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New technology connects rural Oklahoma children with hearing therapy

BY OLIVIA INGLE Modified: July 26, 2012 at 8:40 pm •  Published: July 27, 2012

A 150-mile road trip once stood between Josie Burns and her therapy sessions. Now, it's a computer connection.

The 8-year-old is hearing-impaired and attends therapy via ihear, an online program that allows her to video-chat with Hearts for Hearing therapist Darcy Stowe.

Josie lives 30 miles east of Durant and was making the trip to Oklahoma City with her family, sometimes several times a week.

Josie was identified with hearing loss when she was 1 year old and has attended various Hearts for Hearing therapy programs in the city ever since.

“I practically raised my babies on the road, in order to get Josie where she needed to be,” Jill Burns, Josie's mother, said.

Hearts for Hearing is a hearing health program for children and adults whose main goal is to provide funding for the initial set of hearing aids for all deaf or hard-of-hearing children in Oklahoma.

They also provide continued therapy.

The organization is beta testing the ihear technology for St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis. The testing began July 1 and will continue for three years.

“It's great because we can provide ihear therapy to families who for some reason or another can't get here,” said Joanna Smith, executive director of Hearts for Hearing. “A lot of times it's distance. A lot of times it's that they can't take off work.”

Hearts for Hearing's ihear program is funded by a grant from Sarkeys Foundation and the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.

The program is replacing Skype, one tool the organization has used to reach patients in rural Oklahoma communities.

Smith, a speech-language pathologist and certified auditory-verbal therapist, said therapists often had issues with the quality of Skype connections, especially sound quality.

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