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Program Gives Navajo Nation Hearing Aids

Utah Department of Workforce Services
Dr. Jacob Burrows, audiologist

A humanitarian project on Red Mesa in San Juan County is helping elderly Navajo hear better.

Theprogram, carried out in the fall, paired Navajo residents with audiologists, who then administered hearing tests and fitted those who qualified with battery-operated hearing aids.

Peggy Thompson, a hearing specialist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services, found a partner in a southern Utah nonprofit group after learning about the challenges of improving hearing for Navajo on the reservation.

Thompson says when her assistant visited the Bluff Senior Center, the elders told her they were frustrated. “They said, ‘You’re not really helping us because your equipment needs to be plugged in and so many of us don’t have electricity,’” says Thompson. She found volunteers to help with transportation, food, and time, and enlisted hearing experts from the St. George-based Sound of Life Foundation.

Of 150 Navajo who were tested, all but nine needed hearing aids. Sound for Life Foundation donated the equipment and batteries.

Thompson says she was moved by the stories she heard from hearing-aid recipients. One woman told Thompson she had a vision that her hearing would be restored, but didn’t know how until she wore her hearing aids. “They were just so grateful to be able to hear again,” she says. “It just brought them to tears."

The Department of Workforce Services estimates 380,000 Navajo live in Utah, and nearly two-thirds don’t have electricity or running water.

The project fell short of covering its costs, but Thompson says they are still planning similar outreach again on the Navajo reservation, as well as to conduct follow-up visits and distribute batteries.

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