As hearing professionals, we’re caregivers–and also advocates for those with hearing loss

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
April 4, 2012

By Melissa K. Rodriguez

Melissa Rodriguez, BC-HIS

Last June, the New York Times reported that two veteran New York police officers had been being forced to retire because of the NYPD’s newly enforced rule barring officers from wearing hearing aids on the job. The Times also reported that younger officers had been instructed to stop wearing their aids or risk losing their jobs.

This story, which was also covered on this blog, still weighs heavily on my mind today. It also reminded me of one of my patients, since her case proved that hearing loss need not prevent a person from pursuing a career in law enforcement.

A few years back, a young woman—let’s call her Sarah–came into my office for a hearing evaluation. She had failed a screening that she had taken as a candidate for the El Paso Police Academy. She was broken-hearted at the thought that she would be unable to fulfill her life-long dream of being a police officer.

When our evaluation was complete, the news was not good–our would-be officer had a moderate hearing loss in one ear. When Sarah learned this, tears rolled down her face. Immediately I began to console her, explaining that with a hearing aid, we could restore the compromised ear to within the limits needed to pass the exam (25 dB or better in both ears). She was willing to wear a hearing aid, but was afraid that it might not be allowed.

At this point, I picked up the phone and called the number that was on the referral form she handed me when she first arrived in my office. A police sergeant answered. As I began to describe Sarah’s hearing loss to him, the officer asked me just to notate it on the report and send it in.

At this point, I felt that as a hearing care provider it was my job to ensure that all information needed was accurately presented. I proceeded to explain in an urgent but professional manner that with today’s technology we could bring Sarah’s hearing back up within normal ranges.

I also told him that we could provide verification testing that would assure the department that this future cadet’s hearing would be sufficient to perform all the duties of a police officer effectively and safely. I added that I assumed the department already had a policy in place regarding officers who needed to wear eyeglasses or hearing aids.

The sergeant paused for a moment, then said that it should be okay, but he’d have to check with the lieutenant. Later that day, I received a call from the department requesting a meeting. I went to the Police Academy the next day and met with the sergeant as well as a lieutenant and a captain.

All the officers were reasonable and friendly, but they raised some questions and concerns. I responded to them truthfully, all the time expressing care and concern–not just for this young lady, but for all those people who were eager to serve and make a difference in their community, despite having diminished hearing or vision.

Sarah’s story has a happy ending. She was admitted to the police academy and now she is protecting our city as a police detective.


As I ponder further the unjust plight of the New York City police officers who were forced to retire because they needed hearing aids, I look to our profession. As hearing care providers, we have a better understanding of hearing loss and the benefits of hearing care than anyone else.

I wonder,though, if we are doing enough to share what we know with the public. Could the misinformation that is so prevalent in the larger community be contributing to our poor market penetration? What more can we do to stimulate a national dialogue about hearing and to ensure that correct information about hearing is easily accessible to consumers, primary-care doctors, employers, and everyone else who needs it?

Perhaps we have left too much of this responsibility up to the manufacturers. Although these companies have done an amazing job developing the highly advanced products that we work with today, the bottom line for any manufacturer is always going to be the product.

But as hearing care providers, our bottom line is (or should be) meeting the needs of the person who walks into our office seeking our help. Part of our job is to provide solutions that enable our patients to hear and communicate better. These solutions often include devices, such as hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and implants. They also include our professional services, such as testing, evaluation, counseling, and auditory training.

However, there are times that we must do more than that for our patients. In some cases, we need to advocate for them beyond our office, as I did when I met with the El Paso police to explain why Sarah, if properly aided, would be fully capable of being an outstanding police officer.

We must also be ambassadors for hearing where we live. We should find ways to positively affect the dialogue about hearing in our communities. For example, let’s speak to local organizations about the powerful impact of hearing on people’s lives. We can write a column for the health section of our local paper or appear on the local access channel to talk about some issue of wide concern, such as protecting young people’s hearing from loud music. We can lobby our city council to declare May as Better Hearing Month.

Let’s do everything we can to inform and excite those around us about the wonders of hearing–and make it part of the local conversation. When people are excited about hearing, they will turn to us for solutions.


Melissa Kay Rodriguez, BC-HIS, literally grew up in the hearing aid business. The daughter of a Beltone dispenser, she obtained her license to fit hearing aids soon after graduating from high school. She earned her National Board Certification in 1995. Currently, she is owner of Hear On Earth Hearing Care Center in El Paso, TX.

Ms. Rodriguez has been a member of the board of the Texas Hearing Aid Association and served a six-year term on the Texas Governing Board, which regulates the fitting and dispensing of hearing aids in her state. She is an active volunteer with the Starkey Hearing Foundation and has gone on numerous humanitarian missions to fit hearing aids in Juarez and Mexico City, Mexico, and in Peru, among other locations. She is a member of the International Hearing Society, the Texas Hearing Aid Association, and eWomenNetwork.

Her new book, Hear Your Life: Inspiring Stories and Honest Advice for Overcoming Hearing Loss, will be available in May. For information on the book, go to

  1. Dear Ms. Rodriguez,

    That’s a lovely story about the patient you went to bat for so she could live her dream of becoming a police officer.

    It is offering this kind of help, beyond the call of duty, that can make a practice stand out in a community.

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