If the month of May seems flooded with information about hearing health and school children suddenly come home talking about hearing protection, decibel levels and sign language, there is a good reason for that. This year Better Hearing and Speech Month celebrates its 88th year of bringing hearing awareness to the forefront.
Since 1927, the month of May has been dedicated as Better Hearing and Speech Month in the United States. Across the country, organizations dedicated to promoting hearing health join together, serving to not only bring awareness and understanding to hearing health but to shine a spotlight on the issues faced by those with hearing loss.
Founded in 1927 by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), then known as the American Society for the Disorders of Speech, Better Hearing and Speech Month not only encourages hearing loss screenings, but promotes hearing loss prevention and treatment of other causes of hearing loss as well.
As the campaign grew throughout the years, eventually individual states began to recognize the Month of May as National Hearing and Speech Month. Governor George Romney declared May 1967 to be Hearing and Speech Month in the state of Michigan, and in doing so encouraged recognition of efforts being made to ensure healthy hearing of all of Michigan’s citizens. Individual cities got on board as well; Sam Pick, mayor of Santa Fe, New Mexico, announced in May of 1972 that the city would be getting new assistive listening devices for community members with hearing loss so that they could participate in city meetings as well as enjoy performances and other events.
President Ronald Reagan, who had hearing loss and was the first president to be fitted with hearing aids while in office, authorized a congressional proclamation declaring May 1986 as Better Hearing and Speech Month, the goal being to raise awareness of hearing and speech disorders. His proclamation was as follows:
NOW, THEREFORE, I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month of May as Better Hearing and Speech Month, and I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate ceremonies and activities. (Proclamation 5486, May 21, 1986).
As a result, cities across the country from Baytown, Texas to Bluefield, West Virginia followed suit, issuing their own local proclamations that echoed Reagan’s. School districts across the country planned hearing and speech awareness activities for the month of May and hearing care professionals threw open their doors for hearing tests and open houses. President Reagan did not stop with that proclamation, however; he continued his involvement in hearing related issues, even becoming National Chairman for the Council for Better Hearing and Speech Month in 1988.
Over the years, the annual month-long campaign has reached many of those who might have been reluctant to have their hearing tested, as well as encouraging parents to have their children’s hearing tested. It allows the hearing care industry a platform to encourage those who might be experiencing hearing loss to get screened, and many of those hearing care professionals offer free or lower-priced hearing tests during the month of May. It is also a good time to look for deals or incentives on hearing aids, or just to read up on the latest technology.
Progress of the campaign has continued throughout the decades, with even more far-reaching implications. Congress introduced a resolution declaring May 2004 to be National Hearing and Speech Month and commended those states that had implemented mandatory newborn hearing screenings. As of today 43 states, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, have mandatory newborn hearing screenings, while the other seven states have an Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program in place.
Throughout the years, many different organizations have joined the Council for Better Hearing and Speech Month, including the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLA), Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA), The Better Hearing Institute, and Oticon. Working together they support the theme of the 2015 campaign, which is Early Intervention Counts. Two long standing campaigns included in BHSM are Identify the Signs, which brings awareness to the symptoms of hearing loss, and Listen to Your Buds, a safe-listening campaign directed at young people. The success of that campaign in the past prompted the World Health Organization to invite ASHA to partner with them on the Make Listening Safe Campaign, in the interest of bringing awareness and prevention to noise-induced hearing loss. The idea is to encourage safe listening at sports, concerts or when listening to personal music. Related events planned in May for Better Hearing and Speech Month include a safe-listening concert for children in Washington DC and the release of the results of a new national survey on safe listening.
Because of Better Hearing and Speech Month, the month of May will offer countless opportunities to learn new information and to take care of your hearing health. Will you be listening?