The Evolution of Zac La Fratta

6 01 2013

HLAA member Zac La Fratta is on the cover of the first issue of 2013 of Hearing Loss Magazine, which is published bimonthly by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). Zac wrote the cover feature for the January/February issue.

I was first introduced to Zac at his second HLAA convention (and my first) in Nashville, TN, in June 2009. Zac was in town this past November for meetings at the HLAA headquarters in Bethesda, MD, so we set up his cover photo session in and around the office.

Zac La Fratta joined HLAA five years ago and was appointed to the Board of Trustees in June 2010. He currently serves as the secretary and is a member of the executive and strategic planning committees. As a young adult serving on the board, Zac represents the voices of young adults with hearing loss. He formerly was vice president for the HLA-Boulder (CO) Chapter and as president/founder of the HLA-Washington, D.C. Chapter. He is also the moderator for HearingLossNation, an online community for young adults with hearing loss. (A link for that online community can be found on http://www.hearingloss.org.)

Zac Blog Shot

Hearing Loss Magazine pitched Zac a few questions and topics to comment on and he took the ball and ran. Here’s what Zac has to say about his hearing loss and changing careers mid-stream. All photos © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

Start at the beginning.

I was born in Denver, Colorado, on February 3, 1976. Mom checked into the hospital on a warm sunny day and checked out on a cold snowy day. I spent my childhood years in Dallas and went to high school in Lynchburg, Virginia. I have also been able to call Iowa, New York, Georgia, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., home, throughout my life.

I am the second of six awesome children—four brothers and two sisters. All but two still live in Virginia, the others in Alabama and Colorado. My extended family is gigantic and I have lost track of the growing count of cousins, nephews, and nieces. Any type of reunion that takes place, big or small, is considered the party of the year.

Describe your hearing loss.

I have a stable bilateral, normal steeply sloping to profound sensorineural hearing loss acquired from exposure to bacterial meningitis at eight months of age. It is not clear whether meningitis or the ototoxic medications I received for treatment contributed to the hearing loss, but I consider myself extremely lucky that the hearing loss was the only negative outcome.

My first spoken words (according to dad) were “hold me” after persistent, unsuccessful requests to be held through gestures and crying. Sign language was actually my first language before I started talking around three years of age. After leaving a pre-school that promoted total communication, spoken language became my primary mode of communication. I once again started learning sign language shortly after I began embracing my hearing loss in my late twenties. I sign at a proficient skill level conversationally and in the audiology clinic.

My hearing loss has always been underestimated, perhaps because I received intensive speech therapy. Also, I never sought accommodations in high school or college. I’m not saying this was a good thing not to use accommodations, it’s just a fact. So, I always chuckle when audiologists are shocked and astonished after reviewing my audiogram.

Do you wear hearing aids or use assistive listening technologies?

I wore hearing aids for the first decade of my life before “putting them in the drawer” for nearly 20 years. I now proudly wear hearing aids after accepting my hearing loss. I’m currently in conversations of possibly pursuing a cochlear implant. I wear high-end, high-powered, behind-the-ear hearing aids with the receiver in the canal that uses a size-312 battery. This particular hearing aid is already two model-generations old! Being an audiology student has its fun privileges in that I get to try different hearing aid technologies. They really are quite different from one another as is each person’s hearing loss.

I use different assistive listening devices that use the telecoil features in a variety of situations. For watching television, listening to music, and talking on a cell phone, I take advantage of the SurfLink streaming feature that comes with my hearing aids. I occasionally use FM technology if it is readily available in large group settings. I heavily rely on closed-captioning technology. In fact, my family and friends automatically turn the closed-captioning on for me, and some even leave it on permanently. I recall my first closed-caption decoder box my parents got me for Christmas one year. It was one of the most memorable gifts I have ever received. I also won’t attend a movie showing unless some form of captioning is available.

TOC Zac La FrattaWhat was it like growing up with hearing loss?

Growing up with a hearing loss has been a roller coaster ride for me, manifesting throughout different phases in my life. I have experienced a range of emotions—embarrassment, confusion, anger, fear, depression, acceptance, and finally, peace.

I often wanted to forget I had a hearing loss, but with constant reminders from family, friends, and strangers, not to mention my own struggles, I could not escape reality. I would frequently be asked the same question along the lines of: “How can you hear on the phone?” “Are you Australian?” “Can you read their lips?” “Do you sign?” and on and on.

Tell us about going to school with a hearing loss.

I received early intervention services through The Callier Center at The University of Texas at Dallas and was mainstreamed in both private and public schools.

I have vivid memories at Callier of happily clanging bells with dozens of other children with hearing loss, to what was supposed to be the “Jingle Bells” tune. The proud parents in the audience merrily sang along as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I have many other good memories from my time at Callier. However, I do recall, even at this pre-school age, my gut feeling that something was off, especially when I was instructed to wear uncomfortably loud devices on my ears.

To my parents’ horror, I reacted by flushing those expensive devices down the toilet. This event was the beginning of my resistance to wear hearing aids and my resolve to be “normal.” As hard as I tried, there was no escaping my hearing loss as it presented various inevitable challenges throughout my life. I had my share of bullies and academic struggles during grade school. Although the bullies never went away, my academic struggles dissolved after receiving appropriate intervention in public school settings, even after I discontinued wearing hearing aids in junior high school.

Professions—past and present

In my determination to be a successful, normal person, I managed to get through college and enter the software consulting industry without any accommodations. I spent a decade in the IT industry as a business analyst working with Fortune 500 companies.

I felt accomplished and had success in this industry; however, I no longer had the passion or drive to maintain the intensity required to keep up with the demands of the job description. Much of my role consisted of client interviews, managing meetings, and handling conference calls, all of which are a nightmare for the person with a hearing loss, especially without the use of assistive listening technologies or other accommodations.

I came to the realization that I had reached my peak and landed on a plateau in terms of fulfilling dreams and ambitions. I knew instinctively that in order for me to grow and move forward, I had to acknowledge my hearing loss and be comfortable and willing to ask for help.

However, I admit, by this time I was burned out and ready for a new career that inspired me, yet I didn’t want unnecessary hardship. I know it’s unrealistic that a new career wouldn’t bring challenges but this is the way I felt at the time. I needed a break from the day-to-day hassle of communicating on the job.

So…what happened next?

In 2007, my audiologist in Colorado asked me to interview with NBC’s Colorado & Company to share my experiences wearing new hearing aids for the first time in nearly two decades. (Remember, I denied my hearing loss and didn’t wear them.) There was an audiologist on the set and to my pleasant surprise, he also had a hearing loss and wore hearing aids. I was inspired learning about his journey.

The light bulb went off immediately and I knew a career in audiology was my calling. The following year, I was a registered full-time student at Colorado University at Boulder to fulfill the prerequisites required to enter an audiology program. At the time, it made perfect sense for me to pursue audiology as a profession. Having a hearing loss myself, I wanted to find new ways to contribute to the community of people with hearing loss. I was interested in working with children with hearing loss and their parents. I also had a burning desire to understand my own hearing loss from a clinical view and obtain the best resources available to make my life easier.

I am completing my clinical doctorate studies at Gallaudet University’s audiology program and will graduate in August 2013. Meanwhile, I am completing my externship (a.k.a. “residency”) at the audiology clinic at the University of Colorado Hospital. I also serve as an audiology LEND Fellow with the JFK Partners program in Colorado to continue my training with pediatric audiology through various multi-disciplinary models.

I’ve completed clinical audiology rotations in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area at an ENT private practice, Children’s National Medical Center, and The River School. I am also proud to work with several programs at the Marion Downs Hearing Center in Colorado, including Campus Connections, Building Communication Bridges, Infant Hearing Screening Program, and Teen Day. In addition, I had the privilege of teaching the Peer Mentoring Certification Training Program at Gallaudet University for two years.

Describe a typical day in your externship.

I am fortunate to be completing my externship at the University of Colorado Hospital because it provides a great, all-around experience. In addition to working with audiology’s bread and butter—administering hearing tests and working with amplification technologies with a diverse population—I also work with balance testing, cochlear implants, and infant hearing screenings. My favorite part of my externship experience is counseling. From my personal experience, I can connect with many of my clients, especially parents of children with hearing loss.

Zac Outdoors LargeWhat (or who) do you think contributed to where you are today?

I have a supporting cast who believes in me, instills in me the confidence and courage to be the best I can be, and above all, loves me. I can’t underestimate the power of my family, mentors, and friends when it came to encouragement and support.

After having worked with parents in the audiology clinic, I discovered that I took for granted the challenges my own parents experienced to ensure I lived a great and normal life. I am forever grateful for how they raised me, taught me independence, and always provided a sense of belonging. They did an amazing job even with limited educational resources for kids with hearing loss.

My brothers and sisters also are a big part of who I am. They provided the social inclusion and unconditional love I needed during my childhood. They showed me how to be creative and silly. We had fun growing up and they created a safe haven for me to be myself. Since I am second to the oldest, I babysat my siblings on a regular basis, and it was always fun to create games and activities to keep them entertained. My brothers and sisters intuitively understood my hearing loss, oftentimes sacrificing their own needs for mine. They accepted that my hearing loss was a part of who I am and accommodating me was part of our family’s daily routine.

I am lucky to have the quality of friends I have made over the years. I didn’t have an abundance of friends growing up, but the ones I made were compassionate and trustworthy. As a kid, I latched onto friends who had similar interests and didn’t get bored doing the same things over and over (boxcars, Transformers, and G.I. Joe’s!). Eventually, we grew out of toys and took on sports.

Like my family, my friends never let my hearing loss interfere with our friendship. My friends might never have fully understood my hearing loss, but they always had my back. There were even practical jokes at the expense of my hearing loss but I knew I was accepted as one of the gang.

A favorite story was on a Halloween night. We were dressed in fun costumes and enjoying ourselves. One of my friends, known for his one-liners, got everyone hooked on over-enunciating one particular line from a movie throughout the night—“What the problem is?” (A line void of good grammatical form so it was hard to grasp.)

The problem was I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what they were saying all night. I finally had the courage to ask, “Are you saying ‘hippopotamus?’” And with that for the remainder of the night, “hippopotamus” was the new one-liner.

My mentors—a few teachers and speech-language pathologists—were pivotal in how I connected and fit in with mainstream society. We spent countless hours working on my speech and academic skills, as well as boosting my self-esteem. To this day, I have been unsuccessful in tracking them down to show my appreciation to all they have contributed. (If by some miracle you are reading this, I thank you!)

There is no one who understands me and my hearing loss as well as my girlfriend, Maureen Shader, whom I affectionately call Mo. More importantly, there is no one who has as much patience in regard to my hearing loss as she does. It amazes me the sacrifices she has made over the past few years to contribute to our powerful and fulfilling relationship. Mo does it all! It is the little things like her continuing efforts to face me when she speaks, constantly carrying hearing aid batteries in her purse, sitting quietly with boredom in the car while I drive (driving poses a large obstacle to lipreading), and giving up our time together while I put time into advocacy projects for those with hearing loss.

Without question, Mo is my biggest supporter and advocate. It certainly helps that she is also an audiology student and is proficient in sign language. We have a running joke that all that is missing is for her to have a hearing loss too. I thought I was destined to have a relationship with a woman with a hearing loss, someone who could walk in my shoes. In reality, I could not be more grateful that Mo doesn’t have a hearing loss. I admit it is nice to have a good set of ears around. As it should be, our different levels of hearing doesn’t matter. It’s about the person and the values you have in common, not the hearing loss. But it does help that she understands.

Hey Zac, did you have anything to do with you?

While all the important people in my life have been a solid foundation, okay, I’ll give myself a little bit of credit. Early in my life, I spent much of my time playing soccer and tennis since it was an easy way to escape from all of my struggles. My parents understood how important this was for me, so mom became a soccer mom and dad was my biggest fan. Winning and stardom on the playing field made me feel good about myself, so naturally I was determined to win off the field too, just so I could feel normal and accepted.

My family and friends can attest to this, I became fiercely competitive in everything I did, which I now know was annoying and exhausting for those close to me. But this tactic was my survival card, getting me through school, bullies, and feeling vulnerable. After college, this behavior became less and less effective and useful in my life. It is not a coincidence that after accepting my hearing loss, I discovered that this trait was unhealthy, so I began to channel my competitiveness in a productive manner in everything I do. I am able to use this new tool to accomplish things that benefit the community and society and are important for myself to feel like I’m making a contribution.

Tell us more about how you think people see you.

The consensus among my family and friends is that they often forget that I have a hearing loss. I honestly don’t believe that is true, rather they are fully aware but do not perceive my hearing loss as a disadvantage or a disability for me since they simply do not find themselves needing to compromise their own lives to accommodate me. However, they can recall quite a few occasions where they’ve advocated for me, remembered funny stories related to my hearing loss, or are reminded of events pertaining to my hearing loss.

When I am socializing, people often ask my friends or family members why I speak the way I do, why I am standoffish, why I frequently need repetition, or simply say “what’s up with the hearing aids?” Occasionally, people who are aware about hearing loss (through their own family members, friends, or co-workers) will inquire about my hearing loss.

My family always shares that they are inspired by how I’ve handled my many adversities—such as educational and social challenges. One of my brothers reflected that after having gone through middle and high school himself, which he considers one of the more difficult challenges of life, is left inspired that I was able to work through the same challenges in addition to having a hearing loss.

One of my sisters believes that I compensate for my hearing loss with a sixth-sense, or super-hero ability. She reflects that this trait equates to my determination to excel, especially when faced with challenges.

The family also has tons of fun with my hearing loss too. Long ago, audiologists told my dad that I have some residual low-frequency hearing, so he brilliantly exaggerates a low voice when he calls my name. My family and friends think it is hilarious, but it works! The whole family loves home signs, particularly “bathroom,” “stop,” and “hurry.” My family also never lets me forget how I have funny ways of saying words like “ridiculous” and “scissors” or how I am constantly mixing up idioms.

Tell us about getting involved with HLAA.

When I made the decision (and yes, it was a decision) in 2004 to accept my hearing loss, I went all out by launching “Deaf-inite Entertainment”—a fund-raising project to raise awareness among the hearing loss community. It was an exciting project that raised funds to provide a free open-captioned showing of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban at the local theater and to donate to the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

During this project, I met many wonderful people with hearing loss, including Debbie Mohney from the HLA-Boulder (CO) Chapter. Debbie planted the seed for me to join the chapter because she knew it was an opportunity for me to expand my role in the community of people with hearing loss.

Her patience and persistence paid off when she convinced me to attend my first chapter meeting in 2007. Debbie wasn’t kidding that I’d benefit from joining this chapter, because a few months later I attended my first HLAA Convention in Reno in 2008 thanks to a scholarship the HLA-Boulder Chapter awarded me. It was at this convention that I met a small group of young adults with hearing loss for the first time. I had never been in the presence of so many people my age with a hearing loss!

To say I haven’t looked back since then is an understatement. I always was a happy person, compensating for my hearing loss in the most competitive ways. But it wasn’t until I accepted my hearing loss—even embraced it as I like to describe my experience—that I began to understand the significance it’s had on my life.

Moving forward, there are a lot of things to do in both my personal and professional life. First on the list is to find ways to get more young adults with hearing loss involved in HLAA. Read on about the 100 Portland initiative. I hope to see you in Portland, Oregon, this June for HLAA Convention 2013.

Zac La Fratta lives in Denver, Colorado. In addition to his studies and the 100 Portland project, he enjoys playing tennis, dining out with his girlfriend, traveling to new places, and spending time with friends and family. He recently discovered the joys of cooking and experimenting with different recipes. You can e-mail him at zachary.lafratta@gmail.com.

Also in this issue: Zac La Fratta debuts 100 Portland, an initiative to attract young adults, ages 18-35, with hearing loss to come to HLAA Convention 2013 in Portland, Oregon, this June; audiologist Brad Ingrao’s article, A Rose by Any Other Name: PSAPs vs. Hearing Aids, takes a close-up look at hearing devices advertised on TV and in magazines; HLAA’s Director of Marketing and Events, Nancy Macklin, shares highlights for the upcoming Convention 2013; Stephen O. Frazier and Sally Schwartz discuss induction loop technology in their article, The Often-Neglected Neck Loop; audiologist Mark Ross reveals why simply giving a person who is elderly a hearing aid doesn’t always get to the heart of the matter of not hearing well in his article, Older People with Hearing Loss: Aural Rehabilitation Might be More Necessary than Ever; Sally Edwards writes about how life doesn’t always go as planned, especially when a hearing loss interrupts those plans, in Labors of Love; and HLAA member and Reeses Peanut Butter Cup lover Gary Trompower is profiled in Seen & Heard.

KNOW SOMEONE WITH HEARING LOSS? Give them a gift membership to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Visit www.hearingloss.org for more information.

 

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The Indomitable Spirit of the Kennedy Center’s Betty Siegel

2 08 2012

Scott J. Bally’s article, The Indomitable Spirit of the Kennedy Center’s Betty Siegel, was featured in the November/December 2011 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, which I design bimonthly for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I photographed Betty in my studio last fall, and discovered we share a lot of common interests. After our photo session was over, I told her that she and her husband are now on our guest list for future parties! Below is Bally’s article, reprinted with permission from HLAA.

At the heart of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Art’s efforts to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities is Betty Siegel, nationally recognized leader for accessibility to the arts.

Wicked was beyond belief. I had given up on attending anything like a play or musical. It was like being in the fairy tale. I could feel the music—understand the play—and be a part of a magical evening that I had long since given up. Now I see this is just the beginning!”
Suzannah “Bay” Dirickson, HLAA member, Richmond, Virginia

A broad smile of accomplishment widens across Betty Siegel’s face when she considers the Kennedy Center Accessibility Office’s success this past summer when 600 attendees of the HLAA Convention took in a performance of the blockbuster musical Wicked (click here to learn more about Wicked). This standing-room-only Broadway hit which explores the back story of The Wizard of Oz was a perfect fit for convention goers as it addresses and brings new insights into the challenges of being different.

The event attracted the largest number of people with hearing loss ever to attend a performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The challenges for the Center’s Accessibility Office were daunting and patron needs were successfully met with seven captioning screens placed at strategic points throughout the Kennedy Center Opera House and masterfully guided by captioner David Chu, two types of gratis assistive listening technology to select from, a team of specially-selected interpreters, an occasion-specific crafted welcome and orientation letter and a staff of 36 ushers who had undergone sensitivity training to help this contingent have the most complete theater experience possible. Feedback provided to both the Kennedy Center and HLAA pronounced it a resounding success! Betty Siegel, who orchestrated the efforts, called the achievement “absolutely thrilling!”

From the Inside Out
At the heart of the Kennedy Center’s efforts to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities is Betty Siegel, nationally recognized leader for accessibility to the arts. Betty Siegel’s three-person staff has a broad variety of responsibilities as part of the education program.

The Kennedy Center keeps its policy simple and to the point. “The Kennedy Center welcomes persons with disabilities.” Betty thinks it needs no further explanation.” That says it all!” she states emphatically. It also gives her the ability to widen the scope of her office in creative and practical ways that achieve this objective.

Betty looks back to 1989 when she started at the Kennedy Center. She reflected on the Center’s slow emergence from viewing the accessibility staff as the fly in the ointment (“eyes rolled when we walked into a meeting”) to being an integral part of the institutional culture to whom others look for counsel and advice. The overriding attitude at the Kennedy Center is that “accessibility is just something that we do.” And they do it well.

Betty notes that now, without her urging, consideration is given to persons with disabilities in every effort the Center undertakes including staffing and staff training, renovation of the facilities and planning for meeting patron needs. “It just happens,” says Betty with a gleam of personal satisfaction in her eye. The Center has both in-house programs so that the Center’s cultural offerings are accessible to the greater Washington, D.C. community, but also leadership training for institutions both nationally and internationally.

The Kennedy Center’s Accessibility Office has become one of the nation’s primary resources for cultural institutions in the area of disabilities. They are able to provide solutions for technology challenges in theaters, direction for incorporating individuals with hearing loss and other disabilities in the arts, and understanding of the legislation that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities who attend public cultural institutions.

Meeting the Challenges
The greatest challenges for Betty and her colleagues, Jessica Swanson, Andrea Miller, and newcomer, Clinton Bowman, include keeping up with the rapidly-changing technology available to theatergoers as well as the compatibility between group and individual technologies. As the director for Very Special Arts (VSA) and Accessibility, Betty’s responsibilities have broadened as a recent Kennedy Center reorganization has brought the VSA program under Betty’s capable wings. With six new staff members and a whole new program to oversee, Betty seems undaunted at the prospect noting “I thrive on new challenges,” especially those for which she can implement “socially sustainable design.” A group of volunteers provide support to the office.

The challenge here, according to Betty, is that when you meet expectations, the expectations of patrons move to a higher level. “You need to exceed their expectations at every turn. We need to be doing things better and more effectively on every front.” No resting on laurels although pausing to appreciate the Wicked experience is cause for some satisfaction for Betty and her team.

“Building new audiences…and keeping the ones you have” is a dual challenge described by Betty. A significant portion of arts’ audiences are baby boomers. They are all aging. With aging, many individuals will develop some degree of sensory or mobility disability that needs to be addressed so that these individuals are able to continue their access to and enjoyment of the arts.

Networking is a key factor in the success of the Center’s programs. Each year since 2000, the Kennedy Center has hosted its LEAD program, Leadership Exchange in the Arts and Disability. Administrators from cultural institutions across the country discuss institutional cultural arts and disability issues. Their shared common goal is “the desire to create accessible cultural arts programs that are inclusive of people with disabilities and older adults.”

Betty describes useful presentations as well as a vigorous exchange of ideas between venues. The Department of Justice supports the efforts by frequently providing speakers who give updates on legislation related to persons with disabilities as it has become clarified through court cases, and the most recent updates on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Betty noted that ticketing regulations has recently been a topic of particular interest among participants. Other highlights of their annual conference include accessible performances, technology demonstrations, and resource rooms.

The Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center is the nation’s busiest performing arts facility and hosts approximately 3,000 performances annually for audiences totaling nearly two million people. This does not include individuals who tour this national monument to see its Edward Durrell Stone designed cutting edge architecture and furnishings gifted from nations around the world without seeing a performance. The Center, now in its 40th season, has already established a reputation for excellence in meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.

Individuals with hearing loss find several accommodations to meet their needs. Assistive listening technology for performances is available at no charge to patrons. There are captioned performances for every play and musical in the Eisenhower Theater and the Opera House, the Center’s largest venues. The other theaters (the Kennedy Center has six, plus the Millennium Stage which provides free performances in the Grand Foyer 365 days a year) will provide captioning when requested with reasonable notice.

Recently a patron at a musical explained, “I don’t think I have much of a hearing loss, but the [Infrared] earphones brought the actors voices past the orchestra so I could actually understand the words.” The Center also offers audio-described performances for those with vision loss and signed performances for people who use sign language.

Cultural and sensitivity training for the more than 500 ushers who work the performances enable the front line “redcoats” to meet the immediate needs of patrons with disabilities and older adults. Each theater also has “accessibility ushers” at every performance whose primary responsibility is to assist patrons with mobility and other accessibility needs.

When asked how many patrons benefit from the Center’s efforts, Betty shakes her head and notes that it is “virtually impossible to tell.” She continues, “Patrons with disabilities do not need to identify themselves to Kennedy Center staff to take advantage of accommodations. Although theater managers report on some services provided such as large-print programs or wheelchair use, many patrons are self-sufficient and slip by unnoticed. Hearing loss is, of course, invisible so we are uncertain as to how many people who are hard of hearing and deaf actually attend captioned or signed performances.”

Cognitive disabilities, mental illnesses or autism and such medical challenges as heart conditions or arthritis, are also difficult to identify. Even statistics on assistive listening device use are not reliable because individuals without hearing loss also might use them. A broad estimate by Betty puts the figure at “easily 25,000 patrons, but it is probably more.” According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in ten Americans has a mental or physical disability, a figure that supports her assumption.

From Whence She Came
When asked about Betty’s professional background she laughs. She confessed that she started out in costume design…but “without much passion.” Her professional path kept moving her toward working with people. She discovered the joys and challenges of working in the area of disability access to the arts at the Arena Stage, a regional theater venue in Washington, D.C. where she was a theater manager in the early 1980s. She found it rewarding to “make a difference in the lives of theatergoers with disabilities” and helping them to be an integral part of the cultural event, rather than limited spectators.

For the efforts of the Kennedy Center’s Accessibility Office, Betty accepted HLAA’s National Access Award 2011 at the HLAA Convention for their contributions toward making the arts accessible to persons with hearing loss. “Arts should not shy away from the issues [which confront persons with disabilities].” From Betty’s viewpoint, she is immersed in those issues every single day…and loving every minute of it.

Scott J. Bally, Ph.D., M.S.W., CCC-SLP, recently retired from Gallaudet University where he was a full professor in both the speech-language pathology and audiology programs in the department of hearing, speech and language sciences. He has worked in public school, hospital, deaf institute, community clinic and university settings in a career spanning more than 35 years. He has written numerous articles and book chapters on the biopsychosocial effects of hearing loss and has presented to both professional and consumer organizations.

Dr. Bally has also worked at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., where he is head usher at the Opera House and is regularly called on to work with patrons who having hearing loss at captioned performances in the Opera House and the Eisenhower Theaters. He can be reached at sbally@hearingloss.org.

Patron services at the John F. Kennedy Center for the
Performing Arts through the Accessibility Office:

Captioned performances and events
Assistive listening devices
Sign language interpreted performances and events
Audio-described performances and events
Braille and large-print playbills (other materials upon request)
Online listings of accessible performances
Specially-priced tickets
Accessible tours
Wheelchair accessibility
Transportation and parking accommodations
Courtesy wheelchairs
Curb-to-seat service
Phone and e-mail information services

Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. In the U.S., student annual dues are $20, individual annual dues are $35, and family/couple annual dues are $45. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.





Hearing Loss Magazine covers…who will grace the next one?

22 03 2012

Just compiled this collage of all of the covers I’ve photographed for the Hearing Loss Magazine over the past seven years. Who will be next?

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.





HLM Cover Feature: Jennifer (Jen) Thorpe

29 06 2010

The July/August 2010 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine (which I design and produce bimonthly for the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) features Jennifer (Jen) Thorpe, an HLAA member. I met and photographed the Thorpe family in Nashville last year at HLAA’s annual convention. In her article, I Am Simply Me, Jen shares how her hearing loss has affected not only her but her family as well. The issue is en route to HLAA members shortly! You can read more about Jen’s “journey to bilateral bionic hearing” on her blog, Stereophonic Bionic.

I discovered Jen on Abbie Cranmer’s blogroll, which I found during a random search for hearing loss-related blogs. It turns out Abbie and Jen were already friends. Now both have been profiled for the magazine!

Abbie wrote her feature for the May/June 2008 issue of HLM and I spotlighted her on this blog here. Abbie’s blog can be found here. Download Abbie’s full feature article, Chronicles of a Bionic Woman, here: http://www.cindydyer.com/BionicWoman.pdf

I’m thrilled to report that Abbie and her husband-to-be, Todd, have hired me to photograph their wedding in mid-September. They’re getting married in a botanical garden in New Jersey—-how dreamy is this photography gig? Jen will be one of Abbie’s bridesmaids, so I’ll get to see her again this fall, too.

Other articles in this issue include:

Author Cathy Kooser’s excellent article, Hearing Loss is Not Just About Me, outlines her maladaptive coping strategies—bluffing, dominating the conversation, withdrawal and selective hearing—and how they impact her family and friends. Cathy is a licensed independent social worker with a severe hearing loss, and lives in Dayton, Ohio.

Audiologist Mark Ross’ article, Understanding and Managing a Severe Hearing Loss, identifies what qualifies as severe hearing loss and explores treatment options such as cochlear implants, hearing aids, directional microphones and hybrid implants. Mark is an associate at the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC) at Gallaudet University. He is a regular contributor to the magazine.

In Let’s Hear from the Families, editor-in-chief Barbara Kelley introduces us to Alicia, wife of HLAA member and cochlear implant user, Mike Royer, and Katie, wife of Reed Doughty, starting safety for the Washington Redskins and a hearing aid user. Alicia and Katie share their insights as to what life is like living with a loved one with hearing loss. I’ve had the honor of photographing the Royer family (see their portraits here and here, kids Annie & Joshua here, and most notably the birth of their daughter, Ashley, here) and the Doughty family (see my post here on Reed’s cover debut and family portraits here.)

And finally—my dear friend, Tom Hedstrom, writes about his father’s hearing loss in My Dad, the Ford Man. Tom’s father, Bernie, wore hearing aids for more than 30 years until he got his cochlear implant at the age of 92. Bernie is a long-time member of HLAA and loves reading and sharing the magazine. I photographed Bernie for this issue when he was visiting the D.C. area in May.

All photos © Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.





Hearing Loss Magazine, 2009 recap

1 01 2010

The first issue in 2010 of the Hearing Loss Magazine, published by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), will arrive in member mailboxes in about a week. I design the bimonthly magazine and provide photography services as well. Reflecting back on 2009, we profiled Dr. Mark Ross, audiologist and regular contributing Hearing Loss Magazine author; Jennifer Cheng, an epidemiologist and competitive cyclist; Dr. Vinton Cerf, also known as the “Father of the Internet,” and his wife, Sigrid; Ret Cpt Mark Brogan and his wife, Sunny; and Deanne Bray, who stars in the NBC series, Heroes. These cover subjects are in the links below. To view the corresponding pdf links, click on the link, then on the same link again in the next window. The pdf should begin to download and open automatically.

January/February 2009: Dr. Mark Ross is an audiologist and recipient of HLAA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for 2008. Dr. Ross received his BA and MA from Brooklyn College in 1957 and 1958 and his PhD from Stanford University in 1962. He is a professor emeritus in audiology at the University of Connecticut, and has also worked as a clinical audiologist, a director of a school for the deaf and as director of research and training at the NY League for the Hard of Hearing. He is currently serving as a consultant to the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center at Gallaudet University. Ross is a regular contributor to Hearing Loss Magazine. His article in this issue, Revisiting the Perennial Question: What is the “Best” Hearing Aid?, is available for download here: BestHearingAid. Also in this issue, Dr. John Niparko and cochlear implant audiologist Courtney Carver‘s article, Successful Aging and Our Hearing, which can be downloaded here: NiparkoCarverFeature. (Dr. Niparko just happens to be my wonderful otolaryngologist, and the “model” in this feature is Fred Anzaldua, a family friend and HLAA member from San Antonio, Texas.) Cover photograph of Dr. Mark Ross © Cindy Dyer

March/April 2009: HLAA’s annual convention was held in Nashville, Tennessee, June 18-21, 2009. HLAA also celebrated its 30th birthday in 2009. Dr. Vinton Cerf, a “Father of the Internet,” was the Opening Session keynote speaker. Dr. Cerf was our cover feature for the May/June 2009 issue (see next entry). Nashville was a fantastic venue for the event! You can view the schedule of workshops, speakers, and social event for Convention 2009 here:  Convention2009Teaser. This issue also featured an excellent article titled, Why is Everyone So Mad? Getting a Grip on Hearing Loss. Author Sam Trychin is a lecturer at Penn State. Dr. Trychin conducts training programs, classes, and workshops for people who are hard of hearing, their families, and professionals who provide services to them. Trychin’s article can be downloaded here: WhyIsEveryoneSoMad

May/June 2009: In March 2009 I had the immense pleasure of meeting and photographing Dr. Vinton Cerf and his wife, Sigrid, for the cover and interview by HLAA member and freelance writer Barbara Chertok, who is a former speechreading and lipreading teacher as well as a bilateral cochlear implant recipient. Dr. Cerf is a hearing aid wearer and Sigrid is a binaural cochlear implant recipient. Dr. Cerf is currently vice president and chief Internet evangelist for Google. (Sigrid’s otolaryngologist is also Dr. John Niparko, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland.) Learn more about Dr. Cerf and Sigrid in my May 10, 2009 posting here. Read Barbara Chertok’s interview with the Cerf’s here: DrVintonSigridCerf. This issue also included an article titled, Music, MP3 Players and Hearing Health, by Patricia M. Chute, an audiologist and dean of the School of Health and Natural Sciences at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. This article is a must-read for adults and parents of children who use MP3 players incessantly! Read Chute’s article here: MP3HearingHealth. Cover photograph of Vinton and Sigrid Cerf © Cindy Dyer

July/August 2009: Jennifer Cheng, a competitive cyclist and infectious diseases epidemiologist from Washington, D.C., was our cover subject and author of the article, Racing With (Not Through) My Hearing Loss, in this month’s issue of Hearing Loss Magazine. Jen was diagnosed with progressive sensorineural hearing loss at age 17 and wears a hearing aid. Born and raised in Seattle, she graduated from George Washington University with a Master of Public Health degree in International Health in 2005. She is a competitive road cyclist for Team CycleLife powered by Specialized, a promoter of women’s cycling and racing in the Mid-Atlantic Region. Cheng received the HLAA Outstanding Young Adult Award at HLAA’s Convention 2009 in Nashville. You can read Jennifer Cheng’s article in the link here: JenniferChengFeature. Also in this issue—an article by Dr. Mark Ross titled, Listening to Music Through Hearing Aids: The Music Program, available for download here: MusicThroughHearingAids Cover photograph of Jennifer Cheng © Cindy Dyer

September/October 2009: Ret Cpt Mark Brogan and his wife, Sunny, were profiled in an article by Barbara Kelley, editor of Hearing Loss Magazine. I had the immense honor of meeting and photographing Mark and Sunny in June during HLAA’s Convention 2009 in Nashville. Mark shared his story (along with scars and his amazing Purple Heart tattoo, courtesy of Miami Ink)—it was a humbling experience for me. Mark was also a guest speaker at Convention 2009. He was a United States Calvary Officer in A Troop, 4th Squadron 14th Calvary, 172 Stryker Brigade Combat team, deployed from Fort Wainwright, Alaska to Iraq to lead a platoon of infantry soldiers. A TBI (traumatic brain injury) survivor, Mark was wounded while on a foot patrol in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq, on April 11, 2006. In addition to the injuries to his skull and arm, his right eardrum was perforated and he has severe-to-profound hearing loss. He wears hearing aids in both ears. Mark was medically retired in 2007. He is a veterans’ advocate and a commander in the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 356 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Read about Mark’s incredible journey from intensive rehab to reconstructing his life, in his blog here. Read a downloadable pdf of Barbara Kelley’s feature article on Mark Brogan here: MarkBroganFeature Also in this issue—an investigative article by Dr. Mark Ross titled, “What About that Thing I Saw on TV that Helps You Hear Better? It’s only $14.99!” is available for download here: SoundAmpProducts Cover photograph of Mark and Sunny Brogan © Cindy Dyer

November/December 2009: Actress Deanne Bray was interviewed by Barbara Kelley, Hearing Loss Magazine editor, in an article titled, Deanne Bray: A Hearing Loss ‘Hero’. Bray was most recently known for her starring role in the PAX-TV series, Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye. The show was loosely based on the true experiences of Sue Thomas, a woman with a profound hearing loss, who worked for the FBI in 1978 doing undercover surveillance by reading lips. Deanne’s latest role is that of Emma, in the NBC hit series, Heroes. Deanne has a severe hearing loss (70 dB to 90 dB) and wears a hearing aid in her left ear. She reads lips to augment what sounds the hearing aid provides. She also uses sign language, assistive listening devices, and captioning to navigate her personal and professional life as an actress. She is married to Troy Kotsur, an actor who is Deaf. Troy was on the Lifetime series, Strong Medicine, and guest starred in Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye. He was also on a special Deaf themed episode (December 13, 2008) of CSI: NY, and an episode of Scrubs. They have a four-year-old daughter, Kyra Monique. Learn more about Deanne on her website here. Read Barbara Kelley’s interview with Deanne here: DeanneBrayInterview. Also in this issue—Author Nan Johnson describes her history of progressive hearing loss and her decision to seek a second implant, in her article: Going Bilateral with Cochlear Implants: A Personal Trip to “Stereophonic Hearing,” available for download here: GoingBilateralCochlear Cover photograph of Deanne Bray by Felicity Murphy.

Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. Student annual dues are $20, individual annual dues are $35, and family/couple annual dues are $45. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, Costco membership, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.





Awards acceptance speech, October ’08

28 11 2009

Today I’ve been in spring cleaning mode (yet again). I’ve also been cleaning up my computer desktop and triple-backing up important files. I just came across this acceptance speech I wrote last year. In August 2008, Barbara Kelley, editor of Hearing Loss Magazine, began interviewing me for what she said was an article that would highlight professionals with hearing loss. I had no idea she was actually filling out a nomination form for a contest!

In early October 2008, just a few weeks before the awards event, I received notice that I was the winner in the Adult Category in Oticon’s annual “Focus on People” awards event! Oticon paid for flights for both me and Michael and provided beautiful accommodations at The Inverness Hotel and Conference Center in Englewood, Colorado, just outside of Denver. Winners received $1,000 each, plus $1,000 to be dedicated to the charity of their choice. Pretty exciting! You can read more about the big event in my posting here. Below is the speech that I delivered at the ceremony.

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MY HEARING LOSS
Not only do I design, produce, and photograph for the Hearing Loss Magazine—I, too, have a hearing loss. I lost my hearing suddenly at age two, and with medical intervention, most of it was restored. To this day, we’re unsure of what happened. When I was seven, I got my first hearing aid. It was clunky and I disliked being different from my classmates, so I refused to wear it. In 1993 I lost all the hearing very suddenly in my right ear, and exploratory surgery revealed that scar tissue had caused the eardrum to collapse. The exploratory surgery did not restore my hearing, so I decided to try an aid again, some 30 years after my first hearing aid experience.

HEARING AGAIN!
That experience was, so to speak, ear-opening! I hadn’t realized the world was so incredibly loud. My new life with a hearing aid had its funny moments. Walking up the stairs in our townhouse, with Michael right behind me, I stopped suddenly and asked him, “Do you hear that noise? What is it?” In the most loving way possible, he said, “Hon, those are your knees popping.” I was mortified! He laments my new acute hearing because he can no longer collect the loose change I drop, unheard, to the floor.

In the beginning, the TV volume was set so low when I controlled the remote that Michael couldn’t hear! I could hear soft noises such as my cat’s purr and water running in the sink and birds chirping through closed windows. There are many events I wish I could relive with a hearing aid now that I know what I have missed.

FACIAL PARALYSIS
Five years ago, my life was upended. During a routine checkup, a new ENT discovered a cholesteatoma in my deaf ear. I hadn’t had any symptoms, so I had no idea how long it had been there. In my routine quest for knowledge, I did some online research, and learned that 1% of patients experience facial paralysis during this type of surgery. I wasn’t concerned. One percent is pretty low odds. I had surgery two weeks later. Unfortunately, I was one of those 1% patients. The entire right side of my face was paralyzed. I was so devastated. I couldn’t smile and my right eye wouldn’t fully close. Because of my surgeon’s aftercare regarding the paralysis, I consulted with Dr. John Niparko at Johns Hopkins just five weeks later. After alarming nerve testing results, I was scheduled for surgery the next afternoon to determine if the nerve had been cut. Fortunately, it had not been cut, but there was some repair work done. I am perennially grateful to Dr. Niparko for his skilled hands, concern, warmth, and kindness. Here I stand, five years later, more than halfway down the road to healing with a renewed sense of hope.

HEARING LOSS MAGAZINE
About three years ago, a client forwarded a job opportunity to me. Without telling me who the client was, she wrote, “this job is perfect for you in so many ways. You should go for it.”

Barbara Kelley, editor of the Hearing Loss Magazine, was looking for a replacement designer. In the end, I believe the scales tipped in my favor partly because of my personal experience with hearing loss. She felt I would bring more than just design skills to the job. My hearing loss actually became an asset in my professional life. Imagine that!

As a result, I’ve met so many interesting people who thrive despite their hearing loss. I’ve photographed a ballerina in The Nutcracker, an incoming Gallaudet University president, a local county singer, and last month I was at Redskins Park photographing football player Reed Doughty, who just revealed his hearing loss this summer.

I’ve also met many HLAA members, such as our May/June cover girl, Abbie Cranmer, through our respective blogs. And there have been so many unexpected perks from the job as well. Barbara introduced me to HLAA member Mike Royer and his family, who appeared on our Walk4Hearing cover this spring. I had the privilege of photographing the birth of Mike and Alicia’s third child, Ashley Jocelyn, just last month. And recently I was offered the opportunity to photograph HLAA member Wayne Roorda’s cochlear implant surgery in November.

This magazine has morphed into more than I could have imagined. I have been challenged creatively and technically. And I have discovered I have a passionate desire to change, through my design and photography, the sometimes negative perception of people with hearing loss.

I have never let my hearing loss define me. It is part of my makeup but it is just a tiny part of who I am. And if I can inspire someone else with hearing loss to overcome their self-esteem issues and find their place in the world, then that’s just another reward from this amazing job.

THANK YOU
Thank you to Barbara Kelley and Brenda Battat for letting me run wild with my creativity and opening doors to a community of wonderful people who just happen to have hearing loss. I offer profound thanks to Barbara for her glowing nomination. And thank you to both Sara Coulter and Oticon, for your generosity, your hospitality, and for honoring me with this award.

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Oticon’s Focus on People 2008 first place winners with Peer Lauritsen, President of Oticon (fourth from left): Todd Landsberg, AuD of Eugene Speech and Hearing Center in Eugene, OR (Practitioner Category); Doug Wernke, M Ed of the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Rapid City, SD (Pediatric Practitioner Category); Cindy Dyer of Alexandria, VA (Adult Category); Peer Lauritsen; Lynn Rousseau of Gainesville, FL (Advocacy Category); and Mariella Paulino of the Bronx, NY (Student Category)