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Interview with David Evangelista, Senior Director, Multilateral Partnerships and Development, Special Olympics & Ora Buerkli-Halevy, Member of the Hear the World Foundation Board of Directors

David Evangelista, Ora Buerkli-Halevy

July 25, 2011

Topic: Special Olympics Partners with Hear the World During Games in Athens

David Evangelista

Ora Buerkli-Halevy

Carolyn Smaka: For years, the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program and the Hear the World Foundation have both been impacting the health and development of some of the world's most at-risk citizens. Now, by combining forces, the organizations are opening up a whole new world of sound to athletes who have intellectual disabilities. David and Ora, thank you for your time today.

My first question is why have Special Olympics and the Hear the World Foundation chosen to work together? And why now?

David Evangelista: The Special Olympics Healthy Athletes program has been providing free health screenings to its athletes for more than a decade. Historically, our model has been to screen, identify any health problems, and refer the athlete to a qualified health professional in their home community. We realize, however, that often these athletes don't have access to care and we need to move to a model of intervention. This year, our Healthy Hearing initiative, one of seven disciplines within Healthy Athletes, launched exactly this type of intervention model, and we could not have done it alone.

ORA BUERKLI-HALEVY: We are very excited that Special Olympics and the Hear the World Foundation have teamed up for the games in Athens this year. We both share the same vision and goals of providing sustainable support to those in need. We are pleased to partner with Special Olympics as they connect us with a large number of people from all over the world who need our support - so, for us, it's a truly exciting project!

SMAKA: How does the Special Olympics mission match the work Hear the World is involved with around the globe?

BUERKLI-HALEVY: The Hear the World Foundation has been set up by Phonak to improve the quality of life and promote equal opportunities for people with hearing loss globally. To achieve this, the Foundation provides financial funds, hearing aids and assistive listening technology to selected projects who meet our criteria. The Hear the World Foundation has a special focus on projects that involve children as often they are the ones that need our help the most. Our main goal at the Special Olympics 2011 is, of course, to support athletes with hearing loss. All of these athletes are a great inspiration on how challenges can be overcome, and we are so glad we can provide the support they very much deserve.

SMAKA: How do the hearing needs of people with intellectual disabilities differ from those without disabilities?

EVANGELISTA: We know from years of screenings that people with intellectual disabilities have dramatically greater health concerns than members of the general population, and that includes difficulties with hearing. Globally, more than 25% of Special Olympics athletes fail a basic hearing test, and the numbers are even worse for developed countries like the U.S. Additionally, hearing loss for people with intellectual disability is more likely to go undiagnosed and untreated because the related issues like inability to communicate or learn is attributed to the intellectual disability, when in fact, it could be due to a hearing problem, in which an intervention could be used to help correct such a problem. Through this partnership with the Hear the World Foundation, we are excited to highlight to our community of volunteer hearing professionals that Healthy Hearing now has a global partner committed to helping us provide health interventions, and real human impact, to one of the world's most marginalized populations. Our hope is that such a partnership will stimulate increased professional support as well.

SMAKA: How successful was the Special Olympics event in Athens?

EVANGELISTA: The Games in Athens were phenomenal. In Healthy Hearing alone, we screened 2,658 athletes, and identified 22 athletes from 17 countries who received free hearing aids on site as part of a demonstration fitting conducted jointly by Special Olympics Healthy Hearing and Hear the World Foundation. In addition, 174 athletes in need of hearing instruments were identified from countries all over the world, and through the Special Olympics - Hear the World Foundation partnership infrastructure, we will be working to ensure that each athlete is fitted with a quality Phonak hearing instrument as soon as possible. In total, Healthy Athletes conducted over 14,000 health screenings. Beyond the health interventions, the Games, like all Special Olympics events, showed the world what people with intellectual disabilities can accomplish when included, given respect, and provided an opportunity to excel.

Female athlete participating in Healthy Hearing program at the games in Athens.

SMAKA: What is the next step for the athletes who needed hearing aids and for the partnership?

BUERKLI-HALEVY: All athletes who have been diagnosed with hearing loss at the games in Athens will receive high-quality Phonak hearing aids that fit their individual needs. Our large global network of specialists will take care of providing the fitting of the hearing instruments in the athlete's home community. They will also provide long-term, follow-up care. With the generous support of our partner VARTA Microbatteries, we are also able to give a year's supply of batteries for each athlete. In general, the Hear the World Foundation is looking for long-term and sustainable partnerships. Our statutes require a thorough evaluation of all projects on a yearly basis - which hopefully will allow us to continue this great partnership!

SMAKA: What can audiologists and other health care professionals do to help?

EVANGELISTA: The best thing anyone can do is to get involved with the Special Olympics Movement. We are always looking for caring professionals to volunteer at our events. Contact the Special Olympics office in your area and let them know you support their efforts. Come out and take part. It has a unique energy, all its own. Even if you are not able to volunteer with Special Olympics, you can help our population by becoming more educated on the health needs of people with intellectual disabilities and by welcoming them into clinics and clinical practices throughout the world. It is a long road to impact health care practice, but as a movement, we are ready for the challenge, and committed to staying the course.

Ora and David, thanks again for your time. I would also invite our readers to check out the photos of the Healthy Hearing program in action at the Games in Athens as well as a video about the Healthy Athletes program, that includes a segment on the audiology program. For more information, visit
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David Evangelista

Senior Director, Multilateral Partnerships and Development, Special Olympics

ora buerkli halevy

Ora Buerkli-Halevy

member of the Hear the World Foundation Board of Directors

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