Special Olympics Wisconsin announced a new partnership for its Healthy Hearing programming this spring. HEAR Wisconsin—the state’s “premier provider of comprehensive services and resources for children, adults, and seniors who are deaf or hard of hearing”—will showcase new and innovative tools and techniques at select Special Olympics Wisconsin sporting events.
For HEAR Wisconsin, the partnership was obvious.
“HEAR Wisconsin has extensive experience serving children and adults with hearing loss throughout Wisconsin and when we learned about the opportunity to partner with SOWI we were excited to do so,” HEAR Wisconsin Director of Strategic Initiatives Mark Stein said. “HEAR Wisconsin is honored to be part of SOWI and looks forward to a partnership that benefits the athletes and helps raise awareness about the importance of quality hearing healthcare.”
A major feature of the partnership included the rollout and implementation of the Mobile Audiology Clinic (MAC), a vehicle quite literally delivering hearing healthcare and hearing conservation services right to the competition venue.
“HEAR Wisconsin and SOWI began discussions about how HEAR Wisconsin’s state-of-the-art new Mobile Audiology Clinic could be integrated into the Healthy Athletes Program in the spring of 2021—months before MAC was even built,” Stein said. “With MAC having comprehensive clinical mobile audiology capabilities that could be brought to the SOWI event locations, we knew that we would be able to not only increase the number of athletes who could be seen, but also to enhance the services provided.”
Stein said along with MAC’s onboard clinical equipment, the vehicle is staffed with Doctors of Audiology and trained certified technicians. In addition, MAC also promotes its onboard Assistive Technology Center where HEAR Wisconsin’s expert staff can demonstrate and educate about the Wisconsin Telecommunication Equipment Purchase Program (TEPP), helping individuals with disabilities gain access to adaptive equipment at low or no cost.
Healthy Hearing screenings are free exams designed to ensure proper audiological care for participating Special Olympics athletes. Led by volunteer professionals, Healthy Hearing also provides tests for cerumen (ear wax) and otoacoustic emissions tests. The amount of hearing loss among Special Olympics athletes is much greater than that found in the general population. Most athletes’ hearing problems are previously undetected, un-served or under-treated.
“As the Doctor of Audiology working on MAC at that event, I provided services needed by the athletes including further hearing evaluation, hearing aid repair, cleaning, maintenance, and earwax (cerumen) removal,” HEAR Wisconsin Doctor of Audiology Armona Nadler-Strick said. “Most of the athletes seen on MAC needed cerumen removal, which is important particularly for folks with disabilities who often experience higher incidence of issues with cerumen buildup. After successful cerumen removal, one athlete passed his hearing screening! Another athlete who failed his screening was referred for a full clinical hearing evaluation with an audiologist.”
Nadler-Strick said hearing and communications concerns always warrant a hearing evaluation with an audiologist. The evaluation often sheds light on the nature of the problem and proper treatment—all made possible with the robust onboard tools and personnel MAC can provide.
In addition to providing benefits to our SOWI athletes, events like Healthy Hearing also provide integral training for students bound for the medical field.
“Screening the hearing of the athletes is one of the best ways in which I can provide critical clinical education to my students,” SOWI Healthy Hearing Clinical Director and Assistant Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at UW-Stevens Point Rachel Craig said. “As a Healthy Hearing Clinical Director, I recruit audiology graduate students from the Wisconsin Audiology Consortium program at Madison and Stevens Point to help test hearing at a scheduled event. Not only do the students enjoy working with the athletes, but the skills gained working with this population is invaluable!
“For various reasons, follow-up care for this population has been lacking for quite some time,” Craig said. “A major goal of Healthy Athletes is to reduce follow-up and/or find a way to get the athletes that fail a screening the follow-up care they need. Partnering with Hear Wisconsin and having MAC on-site helps to minimize the need for follow-up outside of the Special Olympics event and is such a great step toward meeting this goal.”