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ZipHearing’s 2018 Hearing Health Awareness Scholarship Winner

Allison Garey
University of Maryland, College Park
Award: $1,000
November 15, 2018

The ZipHearing team is excited to announce Allison Garey as the winner of The 2018 Hearing Health Awareness Scholarship for $1,000. Allison attends the University of Maryland, College Park as an undergraduate student majoring in Music and English. Candidates had to craft and submit an essay describing their thoughts on hearing health awareness.

Congratulations, Allison!

Allison’s Winning Essay

My grandmother cannot hear. Her laughter fills every room she enters with avoidant noise because if she’s laughing, she must have heard what you said, right? But this would be wrong. The blame is put on faulty hearing aids, dead batteries, or a bad day full of congestion; anything but the truth. The truth is that my grandfather was her ears for over a decade. Who needs to hear when someone will yell the words to you after in a way you can manage to understand? My grandmother does. My Poppop interpreted everything for her because he loved my Mommom, not knowing that by helping her in this way, her brain was slowly but surely losing its ability to process sounds and words. Quiet noises, low pitches, high pitches, she can’t grasp what the noises mean because her brain got rid of the necessary synapses when they were no longer in use. The real shame is that she desperately wants these sounds back. My grandmother wants nothing more than to be able to hear me sing, to talk with my young cousins, to go to the movie theater, but she waited too long to get hearing aids and now it’s too late unless there are major accommodations at the concert hall or movie theater. And that still doesn’t allow her to hear my little cousins who try and update her on their lives as they start school. Everyone just settles on feeling lucky that her hearing aids allow her to at least hold proper conversations with strong-voiced people. The kind of person we have all learned how to be.

None of this would have been an issue if anyone had told us there was the potential for this to be the outcome, and that is where I believe the problem lies. There is a stigma against needing hearing aids in our society that causes people to be wary of even getting tested. This stigma is one that I believe is possible to overcome, potentially as soon as in the next generation. A good place to start would be with today’s youth. I can remember having my hearing tested in both elementary school and middle school, but it always confused me because I was never told why. What if beforehand the students were taught about the importance of hearing health, given fact sheets to bring home to parents, and given an all-around informed and enjoyable experience? With proper knowledge of just how helpful and important hearing aids are, kids could help end the stigma against needing hearing aids and learn useful information that they can pass along to those who can actually use it. Implementing this would be of little to no cost since the hearing tests already occur and those administering the tests are trained in this area of knowledge already. Additionally, by combating society's negative views on hearing loss, it would improve the lives of those who use hearing aids or have been too ashamed to get their hearing tested and prevent the stigma from continuing among young people.

On the affordability front, I think the first step is to make sure people have access to free hearing tests. There are many places that offer such tests, but I think it can reasonably be expanded to all public libraries, meaning most neighborhoods have a free and local place to seek out these tests. From there, I think it is important that all insurance companies cover hearing aids and appointments in addition to encouraging clients to seek these services out. Not even Medicaid covers it in most cases, and Medicare makes the process difficult and sometimes it still doesn’t cover the cost. It is not uncommon for insurance companies to pay for the exams, but they mostly deem the use of hearing aids as a choice luxury rather than the necessity it is in many cases. With a shift in the societal views, as stated above with the education of children and teens, there is a reasonable chance advocates would be able to successfully change the terminology associated with hearing aids. Insurance companies could be forced to recognize that these devices can be life-saving or that by investing in them, they are saving money long term. There are many potential health risks from hearing loss, especially as a result of accidents that could have been avoided by a hearing person or if hard of hearing person had hearing aids. If the insurance companies recognized this, they would surely cover most of the cost of the multi-thousand dollar devices. Comparably, a few hundred dollars in copay is much more affordable for the average person and, as another form of insurance, Medicaid would allow many people who still wouldn’t be able to afford hearing aids to have access to them.

My grandmother is lucky to be among those who can afford a hearing aid at the price tag that currently comes with having one, but there are so many ways her life could be improved if we had known the options. I want to make sure no one else has to go through what she has and I want to make sure no kids have to go through what I did throughout my childhood with my grandmother. It’s heartbreaking to watch someone you love drift further and further away as she’s unable to properly communicate with you. I’m a music major and my grandmother can’t even hear me sing. No young person should have to deal with that, just like no hard of hearing person should suffer like that. If there had been education in school on the subject of hearing, I could have known what needed to be done to help her. If there had been local, free test locations, my parents could have known what needed to be done to help her. If hearing aids had been affordable and accessible, my grandfather could have known what needed to be done to help her. But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to work on implementing these tools. It means now is the perfect time because, with the right help, someone just like my grandmother could have the higher quality of life they deserve.