Early Audiologists in Industry – Wayne Staab Part 5

The Scarlet Letter

As noted in last week’s post, ASHA was determined  to ensure their personal biases that audiologists would not be employed in the hearing aid industry and functioning as audiologists.  And, then, in September 1973, came….THE infamous mailing from ASHA, identified by many as “The Scarlet Letter,” as it related to audiology and hearing aid involvement.

(Comments and underline were added when this was received)

Barry Elpern, Ph.D. had the nerve to determine that as an ASHA certified audiologist, he would sell hearing aids – that this fit in with the “scope of practice” of an audiologist.  After all, ASHA had already selectively exempted VA audiologists, so what was the difference?  Were they better than he?  It was also at this time, including a few years earlier, that some audiologists had decided to sell hearing aids and incurred the wrath of ASHA – being dropped from membership (the requirement of membership in ASHA in order to hold certification and practice as an audiologist has arisen again (ADA vs. ASHA), and was successfully challenged in court a number of years ago).

The Inquisition

Soon after Dr. Elpern received the expulsion letter from ASHA,  I  received a phone call from Dr. Kenneth Johnson, Executive Secretary of ASHA, who said he would be in Minneapolis and had been requested by Dr. Parker (Ethical Practice Board – EPB) to visit with me and to inquire as to my activities at Telex.  He said that this was a routine information gathering, and not judgmental.  He mentioned also that he was visiting with other audiologists in similar employment situations so that ASHA could find out what it was that audiologists did in industry.  (He would not mention who the others were, and I suspect there were none).  I was the obvious ASHA target, especially with my Ph.D. and visibility.

We met at a suite that he had rented at The Radisson South (the most expensive hotel in Minneapolis at that time).  It gave me an opportunity to see how organization leaders managed to spend our dues wisely.  I never saw a hearing aid industry representative with such an elaborate and, I suspect, expensive room at that time.  The meeting was three hours in length.  The line of questioning was intended to dig up something that could be used against me – he kept rewording questions, obviously attempting to put words into my mouth that would be damaging.  This bothered me because I had been trying to do some good – to give the hearing aid industry the type of input they needed – but which ASHA evidently did not want.  I told him that I could only answer for myself, not for any other audiologist.  I suspect that I was as evasive as I could be.

He requested additional information that was not in the initial request, and which should be included in a final written report sent directly to him, and nobody else (all of this information is taken from my notes which I took at the time and still have on file).

  • Where did I fall into the business structure?  I was asked to explain the Telex product areas, to identify my immediate bosses, who were Ansel Kleiman, President of Telex Communications, and Bob Alexander, Head of the Hearing Aid Division.
  • How was I paid?  He kept trying to imply that I was paid from commissions and tied to hearing aid sales, which was not the case – attempting to paint me as nothing more than an audiologist selling hearing aids for a manufacturing company.  My salary was actually absorbed in the general operating expenses of Telex and I received 5 vacation days my first year.
  • I was asked to list my duties.  I was Director of Education, assisted with research and design of products, kept the engineers informed about developments made by audiologists, presented viewpoints, lectured, and wrote.
  • I was to list the clients visited over the past year and detail the topics I had discussed with them.  I should put this in a formal letter sent to him.  I objected to this because I thought it was inappropriate to ask, and much of what I talked about was in confidence.  Actually, much of it had to do with audiologists asking how they might become involved in hearing aid sales and remain an ASHA member, or to learn how to actually perform and manage hearing aid selection – basically, to learn about hearing aids.
  • I was told to provide all the names of audiologists I had discussions with so that ASHA could check on their compliance with the Code of Ethics.
  • I was to send copies of all writings distributed to anyone outside of Telex
  • I was to send copies of all Telex Audiological Reports and all materials on which my name appears and which go to other than Telex employees or dealers

I was told to send the information to him directly and not to the ASHA Ethical Practice Board, because he was acting at their request.  This sounded “fishy” and I found out later that the Ethical Practice Board members, except for the chair, were not even aware of this action.  I also learned that some of the members of the Ethical Practice Board were actually giving seminars throughout the US and were being paid by the company whose products they were using in their presentations.  However, because they were part of the ASHA “establishment” it seemed not to bother the EPB.

He then informed me of things that I could not do working for a hearing aid manufacturer, but which were not listed in the Code of Ethics:

  • If Telex held an open house at a meeting, I could not attend.
  • I could not be in, or even standing in the aisle in front of our company’s booth
  • I could not visit any other company open house or booth.  I should not even be seen in the doorway.
  • I should not have contact with any ASHA member, regardless of how this might come about.
  • It would be risky for me to visit any speech and hearing facility, even if invited, to lecture, to be shown the facilities, or to talk about what they were doing, even with friends that I had gone to school with or with students I had taught.

It was obvious that this meeting was an inquisition and was not meant to be constructive.  It was intended to find even the faintest way to find me in violation of the ASHA Code of Ethics.  And, adding salt to the wound, following the meeting, he had the nerve to ask me for a ride to the airport!

(Next Blog: The Inquisition – Conclusion)

About Wayne Staab

Dr. Wayne Staab is an internationally recognized authority on hearing aids. As President of Dr. Wayne J. Staab and Associates, he is engaged in consulting, research, development, manufacturing, education, and marketing projects related to hearing. Interests away from business include fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking, golf, travel, tennis, softball, lecturing, sporting clays, 4-wheeling, archery, swimming, guitar, computers, and photography. Among other pursuits.

3 Comments

  1. Earl:

    Barry actually went to Phoenix and was with Gomphers Rehabiliation Center and then Good Samaritan Hospital after he left Chicago. You may have confused him with me going to Telex since I was the first audiologist they had. Regardless, your comments and honesty are appreciated. I guess that we all learned as we moved through the profession. I find that so much of our history is being lost, forgotten, or just not known and comments we all make to what happened “then” may be the only record of such events.

    That hearing aid dispensing was critical to the future of audiology was expressed best in your Carhart Memorial Lecture when you said something to the effect that “audiology does not exist without hearing aids.” Excuse me if I paraphrased your comment incorrectly, but the intent was clear.

    In many ways our profession made some rather unfortunate judgments in the early days as we now are able to look backward in history. As you recall, ASHA’s Monograph Supplement No. 1 was by Karl Kryter titled “The Effects of Noise on Man.” This should have led to audiology being on the forefront of industrial noise management. However, our training programs did not pursue this as a real role for audiology either. Today, we have some audiologists involved, but for the most part, it has been taken over by engineers, except for the measurement of hearing levels, and these can be done more reasonably and cost-effective with technicians. So, essentially, we lost that activity. Where might the discipline of audiology now be if we had not found a way to make hearing aid dispensing a part of the practice?

  2. Wayne: This situation with Barry really brings back some memories for me. I first met Barry when he was with Ralph Naunton at the Univ. of Chicago, in the 1950’s I recall when he moved and went with Telex. I, along with most academic audiologists, was convinced by ASHA “leaders” that he was a demon and a traitor to our profession. He should be shunned. When I finally decided to leave ASHA I kept recalling Barry and how he was treated. It probably played a part in my decision to bail out of the Association. Looking forward to your next episode. Earl

  3. Hi Wayne:

    A letter was also sent out also finding me in violation of the Code of Ethics about 1968. But I think it was sent to ASHA officers, committee heads, etc., not to the general membership. I saw a copy of it, and I remember feeling like I was reading my obituary.

    KJ’s hatred of the industry was nearly palpable, and his long term aim was to have audiology established through legislation as the primary (sole if possible) entry point for obtaining hearing care (hearing aids) in the U.S. What an incredibly strong, accomplished and powerful advocate he was for that point of view, and for preserving the policy of no dispensing by audiologists. And he was not alone in his beliefs: the leadership of the profession grew up in times when not dispensing was necessary for audiology to be accepted as a legitimate field of study in graduate programs. By and large they all firmly believed the profession had taken the high and more moral road.

    But what a horrible thing to do to the audiologists who were properly motivated and decided to dispense in spite of it all: labeling them as being unethical and by extension, essentially accusing them of malfeasance. We can hardly question his motives as he held to his positions, but the outcome was seriously harmful in the long term to the profession and hurtful to the thousands of patients who would have otherwise benefited from audiological care.

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