Monday, June 30, 2008

UT Audiology and Speech Program Update

I have been very busy writing letters to the Tennessee Governor, the President of the University of Tennessee, the Board of Trustees, Senators, Representatives, and anyone I can think of regarding the proposed shutdown of the UT Audiology and Speech Program. The public outcry on this issue has been phenomenal. The Board of Trustees did decide to postpone this decision until October.

I also wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper about my thoughts and feelings. It was published in the Knoxville News Sentinel as a Citizen's Voice guest op this past Saturday and is titled "Department's End Will Harm Patients." The original letter that I wrote was too long and I was invited to be a guest writer instead. To do that, I had to condense my original letter from 1900 words to 600. That was quite a challenge for me because I am not a person of a few words! It takes more effort to get a point across with fewer words than to "just write."

A 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal (1623-62), once wrote a letter to a friend, "I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter." (This quote is often misattributed to Mark Twain.)

I've had a great response to my article and many encouraging emails. Even Doug Overbey, the Tennessee House Representative, called my cell phone tonight! I was so surprised (and tongue tied!) when I answered the phone but he wanted to let me know that he was doing all he can to support this vital department. And I could hear him almost perfectly. . . thanks to modern technology and to audiologists like the ones at UT.

One of the emails that I received was from Marcia Silverstein, who also had a guest op article on the same page as mine. Her late husband, Dr. Bernard Silverstein, was the founding director of the East Tennessee Hearing and Speech Center in 1953. You can see her article titled "UT Cutback Decision A Backward Move". Both of our articles complemented each other very well.

Also, my husband met with the US Ambassador to Poland last week. He is Victor Ashe, the former mayor of Knoxville for 16 years, a UT law graduate, and is a hearing aid user. He was very interested in this situation as well and promised to help.

I'm not done with this issue and will not let it rest. If someone doesn't speak for the deaf and hard of hearing, who will? This department does a valuable service to their patients and the community, always with a smile.

If you or a family member can hear and communicate because of an audiologist or speech therapist, call or write them a note today to thank them for patient and wonderful service. They do it because they have a heart for people who struggle with disabilities and hearing loss and want to make a difference.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Hearing Ear Dogs?

Our dogs!
I haven't posted any pictures of our dogs in a while and thought I would do one tonight. Right now we have three black German Shepherds in the house! The picture below was taken about a month ago when I took all three of them for a walk. They really are good. . . and walk too slow sometimes. I need a whip or something to get them going! I have a leash that will hold two dogs at once and walk the third one on a single leash. The one on the red leash is Riga, my dog, and she is 5 1/2 years old. The two behind her are her puppies that we kept from her litter last year. The one on the left is Leon, who belongs to Brad and the one on his right is Gus, who belongs to Chris. Brad just graduated from Virginia Tech and has started a new job in Connecticut and we are "dog-sitting" for Leon until August (after Brad gets settled and gets married to his sweetheart, Caitlyn!) Chris lives at home with us so Gus is part of the package. Gus is so loyal to Chris and waits in the driveway every day for him to come home. Chris takes him everywhere with him when he is not working and they are best buddies.
This picture is Gus. He is the tallest of the three dogs and looks "serious" when you talk to him! If you click here, you can read "his adoption story."The next picture is Leon and Riga. Leon is in the back and Riga is the one with the red collar. Brad is missing his dog and asked me to post a picture on my blog. Leon was the runt of Riga's litter last year and almost didn't make it. He is a sweet dog and is just so lovable. Our dogs are not trained to be "hearing ear dogs" but they instinctively know that they need to be my "ears" for me. Riga senses "danger" long before it arrives and is terribly afraid of thunderstorms. She gets very nervous and clings as close as she can to me at least a half an hour or so before a storm arrives. She also HATES fireworks and gunshots. She also lets me know when someone is at the door or wakes me up in the mornings. She'll stand at the door and bark if she wants to come in. Also, if I see her ears "perk up," I know that she "hears" something - it might be someone walking by the house or a car pulling in the driveway. And she always greets me at the door when I come home! Even though I can hear with my CI's, I feel safer having a dog. (And no one will mess with me if I'm walking three German Shepherds!)

Last week while I was working in my home office, Riga crawled under my desk and started shaking. The sun was shining and there weren't any clouds in the sky. And weather forecast didn't say anything about storms on the way. I was confused and couldn't figure out what she was so upset about. But, I needed to go to the bank and run some errands and gathered my purse and stuff. As soon as I stepped outside, I smelled gas! And Riga was letting me know that something was wrong. In hindsight, I wondered if she heard a boom or unusual sound when the gas line was ruptured. Just as I started to go inside to call the gas company, I saw a man walking around in our yard waving a hand meter in his hand. I asked him what was going on and he said that some workers down the street had accidentally cut a gas line and told me to go inside. He told me not to start my car or anything. I could see several fire trucks and emergency vehicles and no one could go in or out of our neighborhood for several hours. So, I brought the dogs back inside and gave Riga a treat for being so good! (Gus & Leon got one, too!)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

2008 HLAA Convention Reno Recap

So much happened during my trip to Reno for the HLAA convention that I don't know where to start! I barely got my act together and got everything situated so I could leave for ten days. I have a husband that can pack a suitcase in 15 minutes but it takes me several days! I actually had to pack for two different locations for two different kinds of weather so that made it more challenging, especially when I could only take one suitcase. Airlines are now charging $25 or more for extra bags that are checked.

My flights were good and I really didn't have any major problems except the usual stress of wondering whether I'm at the right gate or on the right plane, etc. I have a love/hate relationship with airlines and flying. I love to fly but get very tired trying to make sure I know what is going on. I usually travel with Steve, who knows what gate to go to, where it is, when we need to be there, etc. so he usually tells me what is going on. When I am alone, it’s a different story. I am on “alert” and am constantly watching the monitors in airports regarding my flights. I cannot understand the loud and garbled messages being said over the intercoms so I just go right to the gate and let someone know that I can’t hear what they are saying. And ask them to let me know when it is time to board the plane. And they usually let me board first along with the first class boarders. I found out that airlines like to board deaf and hard of hearing persons first so that they stewards/stewardesses know where they are.

Airports are a source of frustration for me even if I can hear with my cochlear implants. The announcements at the gates are usually very loud and garbled and extremely difficult to understand, even for those with normal hearing. The people with normal hearing standing around me waiting to board planes seem to have difficulty understanding what is being said, too. They aren't much better on the planes when the stewardesses make the "flight speech." I'd like to see if there is a way to get airlines to put visual information at gates and on planes. The technology is out there and I intend to see if I can get something in motion. I have a “plan” and hope to make a difference with the major airports in Tennessee. This would benefit everyone, not just the deaf and hard of hearing. I’d like to make a difference with ALL airports but if I start small, maybe the others will follow suit. . . (I’m sitting in the Atlanta airport as I write this and the loudspeaker is BLARING in my ears!) Even the workers at the gate are putting their fingers in their ears during the announcements!

Anyway, as I was standing in line at the Salt Lake City airport wondering if I was at the right gate, a lady standing next to me asked if it was the flight to Reno. I told her I wasn’t sure because I couldn’t hear. She immediately asked me if I was going to Reno for the HLAA convention because she was too! Her name is Kathy and she was from SLC. We had a nice chat before we boarded the plane. And then, the lady who sat next me to me started making small talk and I quickly learned that she was going to Reno, also! The fun was already starting before we got there! I love meeting new people, especially those who understand the trials and tribulations of living with a hearing loss.

I got to Reno thirty minutes before Jennifer did so I got my bags and waited for her. And was at security when she and the Nashville gang got off their plane! I knew most of them but she introduced me to them anyway. What a great group of people! We all took the shuttle to the hotel, which was only about 15 minutes away. As soon as we walked into the Grand Sierra Hotel, we were in CASINO overload! I’ve never seen so many gambling machines and tables in my life (have never been to Las Vegas, either). Jennifer and I got checked in our room, which was absolutely gorgeous. See pictures below. . . I quickly learned that Abbie, our third roommate was having a “daymare” flight to Reno and was flying all over the country instead of her original nonstop flight to Reno. You can read about her experience here. I felt so bad for her because this was her FIRST time flying and I knew that she would have trouble hearing and understanding announcements, especially with last minute changes. She was supposed to arrive in Reno at 11 a.m. the day we got there but ended up in Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, & Alaska (of all places) before arriving after 7 p.m. (You can read about her experience HERE!)

Since Jennifer was at a dinner meeting, I met Abbie at the hotel entrance when her shuttle arrived. All I saw when she got off the plane was the silhouette of her body and outstretched arms because the setting sun was behind her and blocking her face. But, there was no mistaking who she was! And we were so glad to see each other! I quickly helped her with her bags and got her registered at the front desk. When we boarded the elevator, the button for our floor (the 17th floor) would not work! So we had to go up to the 18th and come back down!

Later, we met the rest of the incoming folks downstairs at Starbucks. We spent some time getting reacquainted with friends from last year and making new ones and taking pictures. I went to bed around midnight (even with the three hour time difference!) while Jennifer and Abbie stayed up later talking, etc. To be continued. . . (Jennifer has written several entries about our weekend and pretty much said it all! Go here and read her version. I will update soon!)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

HLAA in Reno

Where do I begin to write? Four days at the HLAA Convention in Reno was not enough time to see all the things I wanted to see, spend time with all the friends I wanted to be with, take all the pictures I wanted to take, attend all the events & seminars I wanted to go to, and do all the things I wanted to do. There are so many thoughts I want to share with you all about the convention that I don't know where to start writing. . .

But, I will
tell you this. . . I was with my "people!"

I thoroughly loved meeting the people whose blogs I read on a regular basis but had not met face to face. I was thrilled to see friends I already knew in addition to those from last year's convention in Oklahoma City (and missed those who couldn't make it this year.) Everyone I met was just as wonderful and funny and thoughtful as they are in their blogs, emails, in chat rooms, and on Facebook. And they look even better in person than they do in their pictures! From the time we walked through the hotel doors until we left, we hugged, laughed, talked, cried, played, and took a million pictures until we crashed! I smiled so much that my face hurt!

As I flew to Texas (to see my grandson & son &
daughter-in-heart) from Reno after the convention, I looked out the plane window for a long time and reflected on my time in Reno. Being with such inspirational people is an emotional roller coaster for me. I completely melted and went into "convention withdrawal," if there is such a thing. I'm still trying to process it all. I had looked forward to this for a year and was so grateful AND BLESSED for the opportunity to be with so many wonderful people. . .who have a hearing loss just like me. . .those of us who live with deafness have a special bond that the "hearing world" doesn't always understand.

I'll write more in detail in the next few days as soon as I edit some posts I wrote on the plane. . . until then, enjoy these pictures!

Mike Royer (he's such a great and funny guy!)Abbie, Jennifer, & meMy Fabulous Roomates, Jennifer & Abbie!
Mike, Jen, Laurie, Abbie, and Zac La Fratta at the banquet

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

2008 HLAA Convention, Reno, Nevada!

I’m on my way to the annual HLAA (Hearing Loss Association of America) Conference in Reno, Nevada! I’ve been planning for this ever since the convention last year in Oklahoma City and can’t wait to see my friends again and meet new ones!

I barely got my act together and fell into bed after midnight last night when I finished packing. I’m probably bringing too much stuff but I got it all in one suitcase. . . and was so excited I couldn’t sleep!

Jennifer and I will be roommates again this year. . .we’ve been planning for this trip ever since the convention last year in Oklahoma City. This year we will add a third roommate, the famous Miss Abbie Cranmer, who graced the cover of the most recent HLAA magazine. (I brought my copy with me so I can get her autograph!)

This is absolutely the BEST conference in the world. Jennifer and I will represent the State of Tennessee at the Leader’s meeting tomorrow afternoon. We are getting to Reno a day early so we can do some sightseeing and relax a bit. HLAA has many wonderful activities planned, including a bowling tournament (write more here), vendors, seminars, etc. Go check out the HLAA website! I packed a duffle bag inside my suitcase because I always bring extra stuff home.

This conference is “four days of heaven” because it is a “perfect world” for the deaf & hearing impaired. Every room and event is captioned, has transcribers and interpreters, and the sound systems are wonderful. And there are others there with hearing disabilities. . . for a short time we don’t have to struggle to “get the message” and have a special bond with one another. I wish I had found this group sooner!

I’m sure all my blogging buddies will be writing about their experiences. I also hope to have time to write updates during the convention. . . watch this space!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Future Cochlear Implant Candidate???

This is what I woke up to this morning. . . I was not prepared for the sudden, jarring sensation that reverberated through my processors when I turned them on! And I was inside the house! We live on a quiet circle at the end of a mile long street and have very little traffic or noise on our street. We are having some major construction for the next five weeks so that the city can install sewer drains for our end of the neighborhood. . .

The man operating the jackhammer had some pretty heavy duty headphones on. Steve said he probably had earplugs on underneath as well, protecting his ears. I couldn’t tell if his surrounding coworkers had ear plugs on but I hope they did. Construction workers are constantly exposed to loud noises and it HAS to have an impact on their hearing. I had to turn off my processors when I went outside to get the newspaper (and take these pictures) because it was that loud. I wonder how many jackhammer operators lose their hearing doing this kind of work. They still get “bone conduction” through their bodies even though they are protecting their ears. Hmmm. . .maybe I should invest in some Cochlear and Advanced Bionics stock!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

2008 HLAA Convention in Reno, Nevada

Lake Tahoe, here I come! The 2008 Hearing Loss Association of America Convention is almost here and I am really looking forward to it! It is going to be held at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino at Lake Tahoe in Reno, Nevada from June 12th to the 15th. For those of you who are deaf or hearing impaired in some way (or know someone who is), this is four days of heaven!!! This convention is for YOU! And your support system. I have my registration packet purchased, my hotel room, my plane ticket, my hair curlers*, and am ready to go! There is much planning that goes into this convention and it's one of those things that I wished I had known about a long time ago. The exhibit hall is packed full of vendors and services for the deaf and hard of hearing. There are workshops, demonstrations, various speakers, book signings, parties, receptions, dinners, tours, etc. . . you name it. The best part is that for four days, a deaf or hearing impaired person feels "normal", like a hearing person in a hearing world. That is the best way I can think of to describe this feeling. It just seems so "easy" to communicate and share with others, who are "just like you."

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Karen's Bionic Voyage

I have a new "CI-to-be friend" and I would like to introduce her to you. I've been emailing with her for the last couple months and she is a real sweetheart. We've been trying to get together for several weeks but our schedules haven't worked out. I finally met her and her husband in person last night for the first time. My friend, Susan, connected us and she joined us, too. We had so much fun and talked for several hours. Her name is Karen and she is getting her first CI next month. She is excited and nervous and has a million questions, which I am happy to answer. She is witty, smart, funny and has a great sense of humor! I encouraged her to start a blog so that she could document and share her story. She will have you laughing and crying at the same time. I'm sure of it! Go check her out here!

UT President is Shutting Down My Audiologist's Office!

As an advocate for the Tennessee Council for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing, if anything affects the deaf and hard of hearing in East Tennessee, I stop whatever I am doing. Today is one of those days.

I have received some disturbing news today and have already written a letter to the Governor of Tennessee, Phil Bredesen, regarding this issue. John D. Peterson, the president of the University of Tennessee has approved the shutdown of the Audiology & Speech Pathology Program at UT. You can read about it HERE and HERE. This shutdown will affect the services that are provided to the deaf and hard of hearing clients in East Tennessee and surrounding areas who have speech and hearing difficulties. I am disappointed to hear this news and am doing all I can to keep this from happening. If this department is closed down, the fallout will be great in the deaf and hard of hearing community in this area. Also, as the average age in East Tennessee increases because of the Baby Boomers aging and retirees moving here, there will be an increased growth in the hearing impaired community.

If you have been a faithful reader of my blog, you will know how difficult it has been for me to find a good audiologist. There is an acute shortage of audiologists and speech pathologists NATIONWIDE, not just here in my county and surrounding areas. This decision is affecting me on a personal level because the UT Audiology & Speech Pathology Program at UT is where I go for my mapping and programming appointments for my cochlear implants. It is also where I go for auditory training and therapy. In addition, I have also participated in several research studies for the graduate students working on their dissertations. Susie, my former audiologist, is currently working on her doctorate degree so she can do more for the deaf and hard of hearing in this area. Without this department, I cannot hear or function in the hearing world with my cochlear implants.

The UT Audiology and Speech Pathology program at UT has a long list of services and accomplishments. This should be a time to celebrate their successes, not close them down. If this shutdown happens, it will have an enormous impact on the deaf and hard of hearing community in this area. (Note: I will do a separate post on their services and accomplishments.)

I also graduated from the University of Tennessee with my Finance degree in 2003. I could not have done it without the help and services that UT offered to people like me.

If you live in East Tennessee or the surrounding areas, please contact the Governor of Tennessee at the following address because he is also the president of the Board of Trustees who will be voting on this shutdown. They will be doing the final vote on June 20th.

Governor's Office
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001
Phone: (615) 741-2001
Fax: (615) 532-9711

I'm still trying to find the names and email addresses of the Board of Trustees to write to them personally as well. When I find them, I will post them. You can get to the list of the Board of Trustees HERE.

University of Tennessee Board of Trustee members:
The Honorable Phil Bredesen, Chair
Ms. Andrea J. Loughry, Vice Chair
Mr. Charles Anderson, Jr.
Ms. Anne Holt Blackburn
Mr. William Y. Carroll
Ms. Barbara C. Castleman
Mr. George Cates
Mr. Spruell Driver
The Honorable Ken Givens
Mr. James E. Hall
Mr. Douglas Horne
Dr. Rynette N. Hurd
Mr. Jerry L. Jackson
Ms. Brittany McGruder
Mr. James L. Murphy, III
Dr. John D. Petersen
The Honorable Richard D. Rhoda
Dr. John Schommer
Mr. Karl L. Schledwitz
Dr. Don C. Stansberry, Jr.
Mr. Robert Talbott
The Honorable Dr. Tim Webb
Mr. Charles Wharton
Dr. Candace White
Mr. James L. "Bucky" Wolford
Ms. Anna York

University of Tennessee Audiology & Speech Pathology Program

About Their Students

The Department of Audiology & Speech Pathology is the largest program in the state and awards six degrees: (B.A. in Audiology, B.A. in Speech Pathology; M.A. in Speech Language Pathology; M.A. in Audiology; Au.D. Doctor of Audiology; Ph.D. in Hearing Science). No other school in the University of Tennessee system offers these degrees. There are severe shortages of audiologists and speech pathologists in Tennessee and this program provides an essential resource for the state. Currently, there are 110 undergraduates in the major, 59 M.A. students in speech-language pathology, 40 Au.D. students, and 16 Ph.D. students.

The Department of Audiology & Speech Pathology recruits top quality applicants from Tennessee and out of state. The undergraduate program is rapidly increasing in size even though it requires a B average or better for admission. Graduate applications are also increasing and the department averages almost 200 graduate applications per year.

State of the art student education is provided, including a specialty concentration in aural rehabilitation for graduate students in audiology and speech pathology. The aural rehabilitation concentration helps supply the state with specialists who are able to work with hearing impaired children. This need and the excellence of the UT program was recognized by the United States Department of Education which provides $250,000 per year as part of a grant to support student training in this area.

In both Audiology and Speech Pathology, graduate students have a 100% employment rate at graduation.

The Department of Audiology & Speech Pathology has one of the largest graduate programs in the College (if not the largest) and has a large percentage of female graduates with M.A. and doctoral degrees.

The Reason Many Audiologists & Speech Pathologists are Needed

Across the country, there are acute shortages of Audiologists & Speech Pathologists. In the state of Tennessee, the need is felt even in well populated areas like Knox County with even greater shortages in rural areas. The need is great in the public schools as well as in hospitals and clinics. There is no program duplication – in fact the programs across the state cooperate because there is no need to compete for students. The number of applications is greater than the number of spaces available. The 100% employment rate at graduation demonstrates that the demand exceeds the supply.


Three programs are nationally ranked in the College of Arts & Sciences – Audiology, Speech Pathology, and Art.

The Department provides cutting edge research that is guiding diagnosis and treatment in the field. In the past 5 years, faculty have numerous national awards for outstanding articles, outstanding research and one entire issue of a major national journal was devoted to UT research. Funding is being provided by the hearing aid industry, the Department of Education, and the two primary national organizations in the discipline.

Faculty scholarship is recognized internationally and has resulted in numerous invitations for editorships, peer-reviews, grant-reviews, seminars, and research presentations.

Students in the department have received numerous awards for their research. The Department of Audiology is the only department in the country with students winning awards for three years in a row at the American Academy of Audiology annual conference. In the last five years, the National Institutes of Health has awarded funding for research to their students and faculty.

Service to Our Community

As a member of the community their student training programs contribute back in the following ways:

  • Over 2500 patients served by their students within their clinics in the last 14 months.
  • Over 17,000 assessment or treatment services in the last 14 months.
  • Patient base represents 25 different counties in surrounding areas.
  • Over 500 medical personnel refer patients to us.
  • Service to indigent populations (38% on TENNCARE) who are at risk for getting the services they need for 2 reasons. First, many services are highly specialized e.g., pediatric audiology and treatment services for young hearing-impaired children. Second, few service providers accept TENNCARE patients.
  • Contracts with nine different county school systems to serve children with hearing impairments.
  • Service to a diverse population including families who do not speak English as a primary language.
  • Service to patients in local hospitals and clinics through practicum placements.
  • In-service training to teachers and speech-language pathologists in the state of Tennessee on cutting edge techniques.
After reading all this, would you shut down this program? I think not!