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The Fragile Abilities of Hearing and Speech

May 16, 1987

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. "So what," one might say. Given the numerous observances of worthy causes, it's easy to let this one pass by, but we shouldn't. Hearing and speech are precious but taken-for-granted abilities, and they are more fragile than we imagine.

About 24 million people in the United States suffer from hearing or speech handicaps. That's one in every 10 people. It's safe to say that almost everyone reading this has a hearing or speech problem or knows someone who does.

To put these statistics into perspective for those who do not suffer from such a disorder, imagine not being able to hear people speaking to you or not being able to tell someone else your thoughts and ideas. Few would argue that these are profound losses.

The pain of people with communication disorders is often intensified by the thoughtless behavior of those around them. People who stutter, for example, have been objects of laughter and the butt of cruel jokes for centuries. Not an easy environment in which to overcome the problem.

People who stutter need the same patience and attention to their ideas as speakers who don't stutter. We can all help by not looking away when they speak and by not hurrying them or filling in words.

There are also a few simple things we can do to help those with hearing impairments. The most important one is to avoid shouting and exaggerating words. Face hearing impaired people directly and speak clearly in a normal voice.

Better Hearing and Speech Month is just another observance unless we give it meaning. Practicing the small courtesies that make a big difference in the lives of people with hearing impairments and speech problems is a wonderful way to make the month meaningful.

Another is to urge those who have suspected or untreated hearing and speech disorders to seek professional help. Speech-language pathologists and audiologists are specifically trained to work with individuals having such problems. For further information, contact NAHSA HELPLINE 1-800-638-TALK.

May we all have a meaningful Better Hearing and Speech Month.


Sherman Oaks

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