Advocacy Opportunity: Help us Leverage Better Hearing & Speech Month

Each May, Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) provides an opportunity to raise awareness about hearing loss and communication disorders. HLAA-WA would like to use BHSM 2022, as an occasion to communicate with elected officials, educating them about hearing loss. We believe many local lawmakers have not voted for bills or policies supporting people with hearing loss because they do not understand what it like to live with this invisible disability. Will you help us change this dynamic?

We are providing two opportunities—you can participate in one or both—and we will make it easy:

  • Ask for a City or County Council Proclamation

Send a proposed proclamation to your local city council declaring May as Better Hearing and Speech Month and ask them to adopt it.

How we will help: please email our HLAA-WA legislative liaison, Cynthia Stewart, at, and include where you live. Cynthia will provide you with the names and email addresses of your local elected officials, the proposed proclamation, and a letter clearly stating our request.

  • Meet With Your Local Legislators and HLAA-WA

Join a conversation with your district legislators and HLAA-WA. As a person living with hearing loss, you are in the best position to discuss the needs of people who struggle to hear every day and everywhere we go.

How we will help: please let Cynthia know you are interested, and she will work with you and your legislators to set up a meeting. We will provide talking points and a fact sheet to give to your legislators, and Cynthia will participate with you in the meeting.

Why is action important now?

In the next legislative session, we will continue our fight for private insurance coverage of hearing aids and hearing health. Leveraging this year’s Better Hearing and Speech Month to raise awareness helps us lay the groundwork for this important effort. This is an opportunity to advocate for yourself and everyone in our state living with hearing loss.

Thank you for your participation. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Cheri Perazzoli, President
Hearing Loss Association of America – Washington State

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Hearing Loops Arrive at Grocery Outlet Store

High ceilings, clattering shopping carts, and chattering people can make grocery stores challenging places to hear. But hearing loops change all that, making communication with employees and customers with hearing loss easy and fast.

The Grocery Outlet in Springfield, Oregon, now has hearing loops at every checkout. The store owners, Tracy and Tom Hogan, were inspired by hearing loop advocate Ginevra Ralph to improve communication at their store.

Installer Alan Anttila at Hearing Support Solutions looped all five checkout lanes using Contacta’s “Above the Counter” pad-type loops, which have the loop aerial housed in the sign. The directional microphone helps block sounds from behind the checker. Anttila designed and bult the microphone holders himself using aluminum bar stock.

This loop could be the start of more loops at grocery stores across the country. Which store here in Washington State would you like to see a checkout loop?

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Open- Captioned Movies: Reasons for Hope

Written by John Waldo

Many of us with hearing loss need captioning to enjoy a movie. Federal and Washington State disability laws have responded by requiring theaters to provide individual closed-caption viewing devices, which enable us to access the captions without altering the experience for others. Although better than nothing, those devices are not really satisfactory. What we’d like is open captions (OC), displayed on the screen, so that we can just walk in and enjoy a movie without the hassle of checking out cumbersome, conspicuous, and unreliable devices. An ongoing petition asking for OC just passed the 25,000 signature mark.

The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t help us. Although the law itself says nothing about OC, reports from the House and Senate expressing legislative intent say the law does not require theaters to show OC movies. Both the courts and the federal Department of Justice have essentially treated those statements of intent as having the force of law.

There’s an “escape hatch,” though. The ADA does not override state or local laws that provide greater protection for people with disabilities. So the quest for OC has moved to state legislatures and city councils, and here, we’re beginning to see some positive results.

In 2015, the State of Hawaii passed a law requiring theaters with multiple locations in the state to offer two OC showings each week of each movie distributed with OC — most movies are. OC statutes are under consideration in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. And at the end of 2021, the New York City Council passed an ordinance requiring all movie theaters in that city to offer four OC showings per week. The NYC ordinance also specifies showtimes, requiring one matinee and one evening showing each weekend, and one matinee and one evening showing during each week.

The National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has vigorously opposed OC mandates. Their concern is that hearing audiences shun OC, and indeed, their numbers show relatively low attendance for OC shows. I’ve always thought that’s the wrong question. If the OC-avoiders go to a different showing of the same movie or go to a different movie, the theaters have lost nothing. On the other hand, if some of the people at the OC showings would otherwise not attend movies at all, those people are all new revenue. And indeed, preliminary data from a short-lived experiment in Washington, D.C. shows that when both an OC and a non-OC showing of the same movie occur within an hour of each other, OC attendance is lower than at the other showing, but total attendance exceeds what would be expected.

 I’m pleased to report that in a very recent (March 7, 2022) Zoom conference, the New York City theater owners have committed to giving that ordinance an honest effort for six months. Better yet, they have committed to gathering relevant data. While they will, no doubt, compare OC to non-OC attendance, they’ll also compare total attendance at their NYC theaters with attendance at theaters in nearby areas not subject to the OC ordinance.

Washington Representative Tina Orwell has taken an interest in this issue, and she was interested in generating some form of an OC demonstration project. That effort died for this year because of the short legislative session, but it may be revived in the future. My hope is that what we learn from New York City will provide some solid insight into how some scheduled OC showings can be integrated into movie-theater schedules in a way that provides us with full and equal enjoyment, does not meaningfully diminish the ability of others to enjoy movies in the non-captioned format they prefer, and enhances theater revenue. That would be a real win-win outcome.

John Waldo is an attorney whose practice focuses exclusively on issues arising out of hearing loss. He was counsel on a number of the cases that led to nationwide movie-captioning requirements, including one in Washington State, where he formerly practiced. He now lives in Houston, but continues to practice nationwide.

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The Power of Collaboration to Help People with Hearing Loss: Connecting with the Dementia Action Collaborative in Washington State

Many people are unaware of relationship between hearing loss and dementia, or how hearing loss treatment may help some people with dementia. Dementia symptoms often mimic hearing loss symptoms—in fact, hearing loss is sometimes misdiagnosed as dementia. Hearing loss can make dementia symptoms worse, and even mild hearing loss can increase our risk of dementia.

HLAA-WA saw the need to help this population of people with hearing loss who were underserved and in need of improved care. HLAA-WA member and hearing loss advocate Diana Thompson launched HLAA-WA’s work in this area in 2014. We interviewed Diana to highlight her role with the Dementia Action Collaborative (DAC) and explain how and why building these types of community connections can help vulnerable people.

Q: Why is hearing loss an important factor in dementia care and policy?

Diana: Hearing loss can decrease the ability of a person with dementia to communicate with others and understand what is going on.  It’s important for someone to have a hearing test prior to evaluation for dementia. When someone with dementia is successfully treated with hearing aids or other hearing devices, this is helpful for their caregivers as well as the person experiencing dementia.

Q: How did you get involved with the Dementia Action Collaborative? 

Diana: In 2014, I began attending meetings of the group writing the Washington State Alzheimer’s Plan. I wrote and submitted a paper on hearing loss and dementia. I also mentioned hearing aids and the hearing loss-dementia relationship during the public comment period at the end of the meetings. I developed a friendship with a lobbyist who represented senior organizations who encouraged me to work toward getting Medicaid to cover hearing aids for adults.

Since  the Alzheimer’s Plan was released to the Washington legislature in 2016, Cheri Perazzoli and I have attended meetings of the Washington State Dementia Action Collaborative (DAC), the public-private partnership created to implement the Alzheimer’s plan. We’ve tried to help shape policies and recommendations relating to hearing loss assessment, treatment, and education. We requested hearing loops in order to hear at the meetings, as we both have a hearing loss ourselves. When the DAC meetings moved online, they provided captions for us. This not only provided our needed accommodation, but it showed committee members one of the realities of hearing loss—technologies are needed.  

Q: How have you, Cheri, and HLAA-WA helped shape dementia care and policy in our state?

Diana: Hearing loss needed to be mentioned more in the DAC’s guidelines and reports, so in 2017, I worked with members of the DAC who were writing a report for the Dr. Robert Bree Collaborative. I wanted to make sure that the final document contained multiple references to hearing loss and hearing aids and also mentioned personal amplifiers.

Also, the current Washington State dementia screening tools now include hearing loss assessment, and we suggested that handheld personal amplifiers like PocketTalkers can be used in some situations. The personal amplifiers aren’t substitutes for hearing aids, but they can help someone who doesn’t have hearing aids, or someone who has dementia but is uncomfortable with hearing aids.

Q: How will this help people with dementia and people with hearing loss?

Diana: In the latest 2021 DAC report, hearing loss is now included in two recommendations, one to improve education for family members about addressing hearing loss, and one to enhance case management staff training to assess and address hearing loss. The DAC’s Dementia Road Map, a Guide for Family and Care Partners, mentions hearing loss three times and hearing aids once. Because of our involvement with members of DAC, the Washington Department of Health website in their article on “Healthy Aging” now includes a paragraph on hearing loss.

Q: What’s on the horizon for 2022 and beyond in dementia care and hearing loss?

Diana: The ACHIEVE three-year study will release their results in early 2023, and the results are expected to show the effectiveness of hearing treatment (versus education control) on cognitive decline in older adults with hearing loss. For our continued and future work: I gave the DAC medical subcommittee information about OTC hearing aids, and I hope to give a presentation to the whole DAC on this subject, once the final OTC hearing aid regulations are adopted.

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Washington State Hearing Aid Coverage Bill: Update

This proposal has had a convoluted history and continues to be challenging.  As most readers will recall, HB 1047 was introduced in 2021 but never got a hearing.  It would have mandated private insurance to cover hearing aids, etc., for children.  We all know the benefits of hearing aids for children with hearing loss, and the problems that ensue if children’s hearing loss is not treated properly.

Although no public hearing was held on the bill, a study was approved and budgeted to determine the cost to the State of this coverage.  According to the Office of Insurance Commissioner, if any new mandates for coverage are added by the state, the Affordable Care Act requires that the state cover that added cost.  Hence, the analysis of cost to the state was important.

In the interim, the bill sponsors, Rep. Emily Wicks and Rep. Tina Orwall, got more information from the Office of Insurance Commissioner and submitted a new bill, HB 1854.  This bill added adults to those for whom private insurance carriers would have to cover hearing aids. The cost analysis is confusing to lay readers but the coverage was interpreted as costing under $1 million annually.

Rep. Eileen Cody, Chair of the House Health Care & Wellness Committee was persuaded to hold a public hearing on HB 1854, and that occurred on the very last day the bill would have been eligible to be voted out of committee.  But a vote was not held. So right now the bill is considered dead for this biennium.

The only possibility to get this coverage before 2023 would be if the sponsors (or someone else) were successful in getting a budget proviso included in the state’s operating budget to appropriate the approximately $1 million needed. As of this writing, that is a very unlikely outcome.

HLAA-WA would like to organize meetings with HLAA-WA members and their legislators around the state during the interim, between the end of session and January 2023, to explain the need for hearing aid coverage in greater detail and line up support for 2023.  You, our readers, will be needed to participate and help convey this message.  Please watch for more information in the next few months.

–Cynthia Stewart
HLAA-WA legislative liaison

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