As the country chooses new leadership on federal, regional and local levels, the importance of communication abilities in politics becomes highlighted as an integral component of leadership. We’ve learned these past few months that our candidates for office surely know how to talk! But what about listen? Both sides of communication are incredibly important in conveying and receiving your message and to effectively lead our country.
Many of our past leaders knew the importance of listening – and the role that hearing plays in listening – in order to be the most effective leader they could be. Some of our past leaders struggled with hearing loss – others were strong advocates for hearing health in some aspect: education, accessibility, sensitivity.
As we make our way to the polls today and vote for our choice for a future America, let’s honor the past leaders in their communication struggles and advocacy efforts:
President George Washington experienced a significant hearing loss later in life, likely due to high levels of noise exposure from combat during wartime.
President Thomas Jefferson, in 1825, famously wrote about his struggles hearing conversational speech.
President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill into law that turned Gallaudet University into a collegiate institution, designated for the education of the Deaf and hard of hearing. To this day, all college degrees from Gallaudet University are signed by the sitting US President.
President James Garfield gave his last public speech at Gallaudet University before being assassinated.
President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt Lost the hearing in his left ear due to a procedure to remove an abscess.
First Lady Grace Anna Coolidge, the wife of President Calvin Coolidge, was a Teacher of the Deaf and knew American Sign Language. She taught at the Clark Institute for the deaf in Massachusetts. In fact, it is said that the President and his wife would use sign language to communicate to each other during social events.
President Herbert Hoover experienced an age-related hearing loss. He were hearing aid later in life. Once, when attending a speech given by the NASA chief Jim Webb, he opted to shut his hearing aid off and asked someone to just poke him when Mr. Webb finished giving his speech!
Each United States President from Grover Cleveland through Lyndon B. Johnson met with Hellen Keller, largely because of her tireless work with many advocacy groups and political organizations.
President Ronald Reagan was fitted for hearing aids while in office in 1983. In the years that followed his first hearing it fitting, the hearing healthcare and hearing aid industry experienced an increase in awareness.
President Ronald Reagan further increased awareness on hearing health by declaring the month of May to be “Better Hearing and Speech Month” in 1986. This still stands today.
Pres. George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990. The ADA allows for greater accessibility for Americans living with disabilities and prohibits discrimination. The purpose of the ADA is to ensure that those with disabilities are afforded the same rights and opportunities. It is under the ADA 1990 that public venues began to install assistive devices, such as infrared devices and teleloops, for hearing assistance.
President Bill Clinton was only 51 years old in 1997 when he was fit with hearing aids. In doing so, he increased awareness of new his induced hearing loss. In fact, President Clinton’s hearing loss was music induced; he was a saxophone player who is exposed too high volumes and did not use hearing protection.
President George W. Bush joined the Starkey Hearing Foundation in 2013 to provide custom hearing aids for over 200 hard of hearing residents in Tanzania. His daughter, Barbara Bush, participated in a similar mission in Uganda with the Global Health Corps.
President Barack Obama celebrated the 20 year anniversary of the ADA 1990 by signing an executive order to make the federal government as a”model employer” of people with disabilities, including hearing impairments.
The Clinton Foundation has been a major advocate in partnering with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to sit people all over the world hearing technology. Like President George W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and several members of the Clinton Foundation have been on several missions to fit children with hearing aids. He donated custom hearing aids to children in Zambia and Rwanda.
The current receptionist to President Barack Obama is deaf. She uses a TTY (TeleTypewriter) and communicates using American Sign Language.
Seven recent presidents have worn or wear hearing aids to address their hearing loss: President Richard Nixon, President Gerald Ford, President Jimmy Carter, President Ronald Reagan, President George H.W. Bush, and President Bill Clinton.