My friend Julie Olson has been a tenacious advocate for people with hearing loss for most of her adult life.
A see-a-problem-solve-a-problem kind of person, Julie has been researching technology, writing columns, spearheading access campaigns, and coaxing people to stretch their social and professional boundaries as long as I’ve known her. (That’s more than 50 years!)
Last weekend, she co-chaired the HLAA Wisconsin (Hearing Loss Association of America) state conference, along with Christine Klessig.
True to her mission, the conference offered state-of-the-art technology and a theme “Shining new light on hearing loss” meant to inspire confidence among hard of hearing people, a population that can feel left out of conversations.
Julie opened the conference with her own story of hearing loss, which began when she was in college.
“I remember asking someone if they’d had fun at the lake and seeing the confused look on their faces,” she said. “I later realized they hadn’t said they’d been to the lake, they’d said they had been to a wake.”
Those types of innocent gaffes can lead people to avoid social settings entirely, but Julie was determined not to let that happen to her. As she discovered ways to help her join conversations, she actively encouraged others to do the same.
She discovered Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, Inc., a national organization started in 1979, founded the first Wisconsin chapter and drove all over Wisconsin with SHHH license plates on her car.She was elected to the organization’s national board of trustees in 1984, and served two terms as its president.
“We believe the 46 million hard of hearing Americans have a right to communication access,” she wrote in the HLAA conference program. “That access, for this population, is primarily provided through the use of technology that includes hearing aids, cochlear implants, realtime captioning and assistive technology that goes beyond those personal devices. We strongly support medical research and advancements in technology that allow us to choose to live, work and socialize in the hearing mainstream, and truly hope for a cure for many forms of hearing loss someday.”
The extremely well-run conference featured national speakers like Barbara Kelly, executive director of HLAA, David Schible Sgt. First Class U.S. Army Ret., who spoke about hearing loss due to noise exposure in combat, Peggy Troller, DNP, a nurse who addressed hearing loss in a healthcare setting, Dr. Juliette Sterkens, an audiologist who talked about hearing loops and other assistive technology, and Dr. Diana Ackerman, another audiologist who talked about tinnitus, a common affliction among aging adults that results in ringing in the ears.
In addition to speakers, the conference featured a dozen booths and exhibitors. HLAA has five chapters in Wisconsin that are open to anyone who wants to learn more about living well with hearing loss – their own or someone else’s.
For more information about HLAA and its mission to advocate, educate, share information and provide peer support, including ways you can help, please CLICK HERE.