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The Gift of Hearing

An Australian trainer shares a moment with a hearing guide dog.

An Australian trainer shares a moment with a hearing guide dog.

The Gift of Hearing

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Touchstone Story #75

Lions around the world are working to raise awareness, bring medical care and provide education to help prevent hearing loss. More than 275 million people worldwide are hearing-impaired or deaf, according to the World Health Organization.

Just as vision-related programs have been a key element of Lions Clubs International activities since before Helen Keller called on Lions in 1925 to carry out a “crusade against darkness,” Lions have also been prominent in the battle to help people with hearing impairments.

It’s an important fight. Keller, who was deaf as well as blind, understood the isolation that hearing impairments can impose.  

“Blindness separates people from things,” she once said, but “deafness separates people from people.”

Lions formally identified hearing conservation as a major activity in the early 1970s. That effort gained momentum when Past International President Ralph A. Lynam, who served from 1978 to 1979, designated helping the hearing impaired as his major program

In countries from India to the U.S., Lions have equipped special mobile screening units to screen infants for hearing problems, as early diagnosis is key to learning and socialization. These “hearing vans” go to shopping malls and crowded city neighborhoods.

Lions also offer special camps where children who are deaf can enjoy the outdoors while learning skills that help them to navigate a silent world. Some camps such as Camp Pacifica and the Lions Wilderness Camp for Deaf Children, which opened in California in 1979 and 1980 respectively, specialize in hosting children with hearing impairments. In addition, many of Lions’ summer camps for children who are disabled offer special sessions for children with hearing impairments. 

Lions put their experience creating programs to improve sight and prevent blindness to work in creating programs to serve people with hearing loss. Just as Lions collect and refurbish used eyeglasses for distribution, they created the Hearing Aid Recycling Program in 2000 to refurbish and distribute hearing aids.

And just as guide dogs offer remarkable help to people who are blind or visually impaired, Lions help fund programs for dogs to guide people with hearing impairments. These hearing guide dogs are trained to respond to household sounds like a knock on the door, a smoke alarm or even a baby’s cry. “We’re all ears for the hearing impaired,” is the motto of the Lions’ hearing dog program in Australia, which trains its own dogs.

Because surgical interventions and equipment can be costly, Lions often provide financial assistance. But aid comes in other forms, too. Lions conduct public-awareness programs to educate their neighbors about protecting hearing and identifying hearing problems in youngsters. Sometimes, that guidance can be priceless.

In the U.S., at the Lions Hearing Center of Michigan in Detroit, Toni Cannon-Mitchell found counseling and free services for her son M.J. after learning he was deaf. Without the help of the Lions facility, which opened in 1999, M.J. wouldn’t have made the fine progress he has achieved “and he might not have the bright future he has now,” she said.

The Bangalore East Lions Club in India uses a mobile screening unit to provide newborns with crucial hearing exams.

The Bangalore East Lions Club in India uses a mobile screening unit to provide newborns with crucial hearing exams.  

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