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#BreakTheSoundBarrier for Rural Pennsylvanians

#BreakTheSoundBarrier for Rural Pennsylvanians

On average, one out of every 10 people experience significant hearing loss. In Westmoreland County, that accounts for an estimated 36,500 individuals. In more isolated counties—like Erie, Washington, Fayette, Mercer, and others—where the average is just as high, it is much more challenging to access supportive services. When that need goes unmet, an already vulnerable population is put at a considerable disadvantage in educational, medical, legal, cultural, and other situations where clear communication is vital. Research shows that hearing loss can lead to isolation, depression, and even an early onset of dementia. Our mission is to provide access to communication in order to increase and enhance quality of life.

As the region’s only non-profit agency dedicated to providing diverse, affordable, and high quality diagnostic, rehabilitative, and supportive services to meet the unique challenges of children and adults who are deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing, The Center for Hearing & Deaf Services, Inc. (HDS) aspires to expand and improve our service base, providing more cost effective, less time intensive access to services for highly vulnerable clients in isolated areas. In an era defined by explosive technological advances, the scarcity of resources for deaf and hard of hearing people in secluded locations can be addressed through the acquisition and implementation of existing technology. Two such technological solutions are Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) and audiology testing.  

VRI is like Skype: it facilitates remote visual and audio interaction between people. The significant difference is that VRI technology is encrypted, which allows for confidential communication, complying with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) regulations. Providing ASL interpreting for medical care in urgent or remote situations is a very specific need and use for VRI technology. It will scale easily for other applications as well. Clients could more seamlessly engage in other supportive programs and services offered at HDS Westmoreland. HDS Pittsburgh could expand ASL interpreting service delivery to surrounding counties. VRI technology also could facilitate client ease of access to other agencies and providers such as PA 2-1-1, short medical appointments for blood draws or medication checks, interaction with government agencies like the DMV, and night court arraignments.

For supportive services like hearing testing, HDS can upgrade its Westmoreland County office to include an audiology testing booth. The upgrade would provide potential clients with a less costly option for hearing testing in closer proximity to their home. Once more convenient testing is available, clients also will be more likely to get the assistive devices they need to hear better. Although the device could be a hearing aid, HDS technicians can recommend assistive devices that may be more appropriate and cost friendly for clients than hearing aids—examples include personal amplifiers, amplified ringers, and recycled/refurbished hearing aids, among others.    

NOTE: UPMC’s Disability Resource Center gave us permission to reference their YouTube video which demonstrates the usefulness of VRI technology in a health care situation. The video may be viewed at


Nov 29 2016

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  • Amy Hart

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Trudy Mosey

about 1 year ago

This is a desperately needed service. Deaf people in rural areas have very limited access to interpreters who can help them communicate with doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, etc. It's time that the deaf get treated like the wonderful citizens that they are.

Joe Valenti

about 1 year ago

This cause is truly special! I hope the Challenge is met!

Devon Archie

about 1 year ago

Great Organization! Great Clients & Staff! Let's keep the positveity flowing for a positive organization who help and provide service for the deaf!!!!!!

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