Editor's Note: In the time since this article was written, Nan Asher has been promoted to Executive Director of Michigan Association of Deaf and Hard of Hearing (formerly MADHS). Congratulations Nan!
Interview by Julie Eckhardt
Nan Asher joined the staff of Michigan Association for Deaf, Hearing, and Speech (MADHS) in February of 2004. Nan is known throughout Michigan for her knowledge and advocacy for hearing assistive technology and hearing accommodations. Most recently, Nan has managed her own company, Hearing Technology Resources, providing consultation regarding hearing assistive technology. Nan is also a member of the E-Michigan Deaf and Hard of Hearing web committee. Her technical expertise keeps our Hearing Assistive Technology section up-to-date and accurate.
Julie: Can you tell me more about your company, Hearing Technology Resources?
Nan: For the last 5 years I have been consulting with Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Michigan Works! and businesses that have employees with hearing loss. A business might contact me if an employee acquired hearing loss over the course of their employment. Or perhaps the person worked effectively with a hearing loss for many years, then a significant job change resulted in different listening requirements.
I also worked with senior citizens. If there are no memory problems, there is no reason to remove a senior from their home just because of a severe hearing loss. People can remain independent in their homes with accommodations for hearing the doorbell, phone ring, or even hearing on the phone. With proper training, seniors can learn to adapt to new technologies and remain independent. Interestingly, adult children were usually the ones to hire me so their folks could remain in their own homes! I also worked with schools and colleges regarding assistive hearing technologies for deaf and hard of hearing students.
Julie: This background should be invaluable in your employment with MADHS. How did you get into this type of work?
Nan: I started the business partly because of my own experience and because this seemed to be an area severely ignored by hearing professionals. I was teaching people about assistive technologies on a volunteer basis through Michigan Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (MI-SHHH). But I didn't have the time required to be effective. I was working full-time, going to school, and had two children.
As for my own experience, when I was very obviously 8 Months pregnant, my audiologist sold me new hearing aids. She didn't say one word about assistive devices. Even though I grew up with a hearing loss, and have a brother with a hearing loss who attended Gallaudet, I never knew about assistive devices. I got my new hearing aids and 8 months later took them back because they quit working! The audiologist asked what happened. The aids appeared to be 10-years old! I explained that I wore them 24 hours a day so that I could hear my baby! (Hearing aids should not be abused like that! They need to dry out every night and rest!)
The audiologist left the room, and returned with a catalog of devices. She would not let me have the catalogue or even look through it! The mysterious devices, known only to a select few, remained out of my reach for a couple more years. The audiologist ordered a cry-baby alert for me. (A lamp plugged into the device flashed when the microphone in the baby's room picked up her crying.) I had to pay $80 for the cry-baby alert, plus $1350 for new Hearing aids! (Now I realize the hearing aids were probably still under warranty. But at the time, I didn't have a clue.) If I had known that assistive devices existed, I would have asked! But I didn't even know what to ask for! If she had told me about the cry-baby alert when I bought the first aids, when I was obviously pregnant, I could have saved a lot of money!
My next personal assistive device was a closed caption decoder for the television. I ordered it through Sears for $179.00. I was afraid of damaging my baby's hearing by having the TV on so loud. I also found I couldn't hear her crying when the TV was loud enough for me to hear it! Once I got the decoder, I quickly overdosed on TV! The closed caption shows became much more interesting! The decoder also helped me become acquainted with my neighbor. When her children were small, she enjoyed watching TV on my set. The five little ones would noisily play on the living room floor. She could read the captions without constantly shushing them.
Now I absolutely refuse to watch TV without captions. If my kids won't change the channel to a captioned show when I am watching, I hit the mute button! After all, if I can't hear, why should they be able to? They get the point rather quickly!
Eventually, I joined SHHH and discovered other "mysterious" devices! For example, when I finally got an FM system, my college GPA improved one whole point! Calculus actually made sense when I could hear the instructor as he wrote on the board with his back turned.
At that time, about 16 years ago, audiologists seemed to operate on the assumption that hearing aids were a "cure" and no other assistance was needed. Awareness is much better now. Audiologists seem to understand that while hearing aids are tremendously helpful, they are not the complete answer. (I couldn't live a whole day without my aids!)
Julie: Great stories, Nan! Now I understand why you are so passionate about communication access and hearing assistive technology.
This concludes Part 1 of Nan's Profile. Check Part 2 on her Education and work