S. Mary Dugan: Adapting, Assisting, Educating
By S. Georgia Kitt
Experienced educators adapt as new needs surface. S. Mary Dugan grew up with a family member encountering hearing problems; it helped her seek a ministry as a special needs teacher. After 20 years in the classroom with the hearing impaired, she has now come home to Mount St. Joseph, using her background to teach her Sisters in hearing aid maintenance and care; she offers them connections to services and devices as well. New discoveries in technology paired with S. Mary’s knowledge is an invaluable resource to her Sisters living on the Motherhouse campus. This is a current example of how SC educators adapt amid new settings. In this article S. Mary will broaden her services for others who are open to learning more about assistance available to those facing hearing loss.
Over the past year the protocols presented by the pandemic have caused added difficulties for many, including persons with hearing deficiencies. This has surely made detailed written communications even more important for all. For those who were accustomed to reading lips the required mask wearing has caused great frustration.
Mary encourages everyone to become familiar with intervention strategies that will help you to hear better. Getting proper hearing amplification is a safety issue, but it is also a social and cognitive one. The language pathways of the brain are kept open through sound and language; however, so much language has been eliminated by less contact with others due to COVID-19. No one should be held back in their wisdom years! Look at an activity most of us do twice a year – visiting your medical doctor. S. Mary asks you to make eye contact and focus your body language. Ask him/her to slow down or speak louder, if necessary. Bring along a trusted companion as another set of ears. Take notes of what is being recommended. Ask for a summary of the doctor visit before leaving. Plan to self-advocate when referring to your health.
Best practices for the hearing impaired population most surely include self-advocating. S. Mary recommends that all persons arrange for a free subscription to the Hearing Health Foundation Magazine. Visit www.hhf.org/subscribe or write to: Hearing Health Foundation, 575 Eighth Ave., #1201, New York, NY 10018. They provide valuable current information for all deaf and hard of hearing people and their families, which includes articles about talking to a doctor when the patient and the doctor are both wearing masks.
Let’s say you are noticing difficulty hearing and want to learn more. On a first visit to an ear, nose, throat (ENT) doctor or an audiologist, plan on the same practical points found above. If you are recommended for hearing devices know that you will normally have three visits to obtain a comfort level using the devices. There is the initial test, the fitting, and then reevaluation and calibration after six months. Pay close attention when learning to clean the ear mold; plan to treat it as skin. Ask your ENT or audiologist for a copy of your hearing test (audiogram) and your settings sheet. Inquire about cell phone assistance when first purchasing your device(s). There are ways to get financial assistance; ask the audiologist. Look into warranties and insurance coverage. Another practical point: learn about vibrating or flashing smoke alarms and the importance of proper escape planning. It is recommended that you contact your local fire department representative that usually will help with smoke alarm placement. Check with your local officials to know if the firemen will help install a special smoke detector.
Today there are many things available to assist persons in accessing the primary message in a group setting. The T-Coil, which is like a loop, is one type of assistance. A hearing loop is a sound system that sends voices of speakers from the microphones directly into a hearing aid or cochlear implant. This system does not require a headset. Today most all hearing aids come equipped with a T-Coil or Tele coil setting. Look for a symbol that this service is provided. It is usually an outline of the EAR with a line through it. It is the ADA Symbol. There is a “T” in the bottom right corner. A T-Coil is a tiny wireless receiver inside your hearing aids that is accessible via the programming button or switch on the hearing aid. It is recommended that you consult your audiologist to confirm that it has been activated. When going to meetings in a variety of locations the T-Coil is extremely helpful in being able to hear the main speaker’s presentation.
Learn about captioning for your television. S. Mary recommends that you check your user guide or ask the sales person when purchasing a new TV. For telephone assistance she suggests two services: 1.) Sorenson Video Relay Service (free video phone) which also offers interpreter services (www.sorensonvrs.com) and 2.) Caption Call provides a free captioning service for phone calls (www.captioncall.com). Many theaters now have a captioning device for the movies in theaters. It can be obtained by asking at the ticket counter for the device. Often you must give a picture ID. The ID card will be returned when you return the device to the theater professional. The device fits into the beverage container in the theater seat. The movie that you are there to see is now connected to the captioning device. The whole audience does not see the captioning; only you see the captioning of the film.
Plan for an enriching, full life. You deserve to hear! The devices available now can assure you of continued participation with family and friends as you self-advocate for personal needs that allow you to remain involved in life.