Grassroots advocates change the world for people with hearing loss.
Here we spotlight one such advocate: Brent Bowden, HR/Vocational Services Specialist and Veteran Outreach Coordinator at New Leaf, Inc. in Oak Harbor, Washington. New Leaf is a nonprofit organization that employs, supports, and advocates for adults with disabilities. We recently learned that Brent has been advocating for hearing access, sharing HLAA-WA information, and demonstrating assistive listening systems. So we wanted to find out more about Brent and his work. Here’s our Q&A.
Tell us about your background and how you came to work for New Leaf.
I happened upon New Leaf when I was looking for a new job. I formerly worked at Target in Burlington and did not enjoy the drive. A friend asked me if I had checked with New Leaf (which I had never heard of at the time) for a job. After a couple of interviews, I had finally found a career, not a job. I gladly gave my notice to Target and have been happy here at New Leaf ever since.
What prompted you to work on behalf of people with hearing loss?
I began working on equal access when I started my career at New Leaf. We had an employee who used a cochlear implant and had difficulty reading lips. Our process for hiring was very tough for this individual, and it exposed a shortcoming in our office that could easily be remedied. I knew absolutely nothing about the assistive listening devices that existed, and I decided to educate myself. I was also a Sonar Technician for the US Navy, in addition to serving in the Army. The physics of sound, as well as the technology that produces sound, are very interesting to me! This drew me into ALD technology even further, and I am always trying to stay on top of current tech such as Auracast.
Do you have a hearing loss yourself?
I do have low-grade hearing loss and tinnitus from my time in Iraq with the US Army. I was in a Field Artillery unit and exposed to hundreds of rocket blasts, explosions, and small arms fire. It is gradually getting worse, which is part of my motivation: to be part of the equal access solution before I am in need.
How has HLAA-WA served as a resource for you or inspired you?
When our company first decided to purchase our ALDs, I reached out to the HLAA – Whatcom County chapter to ask for assistance and education on these devices. They were very happy to speak with me and even set up a live demonstration at a local senior center for myself and our CEO. Those two gentlemen, Louis Touchette and Mike Sweeney, are my inspiration for getting involved in the hearing loss community. I still work with them whenever possible and always enjoy referring businesses to them for information on loop technology and other devices.
Do you plan to suggest counter loops and meeting room loops to the Oak Harbor government offices?
It is interesting you ask about this one. Once I began learning and demonstrating our technology here at the office, I made the decision to take the tech out into the community. Most folks have never heard of, or seen, such things as neckloops and Pocketalkers unless they need them or have family members in need of ALDs. I wanted to change that by letting people see and handle the devices. Just recently I set up a booth at our community National Night Out event in order to answer questions and demonstrate technology. I have spoken with our Chamber of Commerce and will be setting up a presentation for them in the near future. As this will be my first presentation in the community, I will be polishing my act so that I am more comfortable when I go to the police station, courthouse, and fire department to present them with the same information.
What does New Leaf, Inc. do to include people with hearing loss?
New Leaf is an Ability One employer, which means that 75% of our direct labor hours are devoted to adults with disabilities. We actively seek out and give hiring preference to those individuals, so it only makes sense that we include assistive technology in our working environment. We would like to become an example for other agencies and organizations in town to emulate.
To contact Brent about employment opportunities or hearing loss advocacy or help, visit the New Leaf website.
To go to the HLAA-Whatcom County website, click here.