By Kim Ward
This is an interview with Cheri Perazzoli, Director of Advocacy for HLAA – Washington, and founder of Let’s Loop Seattle, which is part of the HLAA’s bigger Get in the Hearing Loop. Cheri is a relentless advocate for the installation of hearing loop systems in the state of Washington, especially in the Puget Sound region. Additionally she has been working with other HLAA members pushing for changes in Washington State laws to better serve people with hearing loss. If you live in Washington State, you can read more on Loop Seattle’s web page about the bills recently introduced to Washington State’s Senate– SB 5177, SB 5178, SB 5179 and HB 2856. Be sure to write your legislators in support of these bills.
I first met Cheri when she came to my library branch to outfit my desk with a hearing loop system back in 2011. This was quite a surprise at the time, as I had no idea Cheri had spoken to staff at KCLS, or that they would be installing a loop system at my branch.
The loop works with my hearing devices to cut down on background noise, and it increases clarity in speech. The best part about the loop system is that it is two-way: any library patron who wears a hearing device with a t-coil also benefits from the loop.
If you don’t know what a hearing loop is, you can watch this video created by OTOjOY.
Those of you who have gone to a SWC Convention in the past have experienced induction loop technology first hand, and you know how wonderful it is. I was thrilled when Cheri agreed to be interviewed for the SWC blog. She has been an outspoken advocate on our Advocacy List, and she has a lot of good information to share.
K: How was your hearing loss discovered and how long have you worn hearing devices?
C: Second grade, following a measles epidemic, my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, who was also my second-grade teacher noticed. How? I’m unsure. Looking back, I’d become great friends with Mark, the boy who sat behind me. I probably asked him everything I didn’t hear. Each afternoon, I told my teacher I didn’t feel well and asked to go home. I wasn’t unhappy or sick. I simply wanted to go home. Looking back, I was probably bored and most likely exhausted from active listening. Also, my pupils were always dilated. Thanks to this article by UW’s Dr. Matthew Winn, we know now large pupils are a sign of active listening.
K: Interesting. I didn’t know that about the pupils. People used to comment on the size of my pupils all the time. Cheri, was there anyone in your early life who mentored you, or who inspired you to be more assertive about your needs?
C: Teachers were mostly supportive, and always instructed me to speak up when I couldn’t hear. But, that itself, was a problem. I usually only spoke up when I had made a blunder or error because I misheard or was unable to understand clearly.
K: Classroom situations can be really challenging. Even with hearing aids you don’t hear the questions coming from other parts of the room. If the teacher doesn’t repeat the question you’re left to guess what she’s talking about, especially if her answer is vague– like “Yes that’s right.” So your teachers were supportive?
C: My second-grade teacher made it clear that I needed to sit close to the front. After that year, she became principal, thus her advocacy for me extended throughout elementary school, even school activities. I always sat in the front at almost every school or church event. And, yes, I sometimes sat alone without any friends or family. In those days, there wasn’t an issue securing “priority” seating for most programs I attended.
K: So, it sounds like you learned to advocate for yourself early, and your teacher reinforced your self-advocacy by finding ways to include you. How did you get past that “good girls don’t make waves” mentality?
C: I was given an assigned seat along with a group of three “bad boys.” While the other students rotated seats, we were stuck with each other all year, so we became close friends. My hearing loss wasn’t obvious in small groups or one-on-one. Distance and competing noise were the offenders. While these guys didn’t mentor or advocate for me, they did stick up for me on the playground or at the lunch table. And as we grew older, these boys became the popular guys, which helped me stay connected in high school.
I’ve been blessed to have close friends who have been instrumental in keeping me connected in my journey. Michele frequently repeats for me. She’ll look over and say ‘did you hear what she said? And Suzi casually calls out “Cheri gets shotgun,” because she knows I hear best from the front seat. My college roommate assured me no one would notice my hearing aids and convinced me it was essential to wear my hair up, to look the part of my Halloween costume. Friends knew I wore hearing aids, but I hated the way they looked. I still do. (The only aids I liked were my pretty blue Phonak aids with blue molds.)
K: My favorites were zebra print Phonaks. I really dislike medical beige. I don’t recall hearing aids coming out in designer colors until the 1990s, but I could be wrong.
C: The aids I have today are boring grey. These state of the art, super power Resounds are the only ones I could get that “communicate with each other” and connect directly with the iPhone. (Yes, I can decorate, but I haven’t.)
K: Right, my current devices are beige, but I chose them for their features, not their color options, which in my case doesn’t matter since my hair covers them.
K: Switching gears. When did you first become aware of hearing loops?
C: 2008. But I did know about Hearing Assistive Technology (HAT). I had a Sennheiser infrared TV headset before the Paramount remodel where the same devices were introduced for the HOH public.
K: When did you become actively involved in advocacy? And why?
C: 2011. I like to say advocacy on behalf of others. In some cases, it’s easier to advocate on behalf of an organization, rather than just for yourself.
. . . I think that for me, I just don’t have anything to lose. What I mean by that, is because I’m “retired” I don’t have to deal with the day to day frustrations that’s needed to secure accommodations and to garner the support of colleagues to change their behavior for me to participate. I can choose who I hang out with, who I work with, thus, if these folks aren’t accommodating, I find folks who are.
It all began with a vision: a vision of hearing-friendly Seattle. I wanted to duplicate and expand on what I had experienced in Dublin.
After attending my first HLAA convention in D.C (held in conjunction with the 2nd international loop conference), I returned to Seattle as a woman on a mission. I knew I had to step up and be a voice for my people. I was inspired from the moment I walked into my first workshop: The Looping of America Begins with You, followed by John Waldo’s, Update on Movie Captioning; then David Myer’s keynote speech. David’s UK hearing loop experience had mirrored mine. He had pretty much looped his entire town, Holland, Michigan. By the time I was on the plane home, I had connected with both John and David, and there was no turning back.
K: Describe some of your greatest successes in hearing loop advocacy. I know about a couple of them — Town Hall and Seattle Repertory Theater. How did you convince them to add hearing loops to their auditoriums? What was your strategy?
C: Strategy- I think about hearing access every day.
- People- network, find a buddy, build a coalition — and remember to say thank you, often.
C: Seattle was a priority from the beginning. I targeted Town Hall for the rich diversity of programs offered, their affordability (most events are under $5, and many are free), the closeness to senior communities, and TH’s dominance of the civic, scientific, and cultural arts scene. TH rents the venue to many non-profit organizations that should budget for accessibility—but they often don’t.
Our big break with Town Hall came via Katherine Bouton. Katherine had asked if she might she speak at a HLAA-WA chapter meeting while she was in town promoting her book, Shouting Won’t Help. I saw this as a dream come true. I saw this as a way to reach an audience much larger than our chapter:
“Make hearing loss visible; deliver the audience.”
That’s when Weir Harmon, Executive Director, realized that we were an audience of many—yet, still we were excluded. Town Hall was sold on the idea, but they wanted to delay till the remodel, which is just now underway. Fortunately, Town Hall agreed to a multi phased installation.
“Tend to your venue.”
I got this phrase from my HLAA colleague Peggy Ellersten. It’s so important to reach out frequently to let the venue know how much you appreciate the accessibility, whether it’s a loop, captions, or priority seating. It’s also important to let them know when something isn’t working and help them correct the problem.
K: That is excellent advice. Thanks.
This is the first part of a three-part series. Many cities in the US and Europe have a Looping Advocacy division. I mentioned in a previous blog about the loop finder app at http://www.loopfinder.com Cheri’s website includes a list of US Loop Advocacy organizations. To find out if there is one in your area, go here.