating for the Hearing Aid Tax Credit Legislation. (p.30) Oh wait, what is the Hearing Aid Tax Credit? I had no idea! All these years of doing my taxes… and I never included this? How does it work? Why don’t you find out more about this on your own? Call it a mini homework assignment from me (Hint-Google it! ;-))

2) In our September/October 2011 Issue:

  • HearingAid Costs: “Unbundling: A Way to Make Hearing Aids More Affordable?” (p.18) This article offers insight into hearing care billing practices and the relationshipbetween expert services and the success of hearing aid fitting. Boy, where was this information when I really needed it?! Well, the good news is that it’s available now so don’t let it slip through your fingers!
  • HearingAid Features: “Decibels and Dollars: A Look at Hearing Aid Features Across Price Points.” (p.30) Brad Ingrao writes about six hearing aid manufacturers to give you an idea what features you can expect at various price points. After all… knowledge is power, right?  So be sure to do your research! 🙂
  • Insurance: “Making Hearing Aids Affordable.” (p.34) **(HOT! HOT! Fresh off the press!)**  Our director of public policy looks at ways to pay for hearing aids. There’s a good chance that your employee health care benefits plan does not cover the cost of hearing aids, but the reason may be simply because no one thought to include it.  It pays to ask.  Earlier, I mentioned that one way that you can get started is to check out HLAA’s free Employment Toolkit on how you can present a case for health care coverage of hearing aids to your employer.

Additional resources:

  • More information on Medicaid Reform Public Forum is available on The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website.
  • Hearing Health Care – Hearing Aids;Medicare/Medicaid; State Insurance Laws.
  • HLAA has a page on Hearing Aids if you’re looking to purchase hearing aids with sections on ‘Introduction to Hearing Aids; Features; Selecting a Hearing Aid and What to Ask when Purchasing a Hearing Aid’.

Hometown Hearing & Audiology

I just saw in a newspaper mailing of “Star Savings” that Hometown Hearing & Audiology is looking for people with hearing loss to try out the latest hearing technology available.  They’re advertising to get “43 people with hearing loss” to come in and get free hearing screening, demonstrations, check insurance, etc.

If you’re reading this, the selection for the trial runs from September 27th to October 5th, 2011, and call 816-479-4928 to see if you can participate.  Their website was hard to see on the print ad, but it appears to be http://www.hometown-hearing.com.