The University of Texas at Austin Speech and Hearing Center, in operation since 1938, is both a training ground for students and a clinic for the Austin community. Director Ann Hillis (right) is shown here with Administrative Assistant Carmen Bruno.
For those who are challenged with a speech or hearing disorder and who struggle daily to convey their thoughts and feelings, success does not come easily. And yet, with the help of The University of Texas at Austin Speech and Hearing Center, they find that communication, and ultimately success, is not beyond their fingertips.
The University of Texas at Austin Speech and Hearing Center, founded in 1938, is the oldest program of its kind in the state of Texas. The center, founded three years prior to the establishment of the universitys Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the College of Communication, is a shining example of the symbiotic relationship shared by the university and the city of Austin. The program provides graduate students with a training ground for their clinical studies, and at the same time, offers invaluable services to a sector of the Austin community that might otherwise fall between the cracks of insurance and bureaucratic divides.
The center provides services for a variety of hearing and communication disorders, including congenital and acquired hearing loss, developmental speech and language disorders, voice disorders, and speech and language disorders due to stroke, head injury and other neurological impairments. Communication and language groups are available for clients with aphasia (the inability to produce and understand speech because of brain damage) and for parents with children who have language development problems. According to Director Ann Hillis, clients range in age from newborn to elderly. The centers youngest patient was one month old and the eldest was a man in his 90s.
We serve a wide spectrum of the community, she says. Its amazing what we can do with the space that we have. This is a tremendous opportunity to help people. There are so many people with hearing and speech difficulties. We currently are having a difficult time servicing the needs of our clients, and the demand just keeps growing.
Services are offered on a sliding fee scale, and rarely does a need go unfulfilled. However, due to growing popularity of the centers services, time and space constraints are increasing concerns. The center, originally housed in the Department of Speech Communications, is located in the Jesse H. Jones Communication Center CMA Building. Hillis walks through the offices and labs and points out masses of equipment that occupy every nook and cranny of space.
In 1993 we logged 2,000 client visits, says Hillis. In the year 2001 we logged 6,000 client visits. This represents a 300 percent increase in service in an eight-year span.
We are physically limited by the space we occupy, and in turn, we have to turn away students of the highest caliber, Hillis says. Each semester we accept only about half the students who apply for the program, due to limitations in space and lack of funding.
According to statistics provided by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, one in 10 Americans has some type of communication disorder, and nearly 28 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Children are the most prevalent victims of hearing problems, with one in every 22 infants born with a hearing disorder, and about 5 percent of children under the age of 18 experiencing some degree of hearing loss.
These statistics drive the centers SHARP program. SHARP (Sertoma Hearing Aid Recycling Program) is a collaborative between the universitys Speech and Hearing Center and Sertoma, a national organization whose acronym and ideology denote services to mankind. Sertoma collects discarded hearing aids from hospitals and nursing homes and covers the cost to refurbish them. These hearing aids, which normally cost several hundred dollars, are then made available to the centers clients for $30.
We fit anywhere from 50 to 60 hearing aids per year, says Hillis. Sertoma has been wonderful to work with. This program is invaluable to our clients and it provides us with a vital learning tool for our students clinical practicum.
According to Mark Bernstein, associate professor of Speech and Hearing, U.S. News and World Report magazine ranked the centers graduate program 12th out of 119 in Speech-Language Pathology and 15th out of 66 in Audiology in the year 2000. (These are the most recent figures available). For the fall 2002 semester, 54 masters students were admitted to the program, out of 137 applicants (39 percent). With prominent national rankings and an elite, dedicated group of graduate students enrolled in the program, the center is well respected in the community and across the nation. It boasts one of the few bilingual/multicultural programs in the U.S., and therapy and testing are offered in English and Spanish.
As Hillis completes the tour of the facilities, she ponders a hand-drawn painting that was given to the center by a grateful client.
I just wish we were capable of expanding the program, she says. Communication is the very core of our existence. What we do within these walls is provide people with the means to express themselves. We offer an extremely valuable service to the community. In all honesty, I truly believe that we are one of the best kept secrets in Austin.