“I’m amazed,” said Di Robertson, Alva’s direct service professional who has been working with him since last year. “The change in him is phenomenal. He’s walking different. He’s talking different. He used to be in his own little world. Now, he can better understand what is going on in his environment.”
Speaking with Di, the stories of the impact on Alva’s life keep coming. At work, he is faster and better understands what his supervisor needs. He is able to get around better because he can hear the directions from bus drivers. He can better himself because he can go to his local library and the librarians can understand what he needs and can help him find it.
For years, Alva has had moderate hearing loss, according to Carolyn Garner, M.A., clinical associate professor at the Indiana University Health Clinic, and a Healthy Hearing clinical director since 2004. As a provider for residents who receive state assistance, Carolyn had seen Alva before and had tried to convince him to try hearing aids, but it was after his exam at the Indiana Special Olympics Summer Games in Terre Haute this year that he agreed.
Although Alva was hesitant to even go to the Healthy Athletes venue, his coach Peggy Hillenburg and Special Olympics County Coordinator Denise Brown encouraged and reminded him and his caregivers about the event. “He is definitely glad he went now!” Di said.
Alva’s story is part of a much larger push by Special Olympics Healthy Athletes to reinvent its Healthy Hearing program and provide follow-up care and hearing aids to athletes. Dubbed Healthy Hearing 2.0, the push is fueled by hundreds of free hearing aids and access to providers associated with Special Olympics partner the Hear the World
Foundation, both in the U.S. and internationally. Addressing hearing loss has challenges that make effective follow-up care challenging. Hearing aids need to be fitted, adjusted and serviced, meaning multiple visits to a professional. For athletes like Alva, though, the effort is well rewarded.
“He has such a strong support group around him,” Carolyn said. “From the very start, his coach and his direct service professional were very supportive and were right on top of things – helping him get to his appointments and encouraging him. That makes a big difference.”
Alva’s story is one that will be repeated across Indiana and the world. Carolyn and her students are currently following up with several other athletes identified during the state summer games, and similar efforts are taking place in several countries for athletes identified at the 2011 Special Olympics World Games in Athens. Read one such story here.