Creating Connections for Those with Hearing Challenges
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According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, 48 million Americans have significant hearing loss, and 20% of the population suffers from some sort of hearing loss. Hearing loss has been linked to decreased physical, emotional and mental health as well as lowered self-esteem. Additionally, despite the vast number of people suffering from hearing loss, very few people who could benefit from hearing aids are actually using them because of the cost, social stigma and maintenance that accompany the devices. For this reason the month of May, Better Hearing and Speech Month, is a very important time to raise awareness about hearing loss and its causes and treatments.
Alexander Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell), based in Washington, D.C. empowers those with hearing loss. Founded in 1890, the organization aims to give people who are deaf the opportunity to learn to speak and participate fully in society. Communicating with families, health care providers, education professionals and children, AG Bell advocates for people with hearing loss at every level.
The MAXIMUS Foundation has partnered with AG Bell for their Leadership Opportunities for Teens (LOFT) program. This comprehensive four day overnight program offers high schoolers with moderate to profound hearing loss from across the country with the opportunity to learn leadership skills, how to advocate for themselves and to improve public perception of those with hearing loss. A wide range of activities are offered including debate training, learning about civil rights and team building.
Often times, a LOFT participant is the only teen in their community or school who is deaf and uses hearing technology. Therefore, LOFT is a critical program for these youths as it is led by adults with hearing loss, giving students an opportunity to connect with positive role models who understand their experiences. Students also have the opportunity to form lifelong bonds with peers with similar hearing challenges from a diverse array of backgrounds.
"Before LOFT," a mother of a participant shared, "my son had a hard time opening up about his hearing loss, and hardly interacted with people who had hearing loss. We found out about the LOFT program, and he was hesitant to go at first. However, he decided he wanted to go, and that he was excited to meet others who were hearing impaired. When he came back from LOFT, he was telling me all of the great moments and things he learned. He also made a lot of friends at LOFT and still communicates to them through social media and texts. My son thought that the CART (caption assisted real-time translation) system was fascinating, and learned more about the technology that's available today that helps impaired people learn more easily. From the experience and feedback I hear from other parents, I think LOFT is a great program for any teens who are deaf and hard of hearing!"
Together, AG Bell and the MAXIMUS Foundation hope to empower youth with hearing loss and transform the public's view of deafness.