Expanding communication diversity in our community By Rachel Kelly
There are over 36,840 residents in Pierce County who experience hearing difficulties. This means there’s a large number within our population who are suffering from an ability to communicate effectively with their environment. Without reliable accommodations, many of these people struggle with accessing basic community resources. From medical care to groceries, from getting a job to crossing the street, hearing is a communication barrier that isolates those who communicate differently. Especially with many accommodations moving away from face-to-face interaction to phones and online, so many with hearing difficulties are divorced from community, connection and, consequently, many basic resources. It’s no surprise then that 50 percent of those experiencing significant hearing loss are unemployed and at risk for severe poverty. This is not because there is not a desire to work, to connect, and to be involved but because so many workplaces and common places are inaccessible.
To bridge this gap in communication, the Hearing Speech & Deaf Center was established 86 years ago, with its first office in Seattle. The Seattle office served the greater area, including the South Sound, but it eventually became necessary to expand. The Tacoma office opened in 2006, with its purpose being to service the deaf and hard-of-hearing population with these gaps in communication. The center is aware that people with hearing or speech differences face daily systemic barriers that isolate them from family, community and basic services.
“Our mission is to foster accessible communities through communication, advocacy and education. We envision an inclusive and accessible world where everyone is understood and respected,” says Carol Brown, the director of development at the Tacoma Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center. The Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center envisions a world where many different forms of communication are accepted without stigma, connections are made, and a community as a whole thrives as a result of its diversity.
To practically achieve this goal, the Tacoma Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center utilizes client advocates who are notably deaf and hard hearing. Client advocates meet with or go to their deaf or hard-of-hearing clients to listen to their individual needs. They speak ASL and English and are powerful role models for our community. A powerful tool of client advocates is their purpose to empower their clients through self-advocacy. In one such example: “A client recently needed a fire alarm for deaf people,” says Brown, “and our advocate trained them in self-advocacy rather than intervening on her behalf. The client reported that her success at securing the needed accommodations had made her feel confident to resolve future issues.”
Self-advocacy doesn’t just address one need; it enables clients to experience success in communicating and navigating the hearing world around them with confidence. Self-advocacy allows for clients to feel the support and acceptance of their greater community, a community that can often be unknowingly ignorant of how they can communicate successfully to their neighbors.
Resources do not stop and end at teaching self-advocacy, but client advocates also work to remove communication barriers that can prevent their clients from getting a job, filing their taxes, accessing community resources and much more. Services are available regardless of race, age, color, or communication method. When barriers are overcome and bridges are built, community, communication, recognition, joy, understanding and tolerance thrive. A whole new world erupts between two people who have found common ground from which to grow. The result of overcoming barriers is a joy. It’s no wonder then that when Brown was asked what she loves most about her work, her reply was, “Overcoming barriers is what we love!”
The Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center itself also provides audiology and hearing aid appointments, speech and communication services, interpretation, deaf and hard-of-hearing services, and early childhood education. The speech and communication services provided work with individuals struggling with language disorders, processing disorders, motor speech disorders, swallowing disorders, etc. that limit communication and are often associated with auditory processing. Speech pathologists connect with clients to provide these services. However, their services are often not funded by Medicaid or insurances, and so the Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center relies on local donations to provide this much deserved and needed intervention. To aid in this, HSDC created the Speech Community Cares Fund, which local pathologists, businesses and individuals can donate, with the assurance that 100 percent of the funds go to providing care.
HSDC also provides services in both a personal and professional capacity. Deaf and hard-of-hearing services, services that aid deaf and hard-of-hearing clients in accessing resources such as jobs, medical care and community support, are free to those who need them. Local businesses, agencies and schools can also contact HSDC for resources on local education, helping their clients and employees access resources, accessibility training and employment.
This goes hand in hand with their early learning education resources, which instead of focusing on adults and businesses in need of hearing resources focuses on preschool-age children. Their early learning resources include services aimed at equipping parents with deaf or deaf-blind children living in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Specialists travel to homes to equip families with the unique resources that they need for their children. HSDC also supports the bilingual Rosen Family Preschool, where both ASL and English are spoken for both hearing and deaf students.
The Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center naturally partners with its community to reach out and overcome the barriers that exist in our community. One such partner is DHHS, who often refers individuals to the Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center. DHHS also conducts training on communication workshops for organizations to better serve deaf clients and customers. In these ways, DHHS is a wonderful resource. Our community here in the South Sound is large enough to need services but still small enough to be reached in the way that we all communicate, specifically through social media, using FaceTime, and in person. The Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center utilizes these resources through their online presence to foster community engagement.
For more information on how you can help our community have more accessible and inclusive communication, please see the Hearing, Speech & Deaf Center at HSDC.org.