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The hope of hearing 

Kentucky is rich in resources for those with hearing loss

MAY IS BETTER HEARING AND SPEECH MONTH. While we typically visit the dentist and doctor regularly, most Kentuckians don’t schedule a yearly audiologist appointment. Untreated hearing loss can impact the entire body, making it the third most common public health condition after arthritis and heart disease. Adding a hearing check-up to your annual health care routine can help detect hearing loss early. For anyone experiencing hearing loss, resources are readily available across the state. 

The Hearing & Speech Center 

Located in Lexington, The Hearing & Speech Center offers complete hearing evaluation, cochlear implant services, hearing aid dispensing and more. Current clients range from a 2-week-old infant to a 104-year-old senior. At any age, early intervention is paramount. 

“Most American adults wait up to seven years to do something about their suspected hearing loss,” says Executive Director Marcey Ansley. If left untreated in adults, hearing loss can lead to vocational, social and cognitive difficulties and increase the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 

Ansley says today’s hearing devices are discreet and technologically powerful. “They can connect via Bluetooth to all your devices, including smart phones, tablets, television and so much more.”

Since opening 61 years ago, The Hearing & Speech Center has worked with thousands of families. Last year, it provided services through both its traditional clinic setting and telehealth programs to more than 1,600 Kentuckians from over 65 counties. 

Ansley says, “Overwhelmingly, the statement we hear most is that we offer hope.” 

Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing 

The Kentucky Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (KCDHH) is celebrating 40 years of advocating legislative issues and consulting with governmental agencies about policies and programs that pertain to deaf and hard of hearing persons. Eliminating barriers to meet the health and human service needs of the nearly 700,000 Kentuckians affected by hearing loss is also part of the commission’s mission. 

Virginia L. Moore, KCDHH executive director, says the organization successfully pushed for closed captioning on live Kentucky television station news, weather and emergency information. Also due to KCDHH’s efforts, Kentucky Educational Television now has closed captioning for Kentucky House and Senate sessions and legislative meetings. “In an emergency, hearing loss becomes truly disabling,” says Moore. “Now, with captioning and Text-to-911, there are alternative resources for receiving emergency notification and information that may be needed.” 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission provided sign language communication during Gov. Andy Beshear’s news briefings. Moore says this has opened everyone’s eyes to the importance of inclusion in state government and other organizations. “I hope it also has made people with hearing loss aware of the many services of KCDHH,” she adds. 

The Hearing & Speech Center provides hearing tests for adults and children in nearly 70 counties in Kentucky. Photo: The Hearing & Speech Center/Jinger Pruden 

Kentucky School for the Deaf 

The Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) in Danville has been serving Kentuckians impacted by hearing loss for almost 200 years. KSD was established on April 10, 1823, as the first state-supported deaf school in the United States. 

The KSD is a P-12 program that uses a bilingual approach with American Sign Language as the first mode of communication for students and staff on campus. In addition to core classes based on Kentucky Academic Standards, students are offered a variety of electives on and off campus as part of the career and technical education program. 

A multidisciplinary team of school psychologists, audiologists, speech and language pathologists, and others provide comprehensive supports for the students they serve. “The team serves eligible deaf and hard of hearing students from across the commonwealth, who can stay on campus in residential halls during the school week with certified dorm parents,” explains principal Toyah Robey. “Students often describe KSD as their second home.” 

University of Kentucky, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders 

“Hearing loss has often been referred to as an invisible disability because its symptoms are not overtly seen, as those with a physical disability,” says Anne Olson, chair of the department of communication sciences and disorders at the University of Kentucky’s College of Health Sciences. Hearing loss typically occurs gradually over time, so many people do not notice it. A decline in hearing at any point during a person’s life, if not addressed in a timely manner, can negatively affect day-to-day functioning. 

Olson advises taking small steps to protect your hearing before loss occurs. Such measures include monitoring the sound level in your environment, reducing the time that you are exposed to loud sound, and wearing earplugs whenever possible to reduce the level of sound you are exposed to. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing hearing loss, there are effective measures to help, like using hearing technologies that amplify sound. Devices such as hearing aids, cochlear implants or middle ear implants may help, but need to be recommended by a hearing health care professional. Assistive devices such as remote microphones, telephone amplifiers or telecommunication devices can help specific difficult listening situations. Use of captioning services on television amplifiers or sign language interpretation can further improve access to communication and education. Also, there are support groups available through the Hearing Loss Association of America–Kentucky Chapter.

AMY COBB, a freelance writer and member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. 

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