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Teamwork, ingenuity helping hearing impaired

Teamwork, ingenuity helping hearing impaired

Missions and Outreach

She lost her hearing in one ear to scarlet fever as a child. Years later when a doctor told Pat Smith she would lose her hearing in her other ear to Meniere's disease, she got in her car and a voice in the back seat told her, “'You will work for the deaf and the hearing-impaired.'”

Smith turned around, but no one was there. The incident scared her, but it moved her to act.

According to the Hearing Health Foundation and Hearing Loss Association of America, one in three Americans age 65 and older have hearing loss in at least one ear.

That number is loud and clear and seems accurate to Smith, a member of North Naples United Methodist Church for about three years. Initially, despite wearing a hearing aid, she could hear only two or three people talking in her Bible study Sunday school class.

Pat Smith and Dave Klaiber stand at the podium while using their hearing aid invention.
Pat Smith and Dave Klaiber, along with Dave's son, Dan, an audio engineer, formed a unique team of inventors at North Naples UMC recently. The end result was a system of microphones, receivers and audio speakers aiding the hearing impaired on Sunday mornings.

During winter season about 40 people typically attend the class. One-third—same as the national average—are wearing hearing aids or need to, Smith said.

“We had a lot of people just looking around, not understanding what's going on,” she said. “But when I started going, that was my mission.”

Two years ago, Smith did some research and made a presentation to Rev. Ted Sauter, North Naples UMC senior pastor, to relay the urgency of the dilemma for the hearing impaired, including the deaf. She called it “an epidemic.”

Her mission was aided by an “invention” introduced to the Sunday school class.

That “invention” by church member Dave Klaiber and son Dan, an audio engineer, was a system of wireless microphones and receivers and a speaker that can be bought at a local audio store. Dave's wife Brenda is hearing impaired.

Members rotate, teaching the class three or four times a year. Each week, the instructor wears a Lavalier microphone. Others use hand-held microphones when they wish to speak. The hearing-impaired classmates are in the front, sitting next to the speaker. Thanks to the system, the ordeal for hearing-impaired participants has improved dramatically, Smith said. They now can hear lectures and commentary better than before.

“It's taken us a while to get used to using the mic,” Smith said. At one point church officials moved the speaker, which was annoying some folks with regular hearing. “But it's marvelous. It's absolutely marvelous,” Smith said. “We can hear, and people can participate. Everybody is so excited. It's unbelievable how it really works.”

Smith is working with church officials to get the word out about the church's resources for the hearing impaired. Through her research, she found that some area churches have “loops,” devices that help congregants with hearing aids hear better in sanctuaries during church services. North Naples UMC has not yet adopted that technology, Smith said, but design plans for a new sanctuary likely will include it.

She also found that there are about 68 hearing-impaired children in local K-12 public schools. Those kids should be accommodated at church, Smith said.

“It's hard enough for parents to get kids up and get them to Sunday school; (even harder) when they can't even hear when they get there,” she said. “That's a sin.”

--Ed Scott is a freelance writer based in Venice.