Advocacy is the cornerstone of our profession. Not only do we advocate for our patients on a daily basis, but we also advocate for the profession of audiology as a whole. Our scope within the healthcare world is relatively small and the vast majority of the public is uneducated about our scope of practice. I find that conversations about my education are often met with confusion. Unless the person I am talking to has a loved one who has experienced hearing and balance difficulties, people are usually bewildered by the complexity of my future career and are curious as to how I stumbled into it. If the general public is uninformed about what the profession of audiology entails, then I can only assume that those in positions of power who are capable of passing legislation are as well. I have yet to have a conversation with someone about audiology that has resulted in disinterest and apathy. Since audiology is such a small profession, those who have had no prior connection to it tend to be excited to learn more; this is when and where we can most effectively harness our passion for the field in order to successfully advocate. It is up to us, as future and current clinicians, to make sure that our voices are heard.
In the spring of 2019, I decided I wanted to do something to make an impact within the audiology community. Through a position that I held in another organization, I had the contact information for all of the collegiate National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) chapters across the country. After several weeks of preparation, I launched a nationwide letter-writing campaign in support of the Audiology Patient Choice Act (APCA), and while I was unsure of whether or not I would be able to pull it all together, I was enthralled by the idea of using my passion to promote audiology at a national level. I am very proud to say that at the conclusion of the campaign, over 4,200 letters from 36 different states were sent to U.S. Senators and Representatives.
In addition to coordinating the campaign, I also became committed to personally convey my opinions on the APCA to Washington, D.C. After sending many letters to my elected officials and making a series of persistent phone calls, I met with a legislative assistant of my congressional district’s representative. During the meeting, I discussed the importance of legislation regarding hearing healthcare and explained how hearing and balance disorders affect the everyday lives of many of Virginia’s constituents.
It is essential for our elected officials to understand the gravity of hearing healthcare. We cannot expect fellow fallible people to do better if they do not know better. It’s essential that we bring attention to the demoralizing effects of hearing and balance disorders on quality of life. . As future audiologists, we should actively strive for a better tomorrow. Write to your Member of Congress, meet with your representative’s staff, and spread the word about what it means to be involved in the field of audiology in both a patient and a professional sense. We cannot expect other people to understand the need for change if we do not give them something that is worth hearing. The American Academy of Audiology has compiled resources such as the Legislative Action Center, planning guides for congressional visits, and a compilation of inspirational advocacy stories.
Anyone is capable of making a difference, no matter how big or small the culmination of their efforts may be. Increasing public awareness of what it means to be an audiologist not only fortifies the foundation of our profession, but also opens the conversation on hearing loss in general. There is a symbiotic relationship between the assertion of the importance of audiology as a profession and the de-stigmatization of hearing difficulty – and this relationship is upheld by advocacy work.
Kaleigh Johnson is a recent graduate of James Madison University who will be starting her doctorate in the fall of 2020. Her audiology interests include hearing conservation and assistive technology within the U.S. Armed Forces, in addition to ototoxicity.
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