It’s easy to view hearing loss as a condition that affects only those getting up in years, but it can be a process that begins much earlier in life for many people.
Even though it’s a widely known condition, some activists think there is still a lot of work to be done to help people living with hearing loss.
One of those activists is Cheri Perazzoli, a Redmond resident who recently received the Oticon Focus on People Award.
The award honors those who make contributions to hearing-loss advocacy and awareness.
Perazzoli is one of 13 people across the country who received an award.
“It’s really a recognition of all the work that many of us in Washington state are doing on behalf of people with hearing loss,” Perazzoli said.
She is the Director of Advocacy for the Hearing Loss Association in Washington, which launched a program called Let’s Loop Seattle.
The program, Perazzoli said, is designed to raise awareness about a technology that helps people with hearing aids in public.
The most effective range of hearing aids is around 7 feet, she said.
However, a system called a hearing loop is available to help with this. It is essentially a sound system that sends a wireless signal directly to a person’s hearing aid. They can tune into the frequency by switching to the channel on the hearing aid.
“It changes lives,” Perazzoli said. “People cry the first time people experience it.”
Perazzoli, who has worn hearing aids since she was a teenager, first experienced a hearing loop when traveling abroad in the UK.
Since then, she’s been on a mission to proliferate the loops in the Seattle area and started the Let’s Loop program.
The loops have been perfected to the point where they can be easily used in transient situations like at ticket windows or elevators, she said.
Locations with this technology are often marked with a blue symbol of an ear.
Previous technology didn’t work as well, Perazzoli said, with many places using systems like handing out different bluetooth earphones. But for wearers to use these, they had to take out their prescription hearing aids.
The Hearing Loss Association, formerly the Self Help for Hard of Hearing People, was formed in 1979 and pushed for measures that would help people suffering from hearing loss.
Perazzoli was diagnosed with hearing loss in elementary school, but at that time there wasn’t much support for people like her.
“That was really in a time before ADA laws or supplemental laws that helped children with hearing loss in school,” she said. “I guess I sort of learned to be my own advocate.”
After she graduated college she moved to Washington D.C. to work on Jimmy Carter’s campaign when she heard about Self Help for Hard of Hearing People.
It’s mostly volunteer run to this day, including herself and the other board members.
Working on it has been a labor of love for herself and others, Perazzoli said.
“This organization has been instrumental,” she said.
As they continue push for legislation to benefit those with hearing loss, Perazzoli also hopes to break down social stigmas around the issue.
Oticon announced the winners of its award, including Perazzoli, on Nov. 15.
For more information, including a list of facilities with loop technology, visit http://hearingloss-wa.org/.