Supporting one another in the Sunshine State

Sarasota Florida sunset over the ocean

Helen Keller wasn’t far off when she said, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” And certainly, that’s been the spirit of community that’s carried the HLAA Sarasota/Manatee Chapter forward for nearly a quarter century. Determined to lend support to a region with a particularly large aging population — more than a third of area residents are 65 and older — the HLAA Sarasota/Manatee Chapter is one of the most active within the HLAA network.

In fact, the chapter has made such a positive impact that it was honored as the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Health Care & Wellness Organization of the Year in 2017. The Chamber recognized the chapter for all it does for the Sarasota-area community — from its annual Hearing Tech Expo, to its information booth and hearing screenings at the Sarasota Farmers Market, to its monthly membership meetings and talks at community residences, to the movie, theater and book clubs it organizes, and for all the other special interest activities that it hosts. Combined, these efforts are designed to reach the 170,000-plus locals with hearing loss — and to empower them with information, education, support and advocacy so they can lead more active, rewarding lives. For the past decade, at least, 2,500 people have attended one or more of these chapter events each year.

Particularly noteworthy — for their need-driven and tailored approach — are the chapter’s private support sessions for both individuals and couples who are struggling with specific issues. These sessions, which have been offered for more than a decade, are led by chapter members who are certified peer mentors — that is, they’ve completed the two-year Peer Mentoring Program at Gallaudet University. The mentor works with each individual or couple, either in-person or virtually in a Zoom meeting, on the specific hearing challenges they face. Issues can range from addressing psychological factors in a relationship before establishing better communication techniques, to understanding and being clear about individual communication needs, to the importance of a sense of humor, patience, kindness and consideration when communicating, to managing expectations and establishing ground rules, to maximizing technology and being prepared when speaking to one another, and much, much more. As everyone with hearing loss knows, the scope of challenges can be broad — and the topics of immediate concern as diverse as the participants benefiting from the sessions.

A key advantage of these private sessions is that family members — and multiple mentors with specific areas of expertise — can attend, as needed and requested, making for an even fuller and more rewarding exchange. Online sessions with individuals and couples last from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on their needs. And the information covered can be sent to participants by email.

These individual and couple mentoring sessions are private and supplement the chapter’s already-comprehensive online educational meetings — all of which include time for questions and answers with the speakers, and an open rap session for personal hearing questions following the speaker’s presentation.

What’s more, the chapter’s monthly Happy Hour social support session provides an opportunity to build community, and for attendees to share how they’ve successfully overcome specific challenges — enabling participants to learn from one another. Together, these services help guide people within the greater Sarasota/Manatee area to appropriate hearing technologies and to ways to both improve their hearing and to understand speech beyond hearing aids and cochlear implants alone. Perhaps most significantly, however, the chapter provides a community that can offer a sense of belonging among others who immediately understand, and can relate to, the challenges that people with hearing loss face.

“Our goal is to show people with hearing loss how they can open their world of communication — so they can lead more active lifestyles” said Edward Ogiba, HLAA Sarasota/Manatee Board Member and HLAA Florida Advisory Board Member. “The silver lining in this pandemic, with the need to wear masks, has been that more people are motivated to seek information on how to better communicate. Both our online meetings — and our library of videos of all our online speaker presentations — are attracting a lot of newcomers to HLAA. But most important, more people are learning that there’s help available — and they’re learning how to help themselves.”

The HLAA Sarasota/Manatee Chapter started in 1987 and currently has 242 members. All 75 educational speakers’ presentations, to date, are available online at the HLAA Florida website at