New technology lets students in Alabama provide hearing help to kids in Guatemala

MONTGOMERY, AL—In a remarkable application of the fast-developing field of tele-audiology, students at Auburn University Montgomery (AUM) will help bring better hearing to children in Guatemala. And they will be able to do this without leaving campus.

That’s because the AUM School of Liberal Arts has helped purchase equipment that will allow audiology students in the Speech and Hearing Clinic to test remotely the hearing of impoverished children in Guatemala City.

The groundwork for this innovative program was laid over the past three years when Auburn University audiology doctoral students, led by AU audiologist Sandra Clark-Lewis, PhD, traveled to Guatemala to provide hearing screenings, conduct follow-up testing, and fit hearing aids on children who would otherwise be denied the hearing help they need.

Over this time, more than 1500 children have received hearing screenings and, when needed, a follow-up audiological evaluation. Those identified with educationally significant hearing loss were fitted with hearing aids, donated to the program by GN ReSound.

Valuable as this project has been, it has been hard-pressed to provide the children with timely follow-up services, since Clark-Lewis and her students see them only once a year. Now, however, the situation has changed dramatically.

As Christi Lynch Bell, interim director of the AUM Speech and Hearing Clinic, explains, “With the assistance provided by Dean Michael Burger of the College of Liberal Arts, children in Guatemala can now be tested within days of failing a hearing screening.”

Instead of traveling to Central America to complete the testing in person, the students can do so from the Speech and Hearing Clinic, using the new audiometric test equipment. So, if a child in Guatemala fails a basic hearing screening and needs an audiological evaluation, the audiologists and students will conduct the exam using a web service that allows them to control the audiometer in Guatemala, as well as speak with and see the child.

Bell added, “Children needing a hearing test will no longer wait months for audiology students and faculty to return to Guatemala. In the future, the students can use their limited time in Guatemala to deliver more hearing aids and train personnel.”