Hearing conference

Hearing Loss Association of America Michiana Chapter president Janice Neidigh is shown speaking at the “Living Well with Hearing Loss” conference held Sept. 28 at Nappanee United Methodist Church.

NAPPANEE — Audiologists, a hearing loop professional, vendors and 70 area residents came together for a conference at Nappanee United Methodist Church titled “Living Well with Hearing Loss.”

Sponsors of the event, which was held Sept. 28, were the Hearing Loss Association of America Michiana Chapter and the Hearing Life Committee of Greencroft Goshen.

The 70 conference participants heard testimonials of people who reported changed lives when they first experienced a public building equipped with a hearing loop. These systems allow people with telecoil-equipped hearing aids to hear clearly in noisy environments.

Todd Billin, president and engineer of Hearing Loop Systems, Holland, Michigan, said T-Coils are making their way to many small and large areas in the U.S. as the preferred way of fulfilling the needs of the hearing impaired.

Nappannee United Methodist Church was chosen as the conference venue because of their recently installed hearing loop.

Audiologist Juliette Sterkens, who served as keynote speaker, told the group public buildings are required by law to have an assisted hearing system in place, just as for ramps and Braille signage. This has been law, she said, since the American Disability Act of 1990.

While not required of religious gathering places, places of worship are increasingly found with this service, Sterkens said.

Hearing loss is often an invisible disability, Sterkens explained. After her church installed the T-Coil system, one woman came to her in tears and said it was the first Sunday in 20 years she could hear the sermon.

Sterkens’ efforts have led to more than 730 loop installations, many in Wisconsin, including more than 400 places of worship around the country.

Audiologist Sharon Hirstein, an advocate for Looping public venues in the Elkhart area, spoke on “Understanding Hearing Loss: What’s New in Hearing Aids,” noting that almost all new aids are equipped with a T-Coil. Today’s technology can deliver speech or music as though the sender were sitting on your shoulder.

Twelve vendors offered a variety of assistive devices and services, including telephones with closed captioning, a free service in Indiana. The nonprofit audiology center GiveHear, based in Fort Wayne, has recently opened an office in Goshen. The agency provides hearing healthcare for low-income and uninsured families and individuals.

Another vendor explained the company’s mission as “making it affordable to hear again.”

During the panel discussion, questions from the audience indicated the wide range of interests and concerns present at the conference, organizers said.

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