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Janice Armigo Brown wrote the following letter sharing her unique experience as a first time attendee to the Heaing Loss Association of America (HLAA) National Convention.

Ms. Brenda Battat
Executive Director
Hearing Loss Association of America
7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 1200
Bethesda, Maryland  20814
Dear Ms. Battat:
Thank you for the unique opportunity to experience my first Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) National Convention 2013 in beautiful Portland, Oregon.  I was able to do so as a recipient of a scholarship from Listen Technologies (Sponsor), thanks to Nancy Macklin, Director of Events and Marketing.  (Incidentally, I presented Listen Technologies with a thank you California gold colored gift bag that included: travel literature for California, maps, chocolate, California wildflower seeds, and a small genuine San Francisco Cable Car.)  Although I did not have a chance to personally thank you, I would like to express my sincere gratitude and briefly explain a bit about my experience as a first time attendee.
My arrival on early Thursday afternoon with registration at the Oregon Convention Center was truly welcoming.  I will tell you that I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people walking around at first glance who seemed to know everyone while I was the newcomer.  But, I wasn’t overwhelmed for long.  Once I put my bold red MED-EL badge on, I quickly became “an addition” to the crowd and instantly felt at home with my peers.  I soon found it comforting to have the HLAA convention neatly tucked away in a corner of the Convention Center where it was quiet, well staffed with helpful volunteers and with excellent signage for locations for workshops, exhibit hall attendees, receptions, etc.  And…the coffee that was available couldn’t have come at a better time!
I attended my first workshop on Thursday afternoon titled Implementation of Special Accommodations for Patients with Hearing Loss in Health Care Settings.  Afterwards, I went upstairs to the Portland Ballroom for the Opening Session with Keynote Speaker:  Howard Weinstein, Inventor of the Solar Ear.  “What an amazing individual who has greatly improved social integration for the largely excluded population of low-income people with hearing loss in the developing world.”  If only more people were devoted to helping the less fortunate in our society.
 As I waited for the attendees to arrive, I couldn’t help but ponder the fact that everyone in the room was exactly like me.  Everyone was yearning to be informed, to be “a part of a familiar family” that recognizes each other for who we are and is accepting and accommodating to our needs.  It’s not everyday that this many people with hearing loss are under the same roof unless they are attending a national convention.  This unique experience alone is one that I will always cherish.  The true camaraderie experience!
The Special Reception at the Oregon Convention Center was festive with spectacular food and spirits.  I felt honored to even be invited.  I was happy I went although I did not know many others.  I quickly began socializing and before long, I made a new friend from a chapter in New Jersey who had much in common with me.  Following that reception, at 8:30 was a Get Acquainted Party at the Doubletree Hotel for Attendees.  I really enjoyed everything about this get-together as I quickly made a few new friends and made contact with a few members from my chapter as well.  By the end of the evening, I was really excited to be in Portland and be a part of this experience.
I also had the opportunity to have lodging at the Doubletree Hotel along with many, many attendees, thanks to Judy Martin (Florida).  I contacted her as a suggestion from Nancy Macklin who told me that Judy oversees the HLAA Message Board.  Judy let me know that another member from the Los Angeles HLAA Chapter (CA) was seeking a roommate.  I soon made contact with Diane Gross, and after a few emails, I was able to secure a room to be closer to attendees, many wonderful events, and totally accessible transportation provided by the MAX Light Rail.  The fact that the registration packet included a pass on various modes of transportation was an added bonus that truly elated me as I do advocacy work as a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) Accessibility Task Force in Northern California.  I am a member of the Hard of Hearing community although I truly advocate for seniors and people with all disabilities.
I learned quite a bit from visiting the Exhibit Hall.  There were representatives from Gallaudet University that I enjoyed speaking with.  I also learned more about Clarity Telephones, Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, Listen Technologies, Sonic Alert, TSA and many, many more vendors.  They were very open to my questions and provided me with a wealth of information.
Yes, I attended truly educational Workshops for three days, took in as much information as I was able to process, and participated in almost everything the Convention had to offer.  I only wish the convention could have lasted a few more days because once I got “truly immersed” in all that there was to offer, I didn’t want the convention to be over.
I also met Elizabeth LeBarron for the first time.  I was so excited to meet with her personally as I have corresponded with her during the last year.  I really feel that she is really responsible for me even applying for the Scholarship.  I really wanted to meet Elizabeth and thank her for listening to me.  She gave me the strength and opportunity to be published in your HLAA National Magazine last year (July/August 2012).
Strength in numbers helps to make a powerful impact on society.  By socializing and networking with such a large number of HLAA attendees over a period of three and a half days, I learned that we all face challenges, discrimination, hardships,  and most of all, being  invisible in a way that we are misunderstood by members of the hearing society and many times deemed inferior due to our disability.  Therefore, although it is very difficult at times to step forward and be assertive in meeting our needs, educating others does prove fruitful.  In a setting such as the HLAA National Convention, we don’t have to care about being misunderstood because we all understand how to communicate with each other.  We just need to continue to educate and create awareness within the hearing world so they can better address our needs.
I feel that from a few of the conversations that took place during the convention that perhaps, the HLAA is turning the page as there will be a new Executive Director, Anna Gilmore Hall who will possibly take another turn to some of the dynamics of this empowering organization that truly strives to make a difference in the lives of individuals with hearing loss.  What that new page will look like, I do not know.  Nobody knows.  I do know, however, that under new leadership, new ideas come forth.  As an individual with a hearing loss in the San Francisco Bay Area, home to approximately 7 million individuals, I only hope that the voice of the HLAA continues to be heard and the changes that come about such as more hearing loop systems in public places, better overall hearing health from audiologists, reasonably accommodating workplaces, more open and closed captioning, availability of CART at meeting rooms and assistive listening devices made accessible to everyone who requests them – wherever they are, whatever situation they are in, and whatever resources it takes to get them.  Since hearing loss is an invisible disability, I feel that we are still at times, invisible as well.  I can honestly say that we live in a much more accessible society that existed years ago, yet we have a lot more work to do to overcome barriers.
My mission for the rest of my working years is to gain employment advocating for everyone with this disability.  I would like to primarily focus on seniors and assisting in keeping their lives rich by keeping communication open and available to them with assistive listening devices and a better overall “hearing health experience” with their audiologists so all of their needs are met, not just with hearing aids.
My other focus is to make hospital communication more accessible to patients with hearing loss.  It is stressful enough entering the hospital (by ambulance or otherwise) let alone experience added stress and possibly an accident or mistake made due to lack of communication between patient and physician, nurse or technician.
The Farewell Dinner at the Lloyd Center Ballroom on Saturday evening was extremely memorable and fun as well.  The table setting was so tastefully done.  The added bonus of including an Austin, Texas guitar memento pin, wildflower seeds and Farewell Brenda wine glass was over the top.  I safely brought the glass home and will always remember the evening when I drink from it.
Your leadership over the last 25 years at HLAA has been monumental to people with hearing loss.  I learned so much about you and your caring and supportive family during the evening.  I learned that you have conveyed a picture of an extremely strong minded person with hearing loss who does not let this disability keep you from accomplishing great feats.  You are a role model to me and I am sure to many others who need an individual like you to help keep them achieving goals and overcoming barriers.   I applaud you and all that you have done at the national level.  I only wish that I knew of you years ago when I needed a strong role model but knew of no one.
I plan on becoming more active in my San Francisco Chapter (CA) of the HLAA.  I feel that our chapter can truly make a difference in the lives of people with hearing loss.  I hope to coordinate a meeting with Chapter members and Juliëtte Sterkens, AuD – National Hearing Loop Advocate when she comes out to California in late September (to San Francisco) and with her guidance hopefully begin to work on a project.  I had the good fortune to have her at my table at the Awards Breakfast and Ceremony on Sunday morning.  She is doing wonderful work by promoting the much needed Hearing Loop Systems throughout the United States.  I am truly excited to tell you that I was at one of the workshops on Friday afternoon and turned my hearing aid to T-coil and experienced the system for the first time.  What a tremendous difference it made in listening to the presenter!   I heard everything that was said – without straining to hear.  And…what I didn’t catch, CART assisted me as a back up.  How accessible is that!
Again, thank you ever so much for the experience to attend the HLAA National Convention 2013 in Portland.  I will always remember the journey to the Pacific Northwest and how it made me a much stronger individual by learning that I am not alone in the world with hearing loss.  I have support and connections to the best resource anyone with this disability can have – with the Hearing Loss Association of America.
Thank you and farewell Brenda,
Janice Armigo Brown
HLAA- San Francisco Chapter (CA)
HLAA Scholarship Recipient (Listen Technologies)

Cc:  Nancy Macklin, Elizabeth LeBarron, Dr. Juliëtte  Sterkens, AuD

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