Editor's Note: This is the next in a series of stories about the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.
BELPRE - Those with hearing impairments can receive assistance locally to get hearing aids, educational services and more through the Parents and Friends of the Hearing Impaired.
PFHI, which receives $6,000 from the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley, is a non-profit organization that provides a social and educational climate to fill the needs of children and adults with hearing problems as well as their families.
Photo by Brett Dunlap
James McCauley, executive director for Parents and Friends of the Hearing Impaired, sits with an old-style TDD (telephone device for the deaf) that was used to help people with hearing impairments be able to communicate over the telephone. The organization receives $6,000 annually from the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley to assist deaf or hearing impaired children and aging adults.
"We try to provide whatever services are necessary for the deaf and the hard of hearing in the communities on both sides of the river," said James McCauley, executive director for PFHI. "There is no paid staff. The program is staffed and run completely by volunteers."
The program provides early identification so proper remedial action can be taken; speech and language development for children from birth to 5 years so a child can develop communication skills; community services to help with specific problems an individual or family might be facing; and financial assistance to help low income individuals purchase flashing-light smoke detectors, signaling devices for doorbells and telephones as well as providing financing options to get hearing aids.
The organization started in 1974 when a group of parents, friends and teachers found themselves in a situation where they had six pre-school age children who were deaf and there were no school programs or other services available to them. They began working through the Marietta School System to establish needed services.
McCauley became involved with the organization a year later after he and his wife adopted a daughter and found out she was hearing impaired.
"We were some of those casting about for help here," he said.
The organization was able to establish a hearing impaired pre-school group.
"We were successful in getting the first hearing impaired school unit in the state of Ohio," McCauley said.
A child learns the majority of their language skills in the first few years of life.
"If you can't hear then you lose all of that learning experience," McCauley said.
The group worked to make sure services were available so children could have that developmental time to learn important skills. McCauley's daughter was able to eventually graduate from Belpre High School after attending public schools in Marietta.
"What we learned is you communicate with that child anyway you can," McCauley said.
The children were able to meet with a certified teacher who taught them to sign and the parents also began learning sign language.
McCauley said the first four words everyone learns to sign is "mommy," "daddy," "potty" and "no."
Through working to help children sign, they understand words and what they mean. In many cases, the child will try to speak the word.
In addition to young children, the group provides assistance to the elderly who may be experiencing hearing loss, including helping them get hearing aids. The group has worked out special rates at businesses, like Pioneer Hearing Aids in Marietta, for people who may not be able to otherwise afford a hearing aid.
"Some elderly are starting to lose contact with the world and the people in their lives," McCauley said. "We are trying to help them stay in the mainstream of life as much as possible."
Financial assistance for certain services and equipment is available through PFHI for low-income residents. Funded through grants from the United Way, this assistance program is available to residents in the service area who have a family income of $2,500 or less a month.
The group was able to provide services to around 22 people last year and has served as many as 40 people at various other times.
A lot of things that required special equipment in the past, can now be handled through computers people use daily.
Services the PFHI has been able to help provide include a system where a teacher talks directly to a mic and the signal is transmitted directly to a student's hearing aid and it has helped provide various equipment for people living on their own to be able to communicate and be alerted to certain things.
The PFHI has held sign language classes for people in the past, but as other organizations have taken those classes up, the demand has diminished for the group to handle it exclusively.
"It depends on the situation," McCauley said.
For more information, PFHI representatives can be reached at (740) 423-9548, (740) 423-8416 or (740) 373-1337.