Advocates for deaf and hard of hearing hope to get equipment to those in need
JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is pushing to give lower income Missourians easier access to hearing aids.
The commission is advocating for a bill that would create the Statewide Hearing Aid Distribution Fund.
The group would partner with audiologists and hearing aid instrument professionals to find people in need and then pay for their hearing aids.
Dr. Opeoluwa Sotonwa, the commission's executive director, said currently 10 percent of Missourians live with a hearing loss.
He said 90 percent of those people cannot communicate with sign language and so they rely on hearing aids.
People who live under the federal poverty line often can't afford the costly devices.
"We've gotten many calls to our office looking for help, and we can't help them because we don't have funds allocated for that," Sotonwa said.
This is the second time the bill is being heard. Sotonwa said it made it to the Senate floor in 2018 and was close to passing, but there was not enough time to finish the process.
"Some professional groups were in opposition to it last year, but we were able to sit down with them and address their concerns," he said.
Some of those groups included speech language pathologists, hearing instrument specialists, and the Missouri Assistive Technology group.
Sotonwa said the group was worried the money would come out of its funding.
Since then, Sotonwa said, "many of them have came out and supported the bill."
The biggest challenge is a $5 million allocation to fund the program, but Sotonwa said he is optimistic since Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe is backing the measure.