The Future of California Audiology Involves More Than Technology

By: Dr. Adam Svec

Audiology is a healthcare field dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of hearing and balance disorders. If someone in your family wears a hearing aid or uses a cochlear implant, it is likely that the device was fit by an audiologist. Among the many roles an audiologist plays, a top priority is using a combination of technology and aural rehabilitation in an attempt to improve the communication abilities for individuals with hearing loss.

In California, there is currently a shortage of audiologists, and a reasonably large portion of the community is underserved in terms of hearing and balance healthcare. One of the reasons for this paucity of care is that, until recently, California only had two accredited audiology graduate programs. With a population of nearly 40 million and audiology programs that collectively graduated under 50 audiologists per year, California communities have proportionally few opportunities for clinical services.

Fortunately, the audiology landscape in California is changing. Since 2019, new graduate programs have been introduced at California State University – Los Angeles, California State University – Northridge, California State University – Sacramento, and San José State University. The development of these new programs is a good thing for a variety of reasons.

At SJSU, the College of Health and Human Sciences aims to realize its mission through four pillars: 1) Promoting health equity and social justice; 2) Building capacity for interprofessional and collaborative practice and research; 3) Generating and applying health technology and innovation; and 4) Building community capacity and wellness through community engagement and partnerships.

Since SJSU is located in Silicon Valley, it may seem natural to perseverate on the third pillar. Hearing aid technology is rapidly changing, and the traditional hearing aid manufacturers are constantly developing new features for devices. However, hearing aids are rarely covered by insurance, and an individual can spend more than $6000 out-of-pocket for a pair, not to mention that those hearing aids will need to be replaced approximately every three to six years. In an effort to improve accessibility to affordable assistive devices, recent legislation has approved the expansion of “over-the-counter” hearing aids.

While the discussion regarding the impacts of more affordable devices is ongoing within the discipline of audiology, there are good reasons to focus our efforts, instead, on the first pillar. Dr. Michelle DeCoux Hampton and colleagues within the CSU system recently hosted a workshop titled, “Antiracism Reprogramming in Health Professions Education.” Dr. Alicia Swartz and Dr. Claire Valderama-Wallace walked the group through the alarming reality of racism that is built into the scaffolding of the healthcare system. The speakers asserted that healthcare education will keep reproducing inequality under systems developed by colonialism unless antiracism is considered a cornerstone of these educational systems, not just a component. As the CSU system re-emboldens its commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, the state has an opportunity to train a new generation of audiologists who represent the communities that are historically underrepresented in hearing healthcare.

So, the challenge for all the CSU institutions has been demonstrated in plain sight: How do we ensure that the long-term effects of racism and inequity are reduced within hearing healthcare in California?

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