Susan Whitaker has a lot of experience with support groups. From organizing a stroke survivor group to joining a Denver-based tinnitus group, she knows how to foster a community. His next goal is to start a support group for people with hearing loss in the Panhandle.
“I had kind of heard through the Deaf Community Vine that there was a support group in this area. People think they would love to have one again,” said Whitaker, a hearing loss specialist. advocacy for the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing “…I thought that would be a really good thing for our community.”
She is still in the planning stages of the group, sending out calls to clients to spread the word about it. On Friday afternoon, she said she heard from about half a dozen people who had expressed interest in attending. The first meeting is scheduled for Thursday, November 4 from 7 to 8 p.m. It will take place at the State Office Building at 505A Broadway. Whitaker said that once the group is formed, I hope word will spread and others will join.
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The support of Educational Service Unit 13 has made it possible for even more people to get to know the group. If more people than expected show up, they may need to change their meeting location to one that can accommodate a larger group.
“Hopefully we’ll have that problem,” Whitaker said.
One problem she doesn’t want the group to face is that people are reluctant to join because they don’t want others to know they are hard of hearing. This is often a problem for people who have just been diagnosed and who may feel self-conscious about their hearing loss.
“I think one of the challenges is getting people to understand that this group is there to support them and not to judge them or anything like that,” she said.
The group will help reduce anxiety and help people get used to living with hearing loss.
Whitaker said the first meeting would be more of an introductory session allowing attendees to define the specifics of the group. She wants the group to be self-sufficient and let the members determine meeting times and discussion topics.
One option for the group, she said, would be to bring in guest speakers. Local experts like audiologist Kurt Fahrenbrook or otolaryngologist James Massey are some of the examples provided by Whitaker. She said another way to bring in speakers would be to set up virtual meetings to allow group members to interact with experts from all over. Other meetings might focus on hearing aid technology and financing options or types of hearing loss. Another topic of discussion is disaster preparedness, an issue that people with hearing loss often struggle with, Whitaker said.
Many of the people who have expressed interest in joining so far have been older. However, a few parents of hearing-impaired children have also contacted Whitaker. It would be nice to have a mix of ages, she said, “So they can share their experiences and encourage each other.”
Family members of hearing impaired people will also be welcomed into the group.
Whitaker said the support group will strive for a mix of advocacy and education. She wants people to be in a supportive environment to discuss these issues, but she also wants attendees to be able to learn new ways to cope with hearing loss. “I hope people will come out and not be afraid to admit they have hearing loss,” she said. “…I really want them to come here and feel comfortable.”