Pictured from left, WISH-TV anchor Dave Barras, Tamika Catchings, hard of hearing WNBA All-Star with the Indiana Fever, Naomi Huber Horton (’02), and WISH-TV Ancho Patty Spitler.
In May of 2002, I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill (MS/SLP) with a focus in pediatric aural rehabilitation. Eager to begin working with children and their families, I opened my own business, Horton Hears LLC, in 2003 in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Through Horton Hears, I provided listening and spoken language therapy to infants, toddlers, and school age children with hearing loss. I also saw how time and time again the “systems” were failing my clients and their families.
Indiana’s early intervention program was refusing to pay for Spanish interpreters for my therapy, and as a result, those children on my caseload were quickly falling behind. Cleary the powers that be in Indiana had never taken a course with Dr. Crais, or they would have known that an early interventionist’s job is to encourage parents to be the teachers.
School-age services were not much better. School districts were rarely providing auditory verbal therapy and current FM technology to my clients. The stories piled up, and finally in 2008 I decided to dedicate my time to promoting systems change in Indiana. To this end, I joined the board of directors for Hear Indiana, a chapter of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (AG Bell). It quickly became apparent to our board that in order to make significant progress, we needed to hire an executive director. But with an annual operating budget of $25,000, how could Hear Indiana make that happen?
A start-up grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled Hear Indiana to hire me to launch AG Bell’s Hear from the Start, Talk for a Lifetime Campaign. The start-up grant quickly paid dividends. In 2011, we raised $55,000 and had 700 attendees at the 8th Annual Talk Walk Run (5K). We now have over 4,000 individuals and organizations in our database. Our programs, which encompass advocacy, parent support, a week-long camp, and an annual conference, directly assist over 300 individuals, including children with hearing loss, deaf and hard of hearing adults, and the professionals who serve them. In the last four years our operating budget quadrupled, and the recent demand for our services permitted the hiring of an administrative assistant, an intern, and a development director.
We have made great strides, but sadly, many of our schools are still falling short of providing a free and appropriate public education for deaf students who use hearing and speech for communication. On July 27, 2011, the need to increase Indiana’s budget for deaf education was discussed on the front page of The New York Times. As I stated in that article: “No one wants to take the American Sign Language option away; we simply want to see that parents who choose listening and spoken language instruction (over placement at the Indiana School for the Deaf) have equal access to a free and appropriate public education.”
Naturally I miss providing therapy, but I go to work every day for Hear Indiana because I believe all parents deserve the right to choose the communication mode that best fits their family, and that all families regardless of their socioeconomic status should have access to their choice. For more information visit our Facebook Cause: Doing Deaf Differently.