#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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkcFO-bFIDQ.