Let’s Be Glad for GAAD

By Becky Montgomery

Recently, HLAA joined others around the world to celebrate Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). I want to honor GAAD and digital accessibility, too, even if it’s a week late. Digital accessibility profoundly changes the lives of millions of people around the world.

graphic with blue background. images of hands using ASL, person walking with cane, an ear, and a person in a wheelchair.

Ever since computers were invented, developers wanted to use technology to help people with disabilities. They still do today. In fact, for the past 30 years, inventors have filed more patents (on average, 17% more) for accessibility-related inventions than for the rest of the tech industry’s products.

Disability inspires creativity

Many inventions have helped those of us with hearing loss. Here are some of the milestones, courtesy of Stanford University:

  • 1916 – Harvey Fletcher created the first hearing aid.
  • 1948 – John Bardeed, William Shockley, and Walter Brattain invented the transistor to create more dependable, smaller, and cheaper hearing aids. They won the 1956 Nobel Prize for Physics for this work.
  • 1960 – Pilgrim Imagine started the first publicly available captions for the Deaf.
  • 1962  – James West invented a new kind of microphone, the electret, for hearing aids, still in use today. (Fun fact: James’s mother was one of the human computers for NASA in the 2016 movie Hidden Figures.)
  • 1964 – A deaf orthodontist sent a teletype to his deaf friend so they could “talk” on the telephone. Deaf people still make calls with a TTY today.
  • 1972 – Vinton Cerf, who was hard of hearing and married to a Deaf woman, invented communication protocols for ARPANET (a precursor to the web) so he could send text messages to his wife. This was the invention of email.

Disability policy takes off

By the 1970s, innovation spread to political arenas. President Richard Nixon signed the nation’s first accessibility law, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. For the first time, it became a crime for government agencies to discriminate against someone because of their disability. The law also meant that all the technology used by government agencies had to be accessible to people with disabilities.

Then, in 1990, Congress followed with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA ). The ADA expanded the 1973 law beyond government to public businesses, and beyond technology to physical spaces. Although making physical spaces accessible was a bit controversial at first, millions of places now offer accessible doors that open automatically, wheelchair ramps, and sidewalk cutouts.

graphic of a globe with illustrations of people with various disabilities.

After those laws passed, inventiveness snowballed. We even had to coin words to talk about it all, such as Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs) and Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT.) Today, public assistive listening systems are commonplace—think FM transmitters in classrooms, hearing loops in theaters and houses of worship, and open-caption movies. To hear in other contexts, our phones can turn speech into text.

From an individual perspective, inventiveness in digital accessibility means that people with hearing loss, like me, can have actual conversations with other people. Many of us can easily use the telephone or stream TV and movies. To borrow a phrase from one of the tech companies, digital accessibility has given us “ease of access.”

Personally, I am a happy user of digital accessibility tools. I thank the thousands of people – dreamers, designers, scientists and engineers, writers, artists – who work on them. In the past, I too worked in accessibility with some of these folks. The experience left me a little starry-eyed. People who work in accessibility are enthusiastic about it, and their enthusiasm is infectious. At hundreds of companies all around the world, accessibility professionals are excited about their mission. The assistive devices they create range from pretty ordinary things like magnifiers to inventions that seem miraculous. Just today, I read about a paralyzed man who can now walk, thanks to digital implants.

A humble spark for creative fire: the everyday advocates

Digital accessibility is a wonderful confluence of creative inspiration, hard work, and the legal requirements of governments. But behind most accessibility “breakthroughs,” there is an invisible army that I want to honor. I’m convinced that the creative spark for accessible invention is very close to home. The spark grows from self-advocacy and from the advocacy of people who care about us – parents, friends, teachers, and so on. We got frustrated, we muttered to ourselves and each other (ok, sometimes we yelled). In the end, we learned how to ask for what we needed.

Today, for example, thanks to years of advocacy from HLAA and others asking for hearing loops, I can go to a concert hall to hear an author talk about a book or listen to a news anchor speak about world issues. I can go to a play or a movie and know that I will be able to hear it. Locally, HLAA-WA’s advocacy did not stop there: Soon, we’ll be able to relax and know that health insurance will pay for new hearing aids. Eventually, when we speak up, our needs become visible to a much broader audience.

Becky Montgomery writes about living with hearing loss from a very personal place – she has progressive hearing loss. She managed with hearing aids for 20-odd years but now wears bilateral cochlear implants. “When you gain a disability as an adult, it opens up whole new ways of thinking about how we do what we do; it’s a great spark for creativity. How do people who can’t see or hear experience the world differently? How can we learn from each other, and learn how to help each other?”

Becky is now retired and works hard at catching up on her reading and movie watching. In the past, she worked at Microsoft, where she was deeply involved in the company’s Employee Resource Group for Disability. For pay, she also helped to make programs like Word more accessible for people who can’t see.

HLAA-WA E-News, July 26, 2022

Welcome to our e-news!

Washington State Hearing Loss News

How Has the ADA Helped People with Hearing Loss?

Let’s Loop Seattle Founder and HLAA-WA President Cheri Perazzoli reflects on her long advocacy journey after the ADA’s passage and shares what it’s like to try to loop the world. Read her story this week in our blog.

Meet the New ODHH Director Earnest Covington III

Say hello to the new director of Washington State’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (ODHH) in this auto-captioned, ASL video.

Come See Us at the Bellevue Farmers Market

Stop by our table at the Bellevue Farmers Market on Senior Day, Thursday, August 4, 2-7 pm and pick up some brochures to share, ask questions, and find out how you can volunteer with us. Oh, and grab a fresh peach, an heirloom tomato, or some local wine, too.

If you’d like to help staff the table at this event, email us at info@hearingloss-wa.org.

Dr. Chad Ruffin Hosts a Virtual “Ask Me Anything”

Dr. Chad Ruffin, ENT doctor and ear surgeon, hosts a Zoom meeting to answer your questions about hearing loss and cochlear implants on August 18, 2022, 4:30 – 5:30 pm Pacific time. Click here for more information.

Save the Date for Our Annual Family Picnic September 17, 2022

Mark your calendars for our HLAA-WA annual family picnic on September 17, 2022, at Lake Boren Park in Bellevue, Washington. Everyone is welcome, including newcomers and friends and family. Stay tuned for more details.

Next HOPE Meeting August 3, 2022

Our virtual (online) HOPE meetings provide caring, encouraging support to people with hearing loss and their loved ones. We empower one another by sharing information, self-advocacy skills, technologies, and techniques.

You’re warmly invited to attend and find HOPE. HOPE meetings are always free, captioned, and open to everyone.

National Hearing Loss News

What’s Disability Pride Month All About?

For some, Disability Pride is about acceptance, not sympathy; for others, it’s about removing the stigma or confronting ableism. USA Today has this thoughtful article about what it means, and this Forbes article says disability pride is “proudly owning our identities and not pleading for acceptance, more leading the way, and feeling included within society.”

How do you think we should express disability pride?

Celebrate Disability Pride Month with Books by Authors with Disabilities

Reading books by people with disabilities is a terrific way to gain empathy and insight into others’ experiences. The New York Public Library suggests some books to try. You can also select one from our recent blog post about books by people with hearing loss.

Help Us Spread the Word about Hearing Loops via Google Maps

Hearing loops are now listed as an attribute for businesses on Google Maps! You can help us spread the word so that others know where they can find a loop and hear better. Download our tool, 5 Things You Can Do to Promote Hearing Loops on Google Maps today.

Happy 32nd Birthday to the ADA

On July 26, 1990, President George HW Bush signed the Amerians with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law.

Since then, the ADA has opened countless doors for pepole with hearing loss. Find out more about how the ADA can help you, and learn how HLAA has helped shape hearing access over the years.


Member benefits include product discounts, reduced convention registration fees, help with the latest hearing loss tech, and HLAA’s award-winning quarterly magazine, Hearing Life.  Your HLAA membership automatically includes HLAA-Washington. Dues start at $45 a year.

HLAA-WA does not endorse any technology, nor does exclusion suggest disapproval. We support the full spectrum of hearing technologies for everyone.

HLAA-WA E-News, July 13, 2022

In this e-news, we share thoughts on the HLAA convention, the next HLAA-Whatcom County meeting, a captioned Pirates show, our next HOPE meeting August 6, Disability Pride Month, hearing loops on Google Maps, and potential hearing aids for less than $200.

Washington State Hearing Loss News

Reconnecting with Community at an HLAA Convention

Longtime hearing loss hero Bob Branigin shares on our blog why he’s attended 35 HLAA coventions, including the 2022 HLAA Convention in Tampa, Florida, this June.

Learn More about CIs at the HLAA-Whatcom County meeting July 16, 2022

What do you do when hearing aids aren’t meeting your needs? If you’ve thought about a cochlear implant, what questions should you be asking?

Tina Worman, audiologist and UW Medical Center lecturer, and Jan Hyono, CI audiologist, will speak at the HLAA-Whatcom County Zoom meeting July 16, 2022, 10:00 – 11:30 am. Join the presentation, “Beyond Hearing Aids–CIs: A Path Worth Considering,” directly at this link. Everyone is welcome. Free and captioned.

Captioned Show Coming Soon at Gilbert & Sullivan Theater in Seattle

Buckle your swashes and join the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society for a captioned performance of The Pirates of Penzance on July 28th, 2022, at 7:30pm. Seats are located in the orchestra-right section in the newly renovated Bagley Wright Theater, with a clear view to the stage and captions. 

Contact Catherine Weatbrook (president at seattlegilbertandsullivan.com) to get these seats or if you have questions. 

Next HOPE Meeting August 3, 2022

Our virtual (online) HOPE meetings provide caring, encouraging support to people with hearing loss and their loved ones. We empower one another by sharing information, self-advocacy skills, technologies, and techniques.

At a recent HOPE meeting, participants chatted about tech such as LiveTranscribe and PocketTalkers that can help you hear better when you’re out and about. We also shared tips on self-advocacy, like considering planning ahead, and making requests and not demands.

You’re warmly invited to attend and find HOPE. HOPE meetings are always free, captioned, and open to everyone.

National Hearing Loss News

Lipreading Mom Explains the Disability Pride Flag

Did you know there’s a disability pride flag and that the colors and design have specific meanings? For example, the diagonal band represents “cuting across” barriers, according to the wonderful Lipreading Mom in her blog post this week.

Movies to Watch During Disability Pride Month

Watching the stories of people with disabilities can help you find empathy and understanding. Kanopy offers this excellent list of movies about and by people with disabilities. For stories from the Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities, we’d add CODA, We Hear You: Now Hear Us, and The Sound of Metal.

You can watch Kanopy with your public library card or university login.

Hearing Loops Are Now on Google Maps

Know before you go: Google Maps now shows hearing loops as a new accessibility attribute! You can check venues ahead of time to see if you’ll be able to tune into a loop once you arrive.

You can help others by adding loop info to a venue’s Google Maps listing. Click here for instructions. Then stay tuned for more information, including videos and an information campagin.

A Hearing Aid for Under $200?

You’ve heard that over-the-counter hearing aids are coming soon to help people with mild to moderate hearing loss. A professor in Milwaukee is working on a small hearing aid that he hopes will cost less than $200. What do you think?


Member benefits include product discounts, reduced convention registration fees, help with the latest hearing loss tech, and HLAA’s award-winning quarterly magazine, Hearing Life.  Your HLAA membership automatically includes HLAA-Washington. Dues start at $45 a year.

HLAA-WA does not endorse any technology, nor does exclusion suggest disapproval. We support the full spectrum of hearing technologies for everyone.

Reconnecting with Community at an HLAA Convention

Cheri Perazzoli and Bob Branigin have served together for decades.

Attending an HLAA convention can be a fun way to find community, build long-term friendships, learn about new technologies and communication techniques, and socialize in a stress-free, accessible setting with people who understand your hearing challenges. Bob Branigin, one of HLAA and HLAA-WA’s first heroes, has been to 35 (!) conventions. Here Bob shares his thoughts about the 2022 convention and what it’s like to travel and attend as a power wheelchair user.

The convention in Tampa this year was probably the same size as the first convention—I believe it was in Bethesda, Maryland.  The flights between Seattle and Tampa were on time with no problems, except walking from the door to the seat and the lavatory was hard for me.  When I arrived at the hotel, my rented power chair was waiting for me.  I was having problems with it as the charger was not charging the battery very well.  I had to stay around the hotel grounds the whole time because the battery need to be charge at mid afternoon for two hours.  So, this limited the workshops I wanted to go to, but I did go to the Exhibit Hall to see if I could find a vendor that sells something for my television.  I did see some friends who works with Captel, Med EL, Caption Call, etc. and I had a visit with them.  I saw and visited with friends who were at the other conventions, and that was a fun time for me.  

Bob Branigin poses with HLAA-WA leaders Erlene VanDerMeer, Diana Thompson, and Glenda Philio at this year’s convention.

I did go to these workshops below.

  • Importance of Genetic Testing for Hearing Loss
  • What Do You Want to See in Your Captions?
  • Hearing Loss goes to Court
  • I Can’t Read Your Lips!
  • The General Session 

Because I was in a power chair, some of the rooms were small and I had to “park” in the back, making it hard to read the captions and see the speaker’s lips.  At one of the sessions, I felt badly because I had to park on the aisle as the workshop was very popular. I did learn a lot, though. And I like to socialize with people, and luckily I was able to do that.

If you’re considering attending, I’d highly reccomend that you give it a try. You may find friends that last for decades!

Whatcom County Advocates Honored with National HLAA Award

Whatcom County HLAA Chapter members C
The HLAA-Whatcom County Crew is one of the top HLAA chapters in the country.

Congratulations to HLAA-Whatcom County, winner of HLAA’s Chapter on a Mission Award at the national HLAA convention last week. The award, delayed from 2019, recognizes the chapter’s work with HLAA’s Get in the Hearing Loop Program in pilot-testing the GITHL toolkit. In particular, the toolkit’s slideshow was developed in conjunction with Whatcom County loop advocates, incorporating the methods and approaches that brought them success.

Chapter treasurer Erlene VanDerMeer accepted the award on behalf of the chapter. The Whatcom crew is an active, vibrant chapter of over 75 (!) members who meet the third Saturday of every month. “We have outstanding speakers—last Sat. we had Dr. Doug Sladen from WWU speak to us about the importance of aural rehab for both hearing aid users as well as cochlear implants,” says Erlene in a recent email.

Erlene VanDerMeer accepts the award for outstanding chapter on behalf of HLAA-Whatcom County at the 2022 HLAA convention in Tampa, Florida.

She adds that the chapter’s secret: many people step up to volunteer their time  abilities so programs are timely and educational. “The excellent president is Larry Wonnacott, who has also served on the WA-HLAA Board.  Monthly programs are developed by Pam Spencer, an audiologist in Bellingham.  It’s truly a joy to benefit from Whatcom County’s excellent chapter.”

Two of the chapter’s most active members, Bert Lederer and Jerry Olmstead, passed away recently. They are greatly missed. But the chapter continues to be active in honoring their work on behalf of people with hearing loss.

Everyone is welcome to join HLAA-Whatcom County and to attend their monthly Zoom meetings (contact information to attend is at the bottom of the 2022 meeting schedule). Membership is $12 a year, or free for veterans.