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A Partnership Offers Hope, Help to Children with Hearing Impairment

Meet a little girl called Lydia. She was adopted from a Chinese orphanage by a U.S. family who soon realized the child’s untreated hearing loss presented a myriad of challenges: the costs of hearing aid, as well as speech and language therapy (on top of the adoption costs) were prohibitive.

Then there’s Noah, an 11-year-old boy, who, like Lydia, suffers from hearing loss, in addition to several learning disabilities. He too was adopted by a loving family unable to afford the help he needed.

Both children could have slipped through the cracks but fortunately for them and their families, help was on the way, thanks to an alliance of two organizations dedicated to making a positive and meaningful difference in the lives of children with hearing loss.

Children at risk

Today in the United States, all newborns are routinely screened for hearing loss because it is commonly recognized that early identification and treatment of a hearing impairment is crucial in preventing a wide range of future learning, emotional and social problems.

According to American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, between one and six per 1,000 newborns in the U.S have congenital and – if left untreated, potentially debilitating -hearing loss.

There’s plenty of compelling evidence for treating hearing impairment as soon as it is detected: Research has shown that children who don’t receive early intervention for hearing loss will cost, over their lifetime, nearly $1 million in special education, lost wages and health complications; the cost to schools alone is an estimated $420,000.

You’d think the desire to avoid these high costs – not to mention to prevent the ravages of hearing loss in children – would make the availability and accessibility of hearing amplification easy and simple to anyone who needs it. Yet, statistics tell a different story - an estimated 1.4 million youths in this country have hearing loss, but only 12 percent wear hearing devices, according to a national study released by the Better Hearing Institute.

Sadly, far too many families can’t afford hearing aids for their children, especially in the downturn economy.

And getting government help is not a given either; to date only 11 states require mandatory health insurance coverage for children's hearing aids according to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA).

What’s a parent to do?

Sound beginnings to better hearing

In fact, Sound Beginnings is the name of the partnership between Quota International and Siemens Hearing Instruments, Inc.

Quota is a 6,500-member strong women’s organization assisting, since 1919, deaf, hard-of-hearing, and speech-impaired individuals, as well as disadvantaged women and children in North and South America, Europe, the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, and the Caribbean. “Quota service clubs worldwide promote hearing screening in hospitals, educate parents about the importance of testing their children, and help hospitals perform testing,” Nancy Ivester Fitzpatrick, Quota’s Deputy Executive Director explained in an interview with AudiologyOnline's Dr. Carolyn Smaka.

Furthermore, “some Quota clubs in the U.S. and overseas have also been involved with ensuring legislation requiring infant hearing screening at birth,” she adds.

Sound Beginnings Siemens Hearing Aids
Lydia, a recipient of Siemens hearing aids through Sound Beginnings partnership

Siemens is one of the largest manufacturers of hearing aids in the world, using latest technologies to develop the most innovative and advanced products for a variety of hearing needs. It also raises hearing loss awareness through its educational website, www.hearitforthefirsttime.org

“We have made it our mission to spread hearing loss awareness and education across the United States,” Christi Pedra, Chief Executive Officer, Siemens Hearing Instruments, told AudiologyOnline.

The two organizations (Quota through its charitable arm, the We Share Foundation), formed the Sound Beginnings partnership with a very noble objective – to donate and distribute vouchers for free Siemens hearing aids to qualifying children up to the age of 17, who are diagnosed with hearing loss but whose families don’t have the financial means to buy them, or who are not covered by public or private health insurance plans that include hearing assistive technology.

So far, 52 children like Lydia and Noah received two hearing instruments each. This year, up to 100 hearing aids (50 Siemens Explorer 500 P and 50 CIELO 2 hearing instruments) will be distributed by participating Quota International service clubs in the United States through September 30, 2009.

And that is how Lydia and Noah happened to be among the lucky recipients of hearing aids.

The world’s most famous ears to the rescue

Disney and Siemens Hearing Aids
Through Siemens' alliance with The Walt Disney Company resources have been developed for children and families.

Pedra says that one of the ways Siemens raises awareness about hearing loss among children is through strategic alliances, such as with the Walt Disney Company, the undisputed creator of a very famous set of ears.

Besides providing technology and infrastructure for some Disney attractions and exhibits, Siemens helps “parents and children go through the process of discovery, selection, and fitting the child with the most appropriate hearing instrument,” Pedra says.

Specifically, she explains, each child “receives a free Disney Pediatric kit with a purchase of a Siemens hearing instrument. The kit contains all the necessary tools to care for hearing instruments while providing a fun, educational book, Three Cheers for Bunny Ears! to help parents and children learn about hearing loss through an entertaining story about a new Disney character, Bunny, who was created exclusively for Siemens.”

All aboard for a great cause!

Like any collaborative effort, the Sound Beginnings program could use all the help it can get, especially from audiologists around the country. “We would really encourage audiologists interested in helping or donating their services, to get involved,” Pedra says. “The program’s success depends on all of us, working together.”

And even though Sound Beginnings is U.S.-based, it has had a far-reaching impact, Fitzpatrick points out. “Quota clubs in other countries have told us that they are very proud of the program, and it has touched our members around the world.”

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