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By Dr. Juliette Sterkens

I heard David Myers speak in October 2008 at a Wisconsin HLAA meeting in Menomonie. I probably would not have attended this meeting if it weren't for the fact that our daughter goes to school in this small town and we wanted to try out our new tandem bike on the trails in that area.

I heard him elaborate about how successful he had been in bringing hearing loop technology to Western Michigan. In 1981 I had moved to Wisconsin from the Netherlands, where loops had been in use for a long time so I had occasionally wondered why they never made it over in this country.

On our tandem ride that afternoon we made our plans: we wanted to make the Fox Valley Communities accessible for persons with hearing loss just like David Myers had done in Western Michigan. Max decided to retire early from test and development engineer career and become "my" loop installer. From then on I spent every spare moment on the telephone. I called churches, city council members, museum and Seniors Centers directors, and even spoke with an architect from the Oshkosh Convention Center that was being remodeled at that time. I started talking to my patients about what the T-coil was for. The best thing we probably did was to install a large flat screen TV and hearing loop in our office waiting room. Demonstrations were invaluable. How do you explain to a person that they are missing something, when they don't know what they are missing? I even had a church council meeting in my waiting room so those with hearing aids could experience a loop.

Within a month I had support from local Foundation for a loop installation at the Oshkosh Convention Center. A church under construction agreed to put the loop wire in so that an installation would be easier later, the Seniors Center wanted a loop for a large meeting room and a patient offered to fund an installation in a church in memory of her husband. Max attended hearing loop installation training and he installed two large loops at our Oshkosh Convention Center under remodeling a week before the carpeting went in.

I then contacted every audiologist and dispenser in a 30-40 mile radius and informed them of the Fox Valley Hearing Loop Initiative and asked them to discuss the usefulness of T-coils. I created a binder with a list of churches in community and now ask every patient routinely what church they belong to, if they have trouble hearing and if I may use their name when I speak to ministers and other patients.

I formed a Facebook group and invite fellow professionals, patients, their friends and family to join this group to stay informed. I email to everyone who wants information. I hand out Fox Valley Hearing Loop Initiative copies, progress notes of what has been accomplished and FAQ sheets. I endlessly reprogram instruments, hand everyone an information sheet on how to use the different programs (MT vs. T), how to access the programs and I then follow up with a demo in the waiting room. About 80% of the hearing instruments we dispense come standard with a T-coil, though I don't always gave access to the t-coil program. Recently I attended a public hearing about a $40M new campus building and was pleased to find out that hearing loops are now seriously being considered for this building, thanks to some induction loop info I sent them.

Thus far we have 10 churches and 3 venues looped, and several other churches are awaiting site visits. Each installation involves not only the actual placement of the loop but follow-up at worship services, creation of hand-outs and brochures and decals for windows. The churches in return are asked to promote the loops by making announcements before every worship service, adding written information in their bulletins, and sending news-releases to the newspaper. We have found out that church secretaries know lots of people and often they do not belong to the church they work for. This helps to spread the news fast.

What is needed now? There is so much to do: first of all we need awareness of all hearing instrument users that if they do not get instruments with t-coils they will be literally left out of the loop! We need trained installers who are willing to work with audiologists, hearing instrument specialists and local HLAA groups to make hearing loops the standard. We need all dispensers of instruments to become involved as this will make their patients so much happier with their instruments. I also need community awareness: People who operate public places need to understand that hearing aid users are frequently not hearing well for reasons out of the control of the users and venue operators and that this induction technology can makes a world of difference. By speaking to service organizations I hope to do just that. Awareness on the part of the clergy is also needed. This summer we are asked to install a temporary loop and address the annual meeting of 600+ members of the United Church of Christ in Green Lake. I am hoping that this will help to spread the word in Wisconsin. I have spoken with three different area charitable foundations in the hopes of securing financial support for an awareness campaign but the recession has pretty nixed my chances there. So now Max and I have focused on making the installations affordable and hoping word of mouth will do the rest.

Why did I become a "hearing loop activist"? I do it because I believe with all my heart, that hearing loops are the missing link to hearing aids. I agree with David Myers, when he said that hearing loops will do for hearing instruments what Wi-Fi has done for laptops. I want to make a difference in the life of persons with hearing loss; in my office I can only help one person at a time, but through these loops I will be helping thousands of folks. I know this may sound pretty hokey, but I would die a happy woman knowing I pulled this off in the Fox Valley. In addition, it would have made my father, who was hard of hearing himself, very proud!

I would like to thank a few persons: my husband Max, as he is the one who supports me 100%. Without his technical know-how this would not have taken off: My sister, who flew in from Germany to help me set up the financial side of the business: Cindy, a patient who has helped to set up a website: Audiologists Doreen Jensen and Candy McGinnis-Dahl who are helping to spread the word among our patients and the Fox Valley and last but not least, David Myers, who has is cheers me on and is always ready with support.

BIO of Juliëtte Sterkens, AuD:

  • Born & raised in the Netherlands. Educated and licensed in the Netherlands as a speech-pathologist-akoupedist (1979). Masters in Audiology from UW-Oshkosh (1983) & AuD from Arizona School of Health Sciences Arizona (2006). Private Practice owner since 1988 of Fox Valley Hearing Center, Inc with Doreen Jensen, fellow audiologist - located in Oshkosh WI, with offices in Neenah and Ripon. Owner of Fox Valley Hearing Loop, LLC

Bio: LeRoy "Max" Maxfield

  • Born & raised in Burlington, WI. United States Military Academy - BS in Engineering (1969), Masters in Mechanical Engineering UWM 1983. US Army Signal Corps from 1969-1980. Retired test & development engineer Oshkosh (Truck) Corporation 1982-2009. Owner of Fox Valley Hearing Loop, LLC.

We have been married 27+ years and we have two children: Joëlle and Lars. I love to cook, travel, and garden and I specialize in spring flowering Dutch bulbs (what else?) and tending to the fish in my water garden. Max loves to study astronomy and is an avid runner.