Let’s look to a friend across the ocean in combatting hearing loss

Hearing Health & Technology Matters
September 19, 2012

By David H. Kirkwood

I spend quite a lot of time searching the web for information and ideas for my blogs, Hearing News Watch and Hearing Views. In doing so, I have become familiar with a 101-year-old British organization, Action on Hearing Loss. The more I learn about it, the more impressed I become.

The non-profit group, known until last year as the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, has a budget and other resources that dwarf all the non-governmental organizations in the United States with similar goals, including the Better Hearing Institute, the Hearing Loss Association of America, the Hearing Health Foundation, and the A.G. Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

These are all fine organizations that accomplish a remarkable amount with combined budgets totaling less than $10 million–and a small number of paid staff members. However, when I look at Action on Hearing Loss. I can’t help thinking that, in comparison with our friends across the Atlantic, America is short-changing its commitment to people with hearing problems.

Consider that in the UK, a nation with a population of about 62 million–just 20% that of the U.S.–Action on Hearing Loss has an annual budget of 40 million pounds, or around $65 million. It has a staff of 1000, plus about 1100 volunteers, and over 20,000 members.

Its goals are simple–and very ambitious. It wants:

  • people to acknowledge their hearing loss and take action,
  • more support for people with hearing loss,
  • no one to be isolated through their hearing loss,
  • people to protect themselves against hearing loss and tinnitus, and
  • to cure hearing loss and tinnitus.

Among its specific activities are working for laws and government policies that benefit those with hearing loss, informing the public about hearing loss and tinnitus, providing sign language interpreters, improving education for deaf children, developing equipment and products for deaf and hard-of-hearing people, and supporting social, medical, and technical research related to hearing.



Although the full scope of Action on Hearing Loss’s work is beyond the reach of the less well-endowed associations and foundations in the U.S. that benefit people with hearing loss, the British group recently embarked on a project that I think could be imported to this country.

I’m referring to a public information campaign that warns young people that they risk permanent harm to their ears if they listen to loud music for too long without ear protection.

This message is nothing new. There have been countless media reports in this country about the alarming increase in the rate of hearing loss among young people and the role that loud music has probably played. However, there’s little evidence that these reports are changing behavior.

What I like about the Action on Hearing Loss campaign is how effectively it communicates what it has to say, through a series of posters (created by hat trick design) that are prominently displayed in public places.  As you can see from the photos in this post, the posters have an eye-catching design and a message that is impossible to miss: “Loud music can damage your hearing permanently. Protect it.”

Wouldn’t it be great if someone—maybe a company that makes hearing protection or is in the music business—would adopt this campaign for use in communities around the U.S. Surely such a campaign would enhance the sponsor’s image as well as providing a valuable public service.

  1. It’s worth noting that although “Action on Hearing Loss” is a non-governmental organization (NGO), much of what their staff of 1000 does is, in fact, covered here in the US by governmental subsidies (CART & interpreter services paid for by schools, hospitals and governmental bodies (courts & such)) and dedicated funding streams, such as the 50 cent/month per line tax (“fee”) for telecom access for VRS, CapTel & relay services.

    It’s sort of an “apples & oranges” comparison between AHL & the US organizations.

  2. Hearing Health & Technology Matters Author


    You make a valid point about my “apples and oranges” comparison.

    But, regardless of who paid for it, wouldn’t you like to see as hard-hitting a campaign in this country to persuade kids to protect their hearing from loud music as the one that Action on Hearing Loss is sponsoring in the UK?

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