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Opening Session and Keynote Address

By Cheryl Heppner, 6/17/11 

Hearing Loss Association of America has a unique opening session, different from most other conferences and conventions I attend. The session and keynote presentation are held at the end of the first official day of the convention instead of at the day’s beginning. One advantage of doing this can be that there are people who continue to arrive during the day, so the audience is larger. This certainly seems to be one of the most well-attend HLAA conference opening sessions I’ve attended.HLAA, as well as larger national organizations for deaf and hard of hearing persons like TDI and NAD, adds more sophistication and polish to each new opening session. What a stirring evening they gave us! Things kicked off with a uniquely local spectacle, the presentation of colors by the U.S. Army Continental Color Guard, the Army’s premier ceremonial unit and escort to the President of the United States. This was followed by the pledge of allegiance.

Welcomes and Thanks

Peter Fackler, President of the HLAA Board of Trustees, welcomed us to the convention and recognized delegates, state and chapter leaders, fellow members of the board of trustees, volunteers, and distinguished guests.

Barbara Kelley, HLAA Deputy Executive Director, applauded the Kennedy Center for its work in making possible a groundbreaking evening of live theater on Friday with a performance of the musical “Wicked” for conference attendees that features live captioning, infrared and loop listening systems, and sign language interpreters. The evening is sponsored by CTIA “The Wireless Association” and Audiotoniq.

This year’s HLAA convention has attendees from 11 countries, she reported. As Barbara gave a preview of things to come, she noted that a group of young adults were on a scavenger hunt at locations around the nation’s capitol, made possible through sponsorship by Starkey. At the end of the hunt these young adults would kick back with a musician and illusionist sponsored by Sorenson.

A Place in Our Hearts

The opening session then segued into a series of segments with strong emotional impact.

Virginians who belong to an HLAA chapter will well remember Vic Matsui, who was at one time the state chapter coordinator. Vic has gone on to become a member and officer of the HLAA Board of Trustees. He led a tribute to those suffering in the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe in Japan, calling the Japanese a model of stoicism. Despite the widespread destruction and loss, there was no looting and the Japanese people banded together to help and support each other. HLAA has had a long relationship with the Japanese organization for people with hearing loss, Zennancho, which goes back to the days when Donna Sorkin was the HLAA executive director. After the disasters, HLAA took the initiative to address the issues of hard of hearing persons, talking with the Counselor of the Japanese Embassy, Airia Nisikawa, whose son is hard of hearing.

Counselor Nisikawa, with his son Ayuma at his side, spoke of how thankful the Japanese people were for the American rescue teams and the Americans always being there for them, supporting them with generous donations. Auyuma, he said, wears two hearing aids but one is broken. He hopes to train as an audiologist and return to Japan.

At the end of his remarks, the audience gave Counselor Nisikawa a sustained standing ovation. Counselor Nisikawa then presented a gift from Zennacho, a Japanese flag. Vic Matsui explained that the Japanese flag is treated differently than the American flag. It is often used to send messages. In this case, Zennacho had folded the flag into a crane to be signed by its American friends and then sent back to Zennacho. It is currently in the exhibit area where people can stop by and sign it.

HAA Staff Recognition

Brenda Battat, HLAA Executive Director, gave an update and showed a video about HLAA. She talked about HLAA’s work on hearing aid compatibility.

After recognizing the HLAA staff, she noted that 75{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc} of people who could benefit from a hearing aid still do not have one. The most common reason they give for this is the cost. A large number of calls and website visits continue to be made by people looking for financial help. This has led to HLAA’s launch of a new campaign to improve Access for Affordable Hearing Health Care. Its overall focus is to start a dialogue with various parties to get treatment for hearing loss provided early.

Walk4 Hearing Update

The Walk4Hearing has helped to raise awareness since 2006 with 2,000 walkers and has raised $3 million. Brenda recognized the 2011 Walk4Hearing National Business Chair, Mike Orscheln, CEO of Phonak. Mike, who has been leader of the Chicago Walk4Hearing event for the past two years, talked about Phonak’s dedication to enrich the lives of those with hearing loss by providing the best products. He recalled a day of profound revelation when he was in his 40s and woke up with the realization he could not hear in one ear. He rolled over and could hear fine with the other. Up to this point in his life he was “totally unaware” of the impact of hearing loss.


 "Wicked" at the Kennedy Center
Vic Matsui
Brenda Battat
Walk4Hearing 2010