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Hearing-impaired numbers on rise
Hearing advocates say disability should be treated more seriously as numbers of people facing hearing loss grow

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Wednesday, July 5, 2017

When Emily Roback was 16, her dream of becoming a lifeguard was shattered when she was told she needed to be able to hear in order to pursue that job.

NNSL photograph

Bill Braden, president of the Yellowknife branch of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, addresses the audience at an open house on June 20 at the Baker Centre. He stressed that more and more people are suffering hearing loss and the disability should be treated more seriously by the public. - John McFadden/NNSL photo

Roback, who was born deaf and has worn hearing aids all her life, is now an advocate for people with hearing impairments in Yellowknife. Speaking at the Baker Centre on June 20, she gave a glimpse into the struggles she has faced on a daily basis and how technology has revolutionized the world for people with hearing loss.

With the help of her hearing dog, Ivy, she now knows when oven buzzers or smoke alarms are going off.

"I'm now being inspired by technology," she said.

Roback's speech came as part of an open house, hosted by the Yellowknife branch of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) and attended by about two dozen people. Speakers stressed the debilitating effects poor hearing can have on individuals, leading to isolation, mental illness and depression.

Lee Ramsdell, president of the Edmonton branch of the CHHA, made the trip North for the open house. He estimates between 4.5 and 4.6 million adults in Canada reportedly suffer from hearing loss.

"That's more than 10 per cent of the population of Canada," he said.

"It's becoming an epidemic and it's pretty frightening."

The CHHA says one in three people will suffer some degree of hearing loss by age 65. That number jumps to 50 per cent by age 75 - and those statistics are expected to increase in the coming decades.

Ramsdell says that's due in part to young people using headphones and earbuds - something that can be mitigated if parents monitor the volume levels on their children's devices.

But while the number of people with hearing loss is expected to rise, speakers expressed concern that the impairment is less discussed than other disabilities.

As hearing aids become smaller and less obtrusive - some are even designed now to look like jewelry - it can be less obvious when someone is suffering from hearing loss.

As for accessibility of services, Ramsdell said more work needs to be done.

He pointed to courthouses and pharmacies as two examples of places where hearing-loss services are lacking.

But strides are slowly being made. Deborah McLeod, director of human rights for the NWT, said her agency is attempting to lead the way when it comes to providing services for people with hearing impairments.

One example of that is the legislative assembly, where the government installed a large hearing loop system to allow

hearing aids to double as wireless loudspeakers.

"It's very exciting technology," she said.

"If you are hard of hearing, it is very isolating. It's difficult to contribute when you can't hear what the discussion is. It can affect people's effectiveness in employment."

In the North, hearing loop technology is exclusively installed by Roy's Audio/Video, which is based in Yellowknife. Company manager Robin Williams said they have been installing the system in public and private sector offices.

"We've been getting a lot of requests from government for assistance," he said, praising the GNWT for recognizing the need for hearing accessibility.

As for Roback, technological advances mean she is now planning to pursue her childhood dream of being a lifeguard.

"Now, there are deaf lifeguards who use the technology available to them," she said.

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