Can You Hear Me Now?

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// from the June issue of 904 Magazine

Vikki Mioduszewski, manager of marketing and communication for Wolfson Children’s Hospital, and Amy Rankin, an independent public relations practitioner who specializes in nonprofits, depend on their hearing to make them good communicators and effective public relations professionals. That could be a big problem for both of them—because both are hearing-impaired.

“Hearing loss is a genetic issue that runs in my family,” says Rankin. “When I started to lose the upper register in my hearing about eight years ago, I was in denial.”

But a diagnosis that involved possibly not being able to hear nor understand what their clients were saying was frightening, and Mioduszewski and Rankin were both referred to Jacksonville Speech and Hearing Center for help.

“It was a great match for me because my audiologist there, Dr. Fenja Mattson, wore hearing aids,” adds Rankin. “She was able to walk me through the process of what to expect.”

Mioduszewski says, “I didn’t really notice a big difference in my hearing because it was gradual and at the time, I didn’t realize my Dad’s mother had hear- ing loss in her early 40s. But when I did get tested at Jacksonville Speech and Hearing Center, I was shocked to find out that my right-side hearing loss was severe and my left-side was moderate.”

The hearing aids that both Rankin and Mioduszewski use are not your great-grandparents’ hearing aids. For one thing, they are digital and are programmed to each woman’s hearing loss by special software used by their audiologists.

That means that their aids only boost the level of sounds neither can hear, which for both are the higher registers; hearing and more importantly to professional communications, word comprehension, can interfere significantly when working with normal-hearing colleagues and family members.

For Mioduszewski, clarity issues have made communicating a challenge, but her employer, Baptist Health, has offered tools such as a bi-aural (both ears), noise-canceling headset, as well as a Captel phone that provides closed captioning services provided by the state to help her continue to work for years to come.

Rankin and Mioduszewski’s hearing aids, like many models, are Bluetooth enabled. For both communication professionals, that means they can link their cell phones with their hearing aids by the use of a “streamer” device—an around-the-neck device that acts as a receiver.

When either receives a call, the ring-and-call volume goes directly to her hearing aids. It’s like someone is talking directly into their ears because the streamer acts as a microphone. It certainly makes phone calls in the car a bit easier to handle.

The streamer can also be linked to an iPod, home telephone or television through the use of a small converter box that plugs into any of these devices.

For those who are concerned about how they will look with hearing aids, there are many types that are molded for the individual. If you want colleagues and friends to know you are hearing-impaired (as some younger or less self-conscious hearing-impaired individuals do), hearing aids come in a variety colors. “I used to care whether or not my hearing impairment was obvious, while feeling the need to tell or remind people about my hearing loss and clarity issues,” says Mioduszewski. “Next time I get hearing aids, I plan to buy bright pink ones and not have to tell anyone I’m hearing impaired because it will be obvious.”

Rankin says she is anxiously awaiting a hearing loop system that could be installed in venues such as the Moran Theatre at the Florida Times-Union Performing Arts Center. Hearing loops involve a magnetic system installed in public venues that interface with hearing aid t-coils. In large venues, such as the Moran, it would make it much easier for those who are hearing-impaired to hear dialogue in theatre performances.

“Many of us who are hearing-impaired rely on reading lips to assist the hearing aids,” says Rankin. “Sometimes it’s not possible to see a person up close.”

“I am impressed that more venues are making it easier to enjoy entertainment options because I have purposely avoided them because I couldn’t really understand the dialogue,” says Mioduszewski. “That is a big part of life, to do the things you enjoy the same as anyone else, while not expecting others to accommodate you to the point that it interferes with their enjoyment.”

One issue that both women acknowledge is the expense of hearing aids and Bluetooth-enabled devices. “Many insurance plans don’t cover hearing aids,” says Mioduszewski. “I use my husband’s health insurance benefits to pay for part of the significant cost of hearing aids that allow me to work, and cover the gap with my Flexible Savings Account (FSA) through work. But some people, including children, don’t have that option, making the tool they need for a good quality of life unattainable.”

She adds, “I don’t want any child, or really anyone, to not have access to hearing screenings and especially, to miss out on a tool they need because of their family’s income. So the services provided by the center are invaluable to vulnerable individuals in our community.”