Looping Wisconsin

Two University of Wisconsin Oshkosh alumni are championing inclusivity by promoting the benefits of hearing loops and similar technology that enhance daily life for those with hearing loss.

Chris Prust ‘72 and MSE ‘83, was born with hearing loss but didn’t start wearing hearing aids until she was 38. “I bluffed my way through life pretending that I heard things that I didn’t. I accumulated tricks to ‘get by,’ but I never fully advocated for myself, believing hearing loss was somehow my fault,” Prust said.

Today Prust wears a hearing aid and has a MED-EL cochlear implant, but it is difficult for her to clearly hear and understand speech. Retired from social work, she now travels the country as a member of the MED-EL patient support team, sharing her journey to better hearing. Her message includes tips on how to use technology better but, more importantly, how to advocate and educate others about their hearing loss.

“The burden of commuication isn’t just the responsibility of the person with hearing loss. It is everyone’s responsibility to communicate effectively with one another. When dealing with someone with a hearing loss it can be as simple as asking if you are on their good side, speaking clearer or moving to a quieter location. I guarantee if you reach out and accommodate someone with hearing loss you will make a positive impact on their life,” Prust said.

UWO alumna Juliette Sterkens MS ‘83, was so moved by the hearing loop technology’s ability to dramatically change the lives of her patients that she sold her audiology practice and became a full-time hearing-loop advocate for the Hearing Loss Association of America.

“I was professionally frustrated because even with the best technology, hearing aids cannot ever restore hearing to normal,” Sterkens said. “To hear in public places, users need to use additional technology.”

A hearing loop system transforms sound for people with hearing aids by eliminating the background noise and delivering personalized in-the-ear sound with just the touch of a button. For the system to work, an induction loop is wired into the space. Audio is then transmitted from a public address system into hearing aids equipped with a T-coil receiver.

Thanks to Sterkens’ and Prust’s advocacy efforts, Wisconsin boasts 600-plus hearing loop accessible facilities. The UWO campus features five hearing loops within Sage Hall, Reeve Memorial Union’s theater and the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center. As technology advances, hearing loops may be adopted into additional applications, including ticket booths, taxis, tour buses, service desks, checkouts and airport gates.

“Hearing loops address the shortfalls of hearing aids, which make sounds louder but not necessarily understandable. Once individuals hear sound in the loop, they want it everywhere. It always brings me pleasure to see someone experience 
hearing in the loop for the first time. It’s magical to see the isolation, stress and self-doubt melt away, revealing the pure joy of hearing clearly,” said Sterkens, who received a UWO Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015.

Sterkens and Prust, both of Oshkosh, have laid extensive groundwork toward creating inclusive communities but encourage others to get involved with the hearing loop movement.

“My family would say I’m rather obsessed about spreading the word about looping,” Sterkens admitted. “But how can I not be when I know it helps people hear so much better with simple, low-cost, universal technology that is found in more than 60 percent of today’s hearing aids?”

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