A University of Nebraska–Lincoln project that helps children with hearing disorders is expanding.
Launched in 2007 by UNL’s Stacie Ray, HearU Nebraska provides hearing aids to children whose families might not be able to afford them. This summer, Ray, an associate professor of practice in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders, is expanding the idea, creating HearU International to provide audiology services to children in Central America.
From July 30 to Aug. 10, Ray; Hannah Ditmars, assistant professor of practice; and four students seeking a doctorate in audiology will assist individuals at three locations in Nicaragua. The group will focus on children, while also serving working-age individuals in hopes of helping them secure jobs to provide for their families.
“Our purpose is to be able to impact the lives of the individuals in Nicaragua so that they cam be more connected,” Ray said. “We want to help connect people with services that are already there and help build services that do not currently exist.”
The project is also designed to have an educational impact on the participating UNL students.
“We want to enhance their educational opportunities and get them to think beyond our borders, while giving them the tools they need to build their own humanitarian program,” Ray said.
The group will arrive in Managua and work with Mayflower Medical Outreach at a clinic in Jinotega for three days. Ray and Ditmars know of just one full-time audiologist in the country of more than 6 million people, but Mayflower Medical Outreach has trained audiology technicians in Jinotega that the group will work alongside.
The group will also travel to León, providing services at the León School for the Deaf. In the nearby town of Quezalguaque, they will also train a nurse to help patients with hearing aid follow up.
“That will be the first time anyone has been to Quezalguaque, that we know of, to provide any kind of hearing health care,” Ray said. “The biggest component for us is making sure we’re building a sustainable humanitarian audiology program.
“In order to make sure it is sustainable, we have to be able to train technicians in the country who can troubleshoot the hearing aids in case something happens once we leave.”
At each location, the group will conduct screenings and diagnostic tests, before fitting hearing aids for those who need them. Ray and Ditmars have set a goal to fit up to 80 individuals with hearing aids. They will also leave extra supplies for trained technicians and the nurse to use.
In the United States, an average pair of hearing aids costs about $4,600, which is more than twice the gross national income per capita of less than $2,000 in Nicaragua. To offset the income disparity, Ray and Ditmars were able to purchase hearing aids with simple technology at a low cost through the non-profit International Humanitarian Hearing Aid Purchasing Program. This allows the group to provide an individual in Nicaragua with a pair of hearing aids, a one-year supply of batteries, a care kit with cleaning tools and a listening device for parents to make sure the hearing aids are working for $250. They will also cut costs by making custom ear molds while in Nicaragua.
Funding for HearU International is provided through the University of Nebraska Foundation and UNL’s College of Education and Human Sciences.