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Interview with Elena Torresani of Hear the World & Student Ambassadors Angela, Jesse & Hanna

Elena Torresani

November 21, 2011
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Topic: Sound Academy 2011, Amplifying the Grand Canyon



Elena Torresani

CAROLYN SMAKA: Today I'm speaking with Elena Torresani from Hear the World, and four student ambassadors of Hear the World's 2011 Sound Academy entitled Amplifying the Grand Canyon. Elena, would you begin by giving an overview of Hear the World?

ELENA TORRESANI: Hear the World is a global initiative to raise awareness about hearing and hearing loss that was created five years ago by Phonak. We want to call attention to the social and emotional impact of hearing loss and to also address prevention and solutions.



The three main pillars of Hear the World are prevention, support and solutions. Regarding prevention, it's very important for us to reach people who do not have hearing loss and show them how they can protect their hearing. We have conducted various outreach projects, for example, to show how loud it is in a typical city. We have features on our website that explain how loud is too loud, information about noise exposure, signs of hearing loss, and more.

In the solutions area, we want to highlight the modern hearing technology that is available today. It is important for us to break down the stigma around hearing aids. We really want to show people that there is something that they can do about their hearing loss and that the solution will actually change their life.

Regarding support, it's all about charity and that's the work of the Hear the World Foundation. We support people with hearing loss worldwide that do not have access to or financial resources for solutions. These projects are mainly in developing countries around the world, and the special focus lies on supporting children because by helping children with hearing loss, we can change an entire life.

SMAKA: Tell me about the recent Sound Academy expedition to the Grand Canyon.

TORRESANI: With the Sound Academy Amplifying the Grand Canyon trip that took place in August, we wanted to break down barriers. Our goal was to show the public that hearing loss doesn't stop you from doing all of the things that you want, nor from doing anything different than people without hearing loss. We also wanted to show the students with hearing loss that they can live a normal life and that they can do anything they want.

Having Bill Barkley onboard as our community ambassador helped make these goals possible as he is a real inspiration for the hearing loss community. Bill is a world-class mountain climber. He has Type 2 Usher's Syndrome and in 2007 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. He is a great leader and advocate, and he truly embodies the saying that "anything is possible".

Another goal of this trip was to support the acoustical resources of the Grand Canyon and to raise awareness for a serious threat to the Grand Canyon, noise pollution.



2011 Student Ambassadors

Nineteen students participated. They had all degrees of hearing abilities, including some with normal hearing and some with profound hearing loss. This Sound Academy consisted of a pre-academy curriculum on sound data collection and conservation issues, a week-long rafting and hiking adventure exploring sound in the Grand Canyon, and a post-academy project that is now underway.

While in the Canyon, the students worked with acoustical scientists and collected a lot of data. This data will be used to produce a podcast together with Global Explorers, a non-profit organization that organized the trip, for the National Park Service. So we are currently very busy working on the podcast.



Students learn to use special PDA sound recorders in the Grand Canyon

The podcast will be available through the National Parks Service and also on Hear-the-World.com. You can also connect with Hear the World on Facebook and Twitter for more information as it becomes available.

SMAKA: How were the students selected to participate in the 2011 Sound Academy?

TORRESANI: Actually, our network of audiologists built the team by nominating students for the Sound Academy. Audiology Business Services, Bassett Medical Center and Jones Hearing Center also provided scholarships to assist students with limited funds.

SMAKA: Thanks, Elena. Angela, can you tell me about your experience as a Student Ambassador?

ANGELA: Sure. I was nominated by an audiologist through my church. She knew that I enjoyed outdoor activities and thought it would be a great experience for me. It sounded like a lot of fun and so I applied for it, and was very excited to have been selected.

I was one of the only students on the trip without hearing aids although I actually needed them.

SMAKA: Why didn't you wear hearing aids?

ANGELA: I was born with mild to moderate hearing loss but it wasn't diagnosed until I was in seventh grade. I had been doing pretty well in school up until that point, since as you know, with mild to moderate hearing loss you can still hear a lot of what people are saying. The audiologist told me I probably should get hearing aids but I didn't really know what she was talking about when she said I couldn't hear things, so I didn't really believe it. They sent the test results back to my school, and the school knew I had hearing loss and didn't really do anything about it, so I thought, I guess this is not really a big deal.

SMAKA: What was it like for you to be part of the Sound Academy, with other students your age who had hearing loss?

ANGELA: Where I live there aren't a lot of people my age that have hearing loss, so when I heard that I had hearing loss I thought, "I'm gonna be an outcast".

Then, when I participated in the Sound Academy it was a completely new experience for me to meet people my age with hearing loss. In the Sound Academy, there were all these cool kids that had hearing loss and they were okay with it.

Toward the end of the trip, I spent some time with a student who had a similar hearing loss to mine and wore hearing aids. I didn't realize how much focus and energy I put into trying to hear people, and it opened me up to try hearing aids.

SMAKA: So, you wear hearing aids now?

ANGELA: Yes, I wear hearing aids right now. I'm a freshman at Virginia Tech and I'm studying general engineering. It's a lot easier with hearing aids, I'm sure of that.

SMAKA: For people who may be reading this, any advice based on your experience?

ANGELA: My advice would be that for kids with milder degree of hearing loss, like me, they should definitely try hearing aids before deciding yes or no.
I think it would have been helpful for me to actually try them out as I really didn't know what I was missing until I tried them. I now realize I was actually missing a lot.

SMAKA: Thanks for bringing that up. It's a good message for audiologists, for parents and for other students.

Jesse, how did you feel when you learned you were selected to participate in the Sound Academy?

JESSE: I was so excited! I thought the opportunity sounded really cool and was perfect for my Speech Language and Hearing major. An opportunity to meet kids with hearing loss and to spend a week taking sound measurements in the Grand Canyon sounded like a great experience and a really cool way for me to get my feet wet - literally - about audiology and sound in the real world! The prep meetings and challenges were slightly tough for me as I was trying to juggle two jobs toward the beginning of the summer, but regardless I was very excited. It was only toward the start of the trip that I started to get a little nervous but all of those nerves disappeared when I arrived at the airport and met all the wonderful people I would spend the week with.

SMAKA: What was your experience like?

JESSE: Throughout the trip the importance of communication really became clear to me. As an audiology student I recognized how important hearing was but I never realized what a struggle it could be for those with hearing impairments. I learned all about how these students were sometimes treated poorly by their peers or by school systems that would put them in special education programs. It was a real eye opener for me as I saw how important my field of study really is and it helped me decide what kind of audiologist I hope to be someday. I am very excited as I go back into "the real world" as I hope to make a difference raising awareness of hearing loss and helping to assist those with hearing loss.

SMAKA: Thanks, Jesse. Hanna, can you tell me about your experience?

HANNA: When I first met everyone else in the group, I was immediately comfortable that I could just be myself and be confident! I have to be honest, when I was with everyone, I never felt as comfortable or happy in my whole life because I'd always felt people didn't quite understand the struggles of hearing loss, but these people did. As part of the Sound Academy, I was able to show off my energetic personality with no worries of being judged, since they all knew what I was going through.

After participating in some of adventures, and hearing the stories of everyone in the group, it definitely changed my views of hearing loss. That's what makes these kinds of experiences so special. It also made me even more confident to tell my life story, the adventures of the Grand Canyon, and to spread the word about hearing loss and the struggles that go along with it. I will always remember the bonds we shared in the Sound Academy as part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I also want to really thank everyone who supported me.

SMAKA: It's been so great speaking with all of you today, and feeling the enthusiasm and passion you share for the Sound Academy experience as well as for raising awareness of hearing loss. Thanks for your time.

Please visit Hear-the-World.com or connect with Hear the World on Facebook and Twitter for more information about Sound Academy Amplifying the Grand Canyon, as well as other projects and activities.

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elena torresani

Elena Torresani