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ATU529 – Hear Indiana with Naomi Horton

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Your weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist people with disabilities and special needs.

Special Guest: Naomi Horton – CEO of Hear Indiana
Find them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/hearindiana
Hearing Aid Assistance Program of Indiana: www.haapindiana.org
Transcript brough to you by INTRAC – www.relayindiana.com

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—— Transcript Starts Here ——

 

Naomi Horton:
Hi, I’m Naomi Horton. I’m the CEO at Hear Indiana. And this is your Assistive Technology Update.

Josh Anderson:
Welcome to your Assistive Technology Update. A weekly dose of information that keeps you up to date on the latest developments in the field of technology designed to assist individuals with disabilities and special needs. I’m your host, Josh Anderson with the INDATA Project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis Indiana. Welcome to episode 529 of Assistive Technology Update. It’s scheduled to be released on July 16th, 2021. On today’s show, we’re super excited to have Naomi Horton, the CEO of Hear Indiana on the show to talk about the 50 years the organization has been around and the amazing services they offer to individuals here in Indiana.

Josh Anderson:
We also want to give a huge shout out to the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or InTRAC. They are now sponsoring our captions and transcripts for the show. If you’d like a transcript of the show, head over to easterseals [inaudible 00:01:09].com and you can find them right there. You can also find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com. If you’ve got an idea for a guest on our show, a question or comment, or just want to get a hold of us, don’t forget you can always reach us from my email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org. Call our listener line at (317) 721-7124 or hit us up on Twitter at INDATA Project. Now let’s go ahead and get on with the show.

Josh Anderson:
After all these months of lockdown maybe you’re looking for some new podcast to listen to. Well make sure to check out our sister podcast, Accessibility Minute at ATFAQ, or Assistive Technology frequently asked questions. If you’re super busy and don’t have time to listen to a full podcast, be sure to check out accessibility minute, our one minute long podcast that gives you just a little taste of something Assistive Technology based so that you’re able to get your Assistive Technology fixed without taking up the whole day. Hosted by Tracy Castillo, this show comes out weekly. Our other show is Assistive Technology frequently asked questions or ATFAQ on Assistive Technology frequently asked questions. Brian Norton leads our panel of experts, including myself, Belva Smith and our own Tracy Castillo as we try to answer your assistive technology questions.

Josh Anderson:
This show does rely on you. So we’re always looking for new questions, comments, or even your answers on Assistive Technology questions. So remember if you’re looking for more Assistive Technology podcast to check out, you can check out our sister shows Accessibility Minute and ATFAQ wherever you get your podcasts now, including Spotify and Amazon Music. Listeners, today’s guest is Naomi Horton, CEO of Hear Indiana, which happens to be housed right here in our building. Well, they’re celebrating their 50th year and we wanted to help them celebrate by having them on the show and talking a little bit about them, all that they do. And just kind of maybe Hearing in general. Naomi, welcome to the show.

Naomi Horton:
Thanks. Glad to be here.

Josh Anderson:
I am really excited to get into talking about Hear Indiana, even though you guys are down the hall. I swear, I don’t know that that much about you, but before we get into that, could you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself? About your background?

Naomi Horton:
Sure. I’m the CEO. I’ve actually been involved with Hear Indiana since 2006. My background is a speech language pathologist, and I actually moved here from North Carolina. And when I was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, that’s where I first met my cohort of deaf kids that were learning to listen through cochlear implant technology. And that’s what I kind of fell in love with as a career choice. And then when we moved to Indiana originally, I was doing that in my own kind of private practice. Found out about Hear Indiana, which at the time, and we’ll talk about this. I’m sure over the next little bit, was quite a small organization, but they were doing advocacy for the same deaf and hard of hearing population. And I found niche and thought, “This is where I’ll be.” And yeah, here we are 15 years later.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Excellent. Well, I think we got to really start with, what is Hear Indiana?

Naomi Horton:
So today we are a robust nonprofit. We have about 13 employees and we have the clinic here, like you said, at 4740 Kingsway Drive where we do speech language pathology for deaf children specifically, we have pediatric audiologist who see anybody from a newborn baby all the way through exit from high school. We do the newborn followup testing here in the building as well. We also do cochlear implant mapping and all sorts of Assistive Technology for hearing loss. And then we’re really proud of the fact that we have wraparound support. So a lot of times you know this because you interview a lot of folks on different topics surrounding the special needs. You might go to one building that provides X service and then you have to go to a different location or a different school or a different hospital for the other things, when really somebody needs to say, “Okay, here’s the diagnosis, here’s a treatment plan. And here’s everything else that you probably didn’t even know that you need to know.”

Naomi Horton:
And so we have family and community liaisons that really help find out if you need help finding proper health insurance. So maybe the Assistive Technology needs to be covered by some kind of a funder. Perhaps you need help with a school and you don’t know anything about having a free and appropriate public education. So we provide special education advocacy as well, but really it is that wraparound model and making sure that we’ve kind of shepherded that family through the systems.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, that’s so awesome. Because I know and we’ve been talking in this organization kind of the whole, as the silos, you kind of have all these different things, all these different places and especially for folks who maybe have a new diagnosis, that’s so hard, because you just don’t know what’s out there.

Naomi Horton:
​Absolutely.

Josh Anderson:
So that’s great that you offer that. And the advocacy being able to talk to them about the school and talk to him about these other things that you don’t know what you don’t know.

Naomi Horton:
That’s what we say all the time.

Josh Anderson:
And I think it’s that way in any assistive technology, it seems like anything to do with disability in any way, shape or form it kind of goes that way. Well, you talked about kind of what you all do now. Let’s talk about the beginning because you even said when you started 15 years ago and that’s been around 50 now, so how did Hear Indiana start?

Naomi Horton:
Okay, so let’s go back. 1971 was a very different time in the world and in disability, this was before special education even existed before ADA. So we’re talking about a time when honestly, if you were born with a disability, you were either make it in the mainstream or you couldn’t access that. And so what really prompted the founding families was the [inaudible 00:06:47] epidemic. So there was a huge increase in the number of babies being born quite honestly, to hearing parents who were having deaf children. And they just thought, “Okay, there’s got to be a group of us that’s big enough that we can figure out what to do. We aren’t alone.” And now we’re collecting momentos for our 50th year. And I’m looking at these booklets from 1980s and their a lot of families. And I think about in one way, how blessed we are that we have an MMR vaccine that prevents parents from carrying the German measles to their unborn child, but really thankful that those founding families got together.

Naomi Horton:
And quite honestly, it was also a time when hearing aids were just becoming a possibility. Now they were still big and bulky, right? Children were wearing the body worn pack with the wires and the harness. And it was not an easy thing by any means, but they existed. Of course, way before cochlear implants. So these families really did get together. There was a group up and around Muncie first near Ball State. There was a speech and hearing program that was called Tri-County Association for the hearing impaired. And then our organization started as the Indiana Association for Hearing Impaired Children. And then those kind of merged together because the Indiana associates show the hearing impaired children, which is now Hear Indiana really had more of a statewide presence. And so quite honestly, they were super active at the state house in making sure that these children had the right to attend a neighborhood school, if that was where they wanted to go.

Josh Anderson:
Oh, nice. And then it’s grown kind of over that time and [inaudible 00:08:20] what it is today.

Naomi Horton:
So all the way back then, I would say it was very much parent led, very grassroots, absolutely. And then on and off through that course of history, there were executive secretaries or part-time staff, but pretty minimal. And most of it was volunteer run. Like I said, when I joined the organization, I actually joined the board first. So that was 2006 when I joined the board and we had just let go of our last paid secretary. So we had no paid staff in 2006. So there’s also been this humongous surge of activity over the last 15 years. And so I was hired in 2008 as a part-time executive director. And probably one of the biggest things that happened was in about 2013, late 2014, we received a grant in collaboration here with Easterseals Crossroads to open and operate the speech and hearing resource center. That really was the turning point.

Naomi Horton:
Because prior to that, we didn’t have our own other speech pathologists or audiologists. We were pretty much what the families were doing back in the day, we were providing information referral. So if a family called me and said, “Hey, I live in Elkhart, but we don’t have access to a teacher for the deaf.” Or, “This is our issue.” Then I would try to find them resources. Same thing years before, we started a gift of sound program through donor dollars where they couldn’t afford hearing aids. Okay. Let’s figure out a way to do this, but we didn’t have our own audiologist to program that technology. So things have really picked up. Another big change was about five years ago now the hearing aid assistance program of Indiana started, which for your listeners, if they’re not familiar with this, please, please, please check it out.

Naomi Horton:
It’s haapindiana.org. We call it HAAPI for short, the hearing aid assistance program Indiana, it makes us happy, but it’s eligible any child who is age out of first step. So three through exit from high school is eligible for HAAPI every three years for hearing aids or bone anchored technology, sometimes known as a BAHA. And so that is an opportunity at very reduced costs for them to have their own permanent hearing technology because insurance doesn’t usually cover the hearing aids. So Hear Indiana administers that program for the whole state. It’s a program with the department of health, but we administer it here and we have over 70 participating audiologists all across the state who dispense those hearing aids and fit children underneath that program.

Josh Anderson:
Very cool. Very cool. And you kind of brought up the BAHA there. So I do want to talk just a little bit and we could spend the entire day talking about the difference between hearing aids and that kind of thing. But for folks who don’t know kind of, what’s the difference between a cochlear implant, a hearing aid and a BAHA.

Naomi Horton:
Okay, perfect. Yeah. So I wish there was a graphic thing I could hold up right now because-

Josh Anderson:
It makes it much harder because it looks like this [crosstalk 00:11:05].

Naomi Horton:
And also there’s overlapping. So there could be a situation where a child has an audiogram, but it’s still a better candidate for a hearing aid. And maybe that same audiogram might be a cochlear implant candidate. So there’s an overlap between some of these technologies and we really need our specialists or doctors of audiology to see children. And in fact, there’s more news every day about over the counter hearing aids. And while that is going to open up doors for the elderly in particular, to have access to affordable technology, I want to make sure people know that it’s not something we recommend for children ever, ever, ever. So I say that only to say that with your help of your audiologists, you will find out which one of these is best for your child, but I’ll try to give big picture IVS. But every child is different.

Naomi Horton:
So in general for a child has a mild to moderate hearing loss. And in our world, we actually hate the term mild because no hearing loss is mild. If you have one, you know it’s not mild, but it’s still called that. Then a hearing aid is great because what a hearing aid does is it amplifies the sound. So you still get sound going, your cochlea has some sound, maybe you’re losing high frequencies, but you still have a lot of low frequencies sound is still pretty clear when it’s amplified. For that type of hearing, loss of hearing aid is excellent and technology gets better and better every day. We’re able to filter out more of the background noise and make it more [inaudible 00:12:32] for children. Quite honestly, we have some really cool and INDATA has a lot of this stuff too, in the loaner bank.

Naomi Horton:
But the microphone systems that teachers can use that now integrate wirelessly to the hearing aids. I mean, there’s a lot of neat things we can do. So that’s the category. When we start talking about severe hearing loss and especially profound hearing loss, then hearing aids are often no longer enough or they provide distortion. When we, if you think about it, if you just turn up something too loud, eventually it sounds garbled. So that’s when we start talking about cochlear implant candidacy. So a cochlear implant bypasses, anything that you probably learned about in your eighth grade biology when we talked about [crosstalk 00:13:14]. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So you don’t even have to have any of that.

Naomi Horton:
If you’re going to get a cochlear implant, what we’re going to do is we’re going to surgically implant an electrode array that’s going to feed into your cochlea and that’s going to stimulate your auditory nerve directly. So on the outside, we have a little mini computer that syncs up with that internal electrode array and takes what is normally an acoustic signal and turns that into a digital sound that our brains make sense of. And that’s, what’s probably the most amazing thing about a cochlear implant. I will use this analogy because there are 24 electrodes in the implant and in the array, which isn’t that many, if you think about the hundreds of thousands of the frequencies of sound that exists, that we’re compressing down into 24, right?

Naomi Horton:
So there was a gentleman, Michael Chorost who wrote a book, I think it’s called Rebuilt. And he had gotten a cochlear implant and he explained how the progression of single channel implants. And then it went to seven channel and then to 16 and now to 24. He said, “If you have a picture of a tree and then you take a piece of paper and you punch one hole and you look through that hole, you will probably see that there’s a green object on the other side, but you can not make out the tree. If you puncture 16 holes in that piece of paper, you actually start to make out a little bit of a shape, but you might even recognize that it is a tree. And when you get to 24, your brain fills in the hole in between the gaps.”

Naomi Horton:
It’s like, “Wow, that’s a tree.” Even though I don’t see a hundred percent of the tree, I know it’s a tree. And that’s, I think a really cool analogy for the way to understand how our brain makes sense of a compressed auditory signal and make it make sense to ourselves. We, of course, work with children at Hear Indiana. And what we know about our brains are their extremely malleable. So the earlier we get access to sound in a newborn child, the easier it is for them to make sense of that signal. In fact, a lot of times we hear the U.S. talk about habilitation instead of rehabilitation at this point, that’s really key if we can get early identification, early intervention and early access to sound. That doesn’t always happen for a variety of reasons, but that’s ideal. And then there’s the BAHA, the bone anchored hearing aid, sometimes also under the name brand panto. So runners sometimes where are these things called Aftershock.

Josh Anderson:
The bone conduction headphones, and some folks that we’ve worked with who are visually impaired, wear them as well because they can still hear everything going on, but they can hear their GPS or whatever they’re listening to on their phone as well.

Naomi Horton:
That’s the same technology. So we’re vibrating the cochlea. If you think about it, there’s fluid in your cochlea anyway. And so we’re just changing the way that we’re getting sound to your cochlea. So in some cases, children have chronic middle ear disease. So those three little bones may not be working properly. They have chronic fluid, or they may not even have an opening. They may be born without an external ear but their cochlea is just fine. So as long as we can get sound to the cochlea in a different way, then that is a perfect candidate for a BAHA. Now, typically those are not implanted until they are five. So they wear them on what’s called a BAHA headband or soft band until they’re about five when they can be candidates for that to be implanted. So sometimes you’ll hear, “Oh, I have an implant.” It’s actually a BAHA implant versus a cochlear implant. Does that help?

Josh Anderson:
Yeah, that definitely helps. That definitely helps. And that was because I know I’ve seen you present before and explain it, it’s a good half hour, hour, and you really kind of go into it, but it’s so interesting. And I was like, “Well, maybe we can actually fit that in there.” So you kind of mentioned on this just a little bit, but whom all can really benefit from your services?

Naomi Horton:
Yeah. All right. So in the state of Indiana, about 250 babies each year are diagnosed at birth as having a hearing loss of some degree that could be unilateral. They may just have hearing loss in one ear, which also is something we now know impacts your education. So children with a single sided deafness are twice as likely to have to repeat a grade. So again, we know that this impacts, this is not a let’s wait and see kind of thing. So the first answer is any child who’s born with a hearing loss. Absolutely, we can help you answer those questions of, “I don’t know what I don’t know.” We’ll tell you all the things that you don’t know. And in addition to that, I would say, let’s say you already have the diagnosis of a hearing loss, but you’re recognizing that your child is struggling at some point.

Naomi Horton:
A lot of times we start seeing this about second grade language gets more complex. Math starts involving words, right? So things get a little harder and we start using, idiomatic expressions. We start having more social language requirements brought on upon us. And kids will sometimes appear like they’re doing okay until we get to that second, third grade. And then they went, “Oh, we need a little bit more remediation.” That’s another great time to check in with us. Really at any of the transition points, you talked about the silos and you start out at the hospital. You’re probably being contacted by the department of health, but then you’re going to get referred over if you’re going to do early intervention through first steps, that’s FSSA. Then at three, you’re going to get transitioned to a school service. That’s the department of ed.

Naomi Horton:
So anytime you’re moving from one of those programs to another, you probably are going to have questions about that process and we can definitely help guide you through those stages. And then I would say another, if you ever have issues with funding. So we have a sliding fee scale for all of our services. We accept insurance, including Medicaid. We make sure we meet the needs of your family through a variety of different ways. So if you’ve been told, well, we’ve been recommended to have a listening and spoken language specialist, but that’s private therapy iffy. And we can’t afford that. Or now, thanks, actually, I can’t believe I’m going to say thanks to COVID, but it’s true. Teletherapy is an option.

Naomi Horton:
We now provide our listening and spoken language specialists all across the state of Indiana from the comfort of your home. And you don’t have to travel and families are finding that extraordinarily useful, the travel time’s gone, the childcare components are no longer a big issue. You can put on a video for the three-year-old in the other room while you do therapy in this room. So we do provide teletherapy and again, we bill insurance for it. We bill Medicaid for it, or we accept that sliding fee scale. So if you ever feel like finances are an issue, then that’s a time to check us out for sure.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. Excellent. I know with some kids and even from kind of a personal experience, sometimes that hearing loss isn’t diagnosed, you might just notice maybe some differences in language or something like that. Is there something parents should kind of look for where they could maybe think that maybe there is something there that hasn’t been diagnosed and should reach out?

Naomi Horton:
I was just reading a Facebook post yesterday one of the families I’ve known the whole time I’ve worked here and she posted a picture of her son at the time he was going to his kindergarten roundup visit and they were in a restaurant and he’s holding his ears in the picture. And he’s literally cupping, he’s using the most primitive, acoustic improvement handcupping to try to listen to his iPad in this restaurant. They had just come from a doctor who said, “He’s fine. He’s fine.” They went to the screening for kindergarten roundup. They did a hearing screening and lo and behold, he had a hearing loss and mom’s instinct had been that for years and I still kind of get chills. So the answer to your question is if you ever think that something is wrong with your child, trust your instincts, you are probably right. Don’t wait and see.

Naomi Horton:
It’s so easy. I mean, we can test. So newborns, they sleep through the test, six months old, they get to look at toys and turn and they don’t even know they’re being quote unquote tested. It’s not a painful experience in any way, shape or form. I would absolutely say if you have concerns, if they’re falling behind, quite honestly, if a child has additional disabilities, it’s so important to know the hearing status. We see a lot of crossover with children who might have autism spectrum disorder and hearing loss. Sometimes one can actually exacerbate the other. But how important is it to know whether the hearing status is normal before you proceed with a treatment plan for autism? So I would absolutely say let’s get it checked. And then if you find out it’s normal, that’s fantastic. But many times your gut will be right.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. And you guys are celebrating your 50 year anniversary. So what kind of events are planned to celebrate this occasion?

Naomi Horton:
Yeah, well, lots. So we’ve already had a few of them. We had a great day at the children’s museum a few months ago for the kiddos. We wanted to do something for all ends of our constituents. So the littlest one’s got their 50th anniversary celebration already, but in October, we’re going to have a two day event. So here there’ll will be an open house on Friday, October the eighth, from six to eight, where you can tour the facility, see the sound booth, see our cochlear implant mapping rooms, meet some of our clinicians. I think we’re going to have a little bit of entertainment I just heard as well. So that’ll be fun. And then on Saturday, October the night, that’ll be our big gala.

Naomi Horton:
I’ve just been blown away by reaching out to families. That, of course, I didn’t know all of them, but were involved 50 years ago, meeting their children who are not children anymore, they’re in their fifties, but it’s just been amazing to hear the stories of what the organization did for them, whether it was attending our summer speech and language campus, the Hear Indiana camp that we have listening and spoken language camp, or whether it was attending one of our parent encouragement nights, which we usually do once pre COVID, it’s a once a month event.

Naomi Horton:
They’ve just found their people. I mean, I really feel like our kids will say it at camp. They find their home because often, especially in the population we serve, and these are primarily deaf children who use listening and spoken language as their primary communication mode, which means that they’re in a mainstream environment. But that also might mean they don’t know anybody else who’s like them. So coming to our camp and seeing other kids who are just like them. It’s a life-changing experience. So we’re going to be celebrating all of that.

Josh Anderson:
Awesome. And you kind of brought that up and I know that is something, because even though you’re kind of mainstream, it’s nice to not have the person that you have to explain, what is that?

Naomi Horton:
I think that’s literally the most common thing on the surveys from camp it’s like, “What was your favorite about camp?” And they’ll say, “To not have to explain what is on my head.” Okay.

Josh Anderson:
Not one person asked me for an entire week. And it was absolutely amazing. Well kind of along the same line as that last question, what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment with Hear Indiana over the last 15 years? And I know it’s hard to bring it down to it to one thing, but what do you really feel like? Or what are you most proud of? I know in this business we take pride in our work, but it’s almost impossible to talk about ourselves, but I’m going to put you on the spot.

Naomi Horton:
Well, it’s funny. I was just looking at a note from one of our speech language pathologist, who said, “Thank you for teaching me that when you think there’s not a way there’s always a way.” And if that’s something I really did, then that is probably my biggest moment of pride. Because for those who know me really well, I don’t take no for answers. If somebody says that, “No, we can’t, we can’t afford that.” Or we know that legislation isn’t worth your time. To me, saying no is like, how can I do it? I will find a way. And so thankfully we have assembled an amazing team here at Hear Indiana who shares that passion for these families. They will go to the ends for them to make sure they find a way.

Josh Anderson:
That’s excellent. That’s excellent. Well, how can our listeners find out more about Hear Indiana, your upcoming events and just everything that you guys offer?

Naomi Horton:
Yeah. So find us either on our website hearindiana.org, we’re on Facebook, also facebook.com/hearindiana. Were on Instagram and LinkedIn and all of those handles. But I think the best place to find information about the 50th anniversary would be to go to the events section of our website. And also while you’re on our website, make sure you sign up for our emails. We do send out a lot of information, whether you’re a parent of a child with hearing loss, an adult who has hearing loss and some of those tales I’m telling you where it rings true you remember, and maybe you’ve fallen off our mailing list over the last 50 years. We’d love to re-engage with you. And last but not least, I guess I didn’t even mention it. Professionals, we host an annual conference for teachers for the deaf, speech language pathologist, administrators. So make sure you join our mailing list while you’re on our website. So you can get all that information.

Josh Anderson:
Excellent. We will put links to that on down in the show notes. Well, Naomi, thank you so much for coming on and I know we’re just tipping the iceberg on everything that Hear Indiana does, but thank you so much for telling us about what you do for folks all over the state of Indiana.

Naomi Horton:
Well, thank you for having me.

Josh Anderson:
Do you have a question about Assistive Technology? Do you have a suggestion for someone we should interview on Assistive Technology Update? If so, call our listener line at (317) 721-7124. Send us an email at tech@eastersealscrossroads.org, or shoot us a [inaudible 00:26:22] on Twitter at NDATA project. Our captions and transcripts for the show are sponsored by the Indiana Telephone Relay Access Corporation or InTRAC. You can find out more about InTRAC at relayindiana.com, a special thanks to Nicole Prieto for scheduling our amazing guests and making a mess of my schedule. Today’s show was produced, edited, hosted, and fraught over by yours truly. The opinions expressed by our guests are their own and may or may not reflect those of the INDATA project Easterseals Crossroads, our supporting partners or this host. This was your Assistive Technology Update and I’m Josh Anderson with the INDATA project at Easterseals Crossroads in beautiful Indianapolis Indiana. We look forward to seeing you next time. Bye-bye.

 

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