Let me give you a taste of a hearing loss convention. Julia and I went to the SayWhatClub (SWC) convention August 10th-13th in Nashville, Tennessee. We believe everyone should go to at least one hearing loss convention. You get to experience Hard of Hearing culture. What does that mean?
Hard of Hearing Accommodations
You have the accommodation you need to understand everything that is said. They put in temporary hearing loops for those with telecoils in their hearing aids. (*Ask your audiologist to turn on the telecoil program before you go. Make sure it’s a dedicated telecoil program. About 70% of hearing aids have a telecoil.) If you don’t have telecoils, it’s okay because there’s also a human providing live captioning as we go. (Called CART, Communication Access Real-time Translation.) Our human providing captions was Julia, who also sponsored some time through her CART business.
At conventions, you make connections with people. People who are more experienced and can answer all kinds of questions. If they don’t know, they know someone who can. Because most of the attendees are Hard of Hearing, we know how to talk to each other and people are patient with repeats. Knowing what it feels like being left out, they are usually careful to make sure everyone is included.
Conventions start with a welcome party. This is where you find old friends and make new friends. The SayWhatClub has a theme at their welcome party, this year they told everyone to wear a music t-shirt. Somehow I missed the memo. Thankfully another attendee brought extra t-shirts and let me borrow one for the evening.
When the welcome party ends, we spread out to either the hotel bar or take on the city. Come on, we’re in Nashville so let’s explore! We found Printers Alley and a bar with a live band. It was loud but the group I was with knew some form of sign language and we lipread too so we got by. We all help each other with signs as needed.
We started the workshops. At the SWC con, give the first workshop to sponsors. Each sponsor had about 10 minutes to speak. Vendors help fund the conventions we love. They bring us knowledge and technology. Some are Hard of Hearing themselves. Here’s the sponsors this year:
- T-Mobile Accessibility & Wireless who sponsored the welcome party. InnoCaption who sponsored the hearing loop.
- InnoCaption has sponsored many SWC cons, they are a regular.
- We have also had Mitchell Levy of Hamilton CapTel sponsoring and attending SWC cons for many years.
- Advanced Bionics came and talked to use about their cochlear implants and the Roger Technology.
- CaptionCall is another sponsor.
- Yours truly was sponsor as well, Hearing Loss LIVE! and we talked about our Lipreading Concepts classes coming up. Vanderbilt University Brain Development Lab – They are studying how D/HoH children learn. Here is their project.
- We also had Listen Technologies as a silver sponsor and Cochlear though neither could show. Thank you vendors for helping make this convention possible!
Hearing Loss and Mental Health
The next workshop was Robin Nobling with NAMI of Davidson County. Her talk was titled: Got Stuff? “Not a single person gets through life without a period of anxiety, depression, fear, grief, anger.” Those of us with hearing go through all those emotions well. She encouraged us to unpack our ‘stuff’ and move toward acceptance. What I got from it was that we should talk about it and connect with peers.
Our last workshop of the day was with Cynthia Moynihan, a hearing loss advocate for 30 years who gave us Hearing Loss Empower Hour. She shared some of her challenges from over the years with us. “Why me,” she used to ask. “Because I have the opportunity to learn and give back.” She finds a word to focus on each year, this year’s word is “opportunity”. She’s found plenty of opportunity. She warned us against fitting into a mold, accept and embrace our uniqueness.
The SayWhatClub also has daily, accommodated activities. That night we all met at the Wildhorse Saloon to learn line dancing with captions and sign language! Captions thanks to Julia and the ASL interpreter was provided by Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Are you tired yet? I was but it’s worth it. I love hanging out with my tribe.
Day 3 Friday, August 12th
Friday’s first workshop was with Nancy Denning-Martin & Mike Helms of Bridges for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. It was titled Advocating for Big Change. For those of us passionate about advocacy, this was informative! Nancy and Mike talked about creating change on the “micro level” which is family, friends and people you meet day to day. There is also the “meso” level of advocating which is things like churches, schools and other groups. Last, there is the “macro” level which affects change on a larger scale; politics, legislation, policy. Samples were given of each category.
The second workshop was:Jourdan Holder AuD, the director of the Cochlear Implant Program at Vanderbilt University. She gave us: Hearing Devices, An Update on Technology, Candidacy and Outcomes. She gave us a lot of information about cochlear implants. They are working on shortening the electrodes to have a better chance at leaving the remaining hearing. This is going through the FDA process of approval.
Our last workshop was with Peter Hodes, Introduction to Tai Chi: Movement for Health, Balance and Relaxation. He led us through a series of tai chi movements, showing us how to breathe through them. He encouraged people to do what they could and no more. Pain isn’t the answer here. Use a chair or a table as needed. He made us laugh a lot. For many of us, wit was the first time trying tai chi.
The afternoon activities were a tour of the Grand Ol’ Opry backstage, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and then attending the night’s show at the Grand Ol’ Opry.
Day 4, Saturday August 13th
Our last day is dedicated to afternoon activities in the downtown area of Nashville. They went to the Country Music Hall of Fame to attend the Songwriters Sessions Bonus and tour the Museum there.
It’s banquet night! The banquet was sponsored this year by Safe N Clear. Safe N Clear gave away a box of masks with a window, one box to each table. They also provided each guest with a mask to use.
Our keynote speaker was Meaghan Thomas, a broadcast meteorologist in Nashville who created The Heart of Hearing Foundation.
Her dad had a hearing loss while she was growing up so hearing loss was no big thing. Her own hearing loss was undetected for many years because they thought, “she just wants to be like dad.” In a high school physics class, they were working with different frequencies and that’s when her hearing loss came to light. Still she considered it normal and blew it off. It wasn’t until college that hearing loss became hard to blow off. She didn’t know about accommodations so she “scooted by”. In grad school she was more upfront about her hearing loss and they let her record classes.
As a meteorologist/tv host, she had to get an ear piece. She was fitted for that at a hearing aid place. That was her first real hearing test. Up to that point, her coworkers thought she was unfriendly because she didn’t always answer them. One confronted her about it and that’s when Meaghan let her know she was deaf on one side and had a hearing loss on the other side. That helped clear the air and that coworker became one of her champions.
Along the way she was able to get her parents to buy a hearing aid. That was all they could afford. She was amazed at how much she could hear and what things made noise. However, it was too unbalanced having only one so it got put away.
Three years later she was told about the state vocational rehabilitation program by a new audiologist. The VR program was willing to pay half of the hearing aids and she wanted them so much she was willing to go in debt to pay the other half. When she went in, they gifted the other half to her because they knew she would go on to do good things. She said she sat there and cried.
Last year she came out about her hearing loss publicly posting a picture of her holding her hearing aids out. The next day she woke up to a thousand comments, receiving encouragement. Many parents of kids wrote in to say it helped their kids know they do whatever they wanted. She appeared on Good Morning America with this story. Shortly thereafter she wrote a children’s book based on the comments. Once she made her money back from the book, 100% of the funds goes to the foundation she created.
The Heart of Hearing
The Heart of Hearing Foundation was created to help others in need of hearing aids. Right now it helps people within in the Nashville area but she’d like to go nationwide and help many others. Her main goal is to help the working age people, 20-45, to get hearing aids. These people need hearing aids to keep working.
“When you finally become okay with who you are, you don’t realize how many people you are going to bless.” A lot of heads here nodding at the convention. Hiding hearing loss is a lot of work. When we become more about about it, and what we need to communicate, the easier it gets. We touch many lives and we can make a positive impact.
Grow your connections. Attend a hearing loss convention.
Julia and are looking forward to attending the Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA) October 19th-23rd in San Diego, CA. This too is a fun convention with lots of great people and information. ALDA is famous within the Hard of Hearing community for their Karaoke Night. Let’s sing our hearts out because we can’t hear anyway! Just have fun.
Join our September 6th Talk About It Tuesday at 6:00 PM MST to learn more about either convention.
We are bootstrapping it and started Hearing Loss LIVE! with our own funds. We keep as much of our services as we can free. There’s two ways you can help us. You can share our podcasts, blogs and events. Or you can Buy Us A Cup of Coffee.