We All are Accessibility Leaders

HLAA Executive Director Barbara Kelley
Barbara Kelley
Executive Director
Hearing Loss Association of America

By Barbara Kelley, Executive Director, Hearing Loss Association of America
Follow Barbara on Twitter, @Bkelley_HLAA.

This January, HLAA was invited by the CTA Foundation to participate in the Accessibility Leaders Roundtable at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The CTA Foundation is a public, national foundation affiliated with the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The foundation facilitates dialog among industry, consumers, government, advocacy groups and other key stakeholders. Through their grants, which HLAA has been a recipient of in years past, the CTA Foundation supports programs that improve the lives of seniors and people with disabilities.

Being there among other leaders in the disability field is eye-opening. I get a chance to meet colleagues across disabilities who are doing exciting and meaningful work. We compare notes but, mostly, I learn from them.

It’s important that HLAA is there. The past 10 years, hearing loss has moved up from the eleventh spot to become the fourth leading cause of years lived with disability–ahead of even diabetes and dementia. And, given the CTA Foundation’s focus on seniors, we know that rates of hearing loss rise beginning at age 50 and 65% of people aged 70 and older have some degree of hearing loss.

CES is a mammoth city-wide technology show produced by CTA, the trade association representing the $422 billion U.S. consumer technology industry. And, we are people with hearing loss who want to use technology to participate in the hearing world. We had the chance to explore CES which is bursting with technology — everything from start-up companies to long-time leaders in the field such as Samsung where we had a private tour of the new accessibility features on their TVs. It’s one thing to set your own captions, but I saw TVs with artificial intelligence that will move the captions out of the way if needed. For example, off the speaker’s head or away from the scores of a game running along the bottom.

Does the typical company think of accessibility when developing products? Our group learns that some do, and some don’t, so we spend a lot of time at CES enlightening companies. I’m proud to say that inspired by our experience at CES over the past several years, HLAA has a program called the Industry Consumer Alliance for Accessible Technology. Our goal is to bring together technology developers with consumers who have hearing loss to create and inspire more accessible, innovative and responsive technologies.

Do you ask for captioning at a medical appointment? Maybe you ask someone to speak slower and more clearly, or maybe you asked a TSA agent to remove his or her mask when going through airport security? (By the way, HLAA serves on TSA’s Disability and Medical Condition Coalition, and we advocated for lowering masks to help lipread and hear.) If you do anything even remotely similar, you are an accessibility leader. You don’t have to be part of a formal group attending CES, we, at HLAA, our chapters, our members, our Walk4Hearing participants, are all accessibility leaders.

At all life stages, communication and good hearing health connect us to each other, our communities, and the world. Don’t let hearing loss limit you — early intervention can ensure that people with hearing loss are able to achieve their full potential. Learn more at HearWellStayVital.org.

For questions or more information, email HLAA at inquiries@hearingloss.org.

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