HOPE — in the Gem on the Genesee, Rochester, New York

Rochester river walk with people

It starts with empathy, recognizing a need — and addressing it.

That’s how it was for the HLAA Rochester Chapter when about three years ago it started HOPE — for Hearing Other People’s Experiences.

An informal, relaxed and open discussion among real people around a real table — albeit virtually since COVID-19 — HOPE happens in Rochester on a monthly basis. Retired audiologist and longtime hearing aid user Joe Kozelsky moderates the one-hour get-together, offering insights and advice along the way. No presentation. No set agenda. Just an extremely wide range of topics — from the most basic, to explanations of “dead regions of the cochlea,” to simply sharing common frustrations, annoyances and irritations.

“It’s all about addressing the questions, needs and concerns of whoever is at the table — whatever they happen to be,” explains Art Maurer, president of the HLAA Rochester Chapter.

The program is structured this way because the people of Rochester understand that the decision to purchase hearing aids — and the even greater decision to persevere in using and adjusting to them — is about more than just technology. For many, hearing aids are a critically important step in the hearing journey. And it’s marked by a whirlwind of emotion — acceptance, hope, anxious anticipation, confusion, frustration, the discomfort of change, and often most difficult, that feeling of aloneness that’s so human and prevalent when people are struggling.

It’s this empathetic insight and its holistic approach that make HOPE stand out. While tremendously beneficial, hearing aids also can represent an entirely new way of life. And with that come questions — both technical and fundamentally personal. For many, finding the will to ask them requires the right setting — specifically, an informative and compassionate space of understanding. And that’s the atmosphere at each HOPE session — where prospective, new and experienced hearing aid users gather to share their questions and reflections on their hearing loss journeys.

From tips on how to better wear and use hearing aids, to questions about batteries and battery life, to older hearing aid users wondering about newer technologies, to demystifying telecoils and loops — to a middle-aged motorcycle rider trying to figure out how to comfortably wear a helmet over his cochlear implant, which two men at the table were actually able to answer — HOPE provides the information and support that people need.

According to Joe, his favorite session was one when they asked participants about the origins of their hearing loss. “We had no idea how complex, and actually sad, the backgrounds of some of the attendees were and how heroic they had been in their struggles. It was a truly special moment for everyone.”

Established in 1983, the HLAA Rochester Chapter currently has 220 paid members and distributes its monthly newsletter to more than 600 people.