By David H. Kirkwood

I had a most enjoyable conversation the other day with Anna Gilmore Hall, the new executive director of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). She’s been in that position for only a month or two ago, and is quick to acknowledge that she’s still learning the territory.

Our get-acquainted talk was one of many that the new director has been having with people in the hearing care field. These conversations offer her a chance to gather insights from people who, in one capacity or another, have extensive experience with hearing, hearing loss, and hearing care.

From my perspective as editor of HearingHealthMatters.org, our discussion was useful because it gave me a general sense of what Anna sees as the top challenges and priorities for HLAA.

Having grown up with a father who had a severe, untreated hearing loss, Anna has first-hand understanding of the difficulties that hard-of-hearing people and their family members face. However, unlike some past HLAA directors who had worked in a hearing-related field, her background is in a different area of healthcare. She was trained and worked as a nurse, and was also certified in association management.

She has spent more than 20 years managing non-profit organizations, including, most recently, Practice Greenhealth, a national healthcare organization that seeks to empower members to increase their efficiencies and environmental stewardship while improving patient safety and care.

 

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE

While listening to what Anna said about HLAA, I found it interesting to hear the perspective of someone who has joined the organization from outside.

I’ve been observing and writing about HLAA since 1990. I understand and admire the valuable work it does in helping people with hearing loss lead more fulfilling lives and in fighting to eliminate the stigma associated with hearing loss. It seems that nearly everyone I associate with professionally is also familiar with the organization.

However, that is not at all true beyond the small portion of the population I generally hear from. In our phone conversation, Anna pointed out that HLAA is reaching fewer than 50,000 people—a tiny fraction of the tens of millions of Americans with hearing loss. So, viewing the situation from her perspective as a newcomer, Anna contends, “We are not nearly as well known as we should be. You might say we are the best kept secret in the world.”

During her short time with the organization, she has already heard members say things like “HLAA saved my life” or “Thanks to you, I got my life back.” But, she notes, too many other people who might be able to gain the same benefit from HLAA don’t even know it exists. That’s why Anna wants to use social media and other tools to raise the association’s profile.

 

SHARE THE “SECRET”

Clearly, trying to expand its membership is not a brand new idea for HLAA. And, if it were easy to accomplish (without a big marketing budget), I’m sure the association would have many more members and chapters and subscribers to its publications than it does. However, I agree with Anna Hall that it’s time for HLAA to step up its efforts to reach more of the people whose needs it could meet.

No doubt there are many ways to do this. However, a great many of you who are reading this are uniquely well positioned to spread the word about HLAA. What’s more, you have plenty of incentive to do so.

I am specifically addressing this to the thousands of health care practitioners, who on a daily basis see people with hearing loss, as well as their spouses and other family members. Do you make them aware of the local HLAA chapter (if there is one) and of the national association and what it offers?

You should—both for their sake and yours. No matter how good you are at selecting and fitting hearing aids and at counseling and educating patients, there are topics that you don’t have time to address that HLAA can.

For example, patients who go to a chapter meeting or read HLAA literature can learn about listening strategies that will help them make better use of the hearing they have. They may also get information about assistive technology that complements the benefits they get from the hearing aids you fitted on them. They may learn which local theaters run captioned movies and what public facilities have hearing loops. In addition, they may enjoy the camaraderie and empathy that are such an important feature of HLAA gatherings.

Granted, many of your patients are probably not comfortable talking about their hearing loss. They may have no interest in an affinity group of hard-of-hearing people. That’s fine, but at least let them know that HLAA exists so they can decide whether or not to learn more about it.

Why does it benefit you when your patients get involved with HLAA? Well, for one thing, what they learn is likely to improve their satisfaction with their hearing aids—and with the person who fitted them. Also, when hearing aid wearers get together, they often share notes about their “doctors.” Don’t you want to get your name out there among people with hearing loss?

Finally, the most important reason for recommending HLAA to patients is that it will result in some of those who heed your words leading happier and more fulfilling lives. Isn’t that what you want for them?

8 Responses to Spread the word about HLAA

  1. Elizabeth LeBarron says:

    David, thank you for writing about the need for hearing health care practitioners to embrace the “human” side of hearing loss. My audiologist fit me with decent hearing aids when I at last acknowledged my hearing loss – and sent me on my way. Until I discovered HLAA (through a neighbor), I had not recognized how my life had changed for the worse because of my hearing loss. I am grateful for the help and hope that HLAA provides to people with hearing loss and their families.
    Elizabeth LeBarron
    National State and Chapter Coordinator, HLAA

  2. John Witmer says:

    HLAA seems to be directed at people who sell hearing aids. This seems to be poor marketing strategy. The target market should be people with hearing loss. My personal experience with “audiologists” and similar practitioners is that they are primarily interested in selling a device, not in helping people hear better. They have a product in search of a user. That said, is there any way that HLAA can deal directly with the end user without going through salesmen who have a product to sell?

    • Debbie M says:

      John, As a consumer with hearing loss who has been personally involved with HLAA for many years through my local chapter, I can tell you that HLAA is very focused on consumers with hearing loss. The magazine, materials, and chapters all focus on consumers. HLAA helps people to become more educated about how to find a hearing solution that works for them, and to use as many resources as possible to hear and communicate better. HLAA has an annual Convention which focuses on consumers. It is smart for the organization to use as many resources to spread the word about its existence, and that includes working with professionals in the business of working with consumers who have hearing loss as an avenue to reach those consumers. If you have an issue with an audiologist or other hearing care professional, you are in the driver’s seat, it is your choice as a consumer who you work with.

  3. Nanci Linke Ellis says:

    There is power in numbers and the only way for our voice to grow is for hearing aid dispensers, audiologists and vocational rehab agenies help spread the word and encourage their patients to join. My former hearing aid audiologist was honored by a regional audiologist group and he in turn, donated the money he received to our chapter. We need more like him until we reach the point where iit becomes okay to have a hearing loss. Invisible no more!

  4. Carol Karasick says:

    Thank you, David for this enlightening article. As a fairly recent member of HLAA of New York City, I am thrilled to be part of an organization that, under Anna’s leadership and following the great example of Brenda Battat, is going to make a bigger and bigger positive impact in the lives of people with hearing loss.

  5. JoAnne DeVries says:

    Great article! The Hearing Loss Association of American – Sarasota (FL) Chapter (HLAS) looks forward to working with HLAA in building up membership and awareness. I had the pleasure of meeting Anna at the Portland conference and she will be a dynamo in continuing to move the organization forward. Welcome Anna!

  6. Barbara Kelley says:

    Thank you, David, for your continued support of HLAA and for encouraging professionals to tell people about the organization. We all welcome Anna Gilmore Hall as HLLA’s new executive director. She has hit the groud running.
    Barbara Kelley
    Editor, Hearing Loss Magazine
    Deputy Executive Director, HLAA

  7. Ruth Bernstein says:

    As someone who was lucky enough to have my hearing aid dealer recommend joining HLAA when it was first founded as SHHH, I commend
    you for urging professionals to recommend this organization. Membership
    in HLAA is a win/win situation for people with hearing loss and those who
    care for them.

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