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Resident advocates for the deaf and hard of hearing

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Posted: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 4:45 am

Since 1993 Ahwatukee Foothills resident Michele Michaels has been working in an industry that affects her own personal life and the lives of nearly 700,000 individuals in Arizona every day. Today, she is the hard of hearing specialist at the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing and travels across the state educating people about the challenges these individuals face.

As a hard-of-hearing individual herself Michaels knows these challenges and how they can pop up at any time whether it is at a museum, the movie theater, or even in the checkout line at the grocery store.

“Communication in general can be difficult,” she said. “I try to anticipate what somebody has asked me based on the context of the communication, but sometimes I guess wrong.”

Several years ago Michaels’ mother went into the hospital for an emergency surgery. Her mother had progressive hearing loss and at the time she could hear sounds, but could not understand words being spoken to her. Michaels said it took a week to have a sign placed above her mother’s bed, letting nurses know she was deaf, and even after Michaels provided a white board and markers several doctors refused to use them.

“The things the hospital needed to do were simple,” she said. “A lot of accommodations are very inexpensive, but a lot of folks just don’t understand.”

These occurrences are not rare, Michaels said, but many people who are hard of hearing have a difficult time advocating for themselves. That’s why she’s proud of the work she does advocating for them.

“We are the No. 1 disability group in the world, country and the state,” Michaels said. “I think we’re also the disability group that people know the least about. We’re doing our part to try to get out there and educate. We’ve very willing to get out there and talk to folks.”

The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing has a two- and four-hour training that they provide free of charge to any health care facility that wants it. They also try to reach out to individuals to make sure they know their rights.

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. The Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is taking this opportunity to remind everyone to have their hearing checked.

“Research shows only 12 percent of primary care doctors will ask people about their hearing,” Michaels said. “That means the rest are not asking. A lot of people don’t know they are hard of hearing until someone tells them. Especially children. Once or twice a year I have someone call me and say, ‘My 3-year-old is not talking yet, should I be concerned?’ Yes… We need to watch our children and not wait to get help. Even a mild loss for a child can put them behind.”

Some major indicators that you may be losing your hearing include:

• Frequently ask people to repeat themselves.

• Often turn your ear toward a sound to hear it better.

• Lose your place in group conversations (which can lead to isolation, depression).

• Keep the volume on your radio or TV at a level that others say is too loud.

• Have pain or ringing in your ears.

• Notice that some sounds remain clear (often low-pitched sounds such as the bass line in music) while others may seem fuzzy (frequently women’s and children’s high-pitched voices).

If you think you have hearing loss Michaels suggests seeing a licensed audiologist or hearing aid dispenser in order to assess the degree of hearing loss, to treat it, and to determine a plan to prevent further loss. For more information, visit www.acdhh.org.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com.

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