By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun
Summer means gas-powered lawn mowers, jackhammers on highways and car stereos blasting loudly enough to rattle the change in your pocket.
It also means your hearing is at risk.
The changes in hearing technology are phenomenal and to accommodate the industry advances, George Brown is offering a full-time three-year Hearing Instrument Specialist course.
Almost a quarter of Canada's population -- 23 per cent -- have suffered some hearing loss, and 10 per cent of us have to use a hearing aid, says Pamela Ashton, co-ordinator of the Hearing Instrument Specialist Program at George Brown College and a clinician for the last 28 years.
The two most accomplished hearing thieves are aging and noise pollution, and while they remain at large, Ashton and her students will stay busy.
The program at George Brown began in 1992 as a one-year full-time hearing aid dispensing course, Ashton explains, but industry advances brought improvement and expansion. In 2002 the program became a three-year full-time diploma course.
"The changes in (hearing) technology are phenomenal," Ashton says. "They've been growing in leaps and bounds."
The first class to graduate from the three-year program -- in 2005 -- has 14 members and is almost equally split between women and men. Ashton says the students range in age from their early 20s to late 40s. The basic entry requirement for the HIS program is a high school diploma, although she says lots of her students have degrees or certificates and diplomas.
Once enrolled, students must study basic psychology, hearing instrument technology, hearing disorders, functional anatomy, and so on as well as taking a course in basic computer skills. Tuition is about $1,400 a year.
At the conclusion of the three years, which includes a 440-hour clinical placement in their final semester, students must complete a six-month full-time paid internship. They also have to join the Association of Hearing Instrument Practitioners, which has its headquarters in Lindsay, Ont.
Ashton says there are a few traits common to all her students. One of them is their liking and getting along with others. They also need a feel for technology and good motor skills.
This liking for people and a desire to improve a significant aspect of their clients' lives occurs over and over among George Brown's HIS students.
Stanley Wu has a private practice in Markham, Ont. He says there's definitely a "clinical aspect" to his nature, but he deals well with people and likes the satisfaction of helping them.
"It's been very rewarding," says Wu. "You can sometimes see the 'I can hear' smile on people's faces."
Edmond Ayvazyan, one of Ashton's second-year students, has been similarly touched. He recalls a woman's smile after she'd been in to see him. "It was truly a priceless moment for her."
The first class of Hearing Instrument Specialists graduates in 2005.
George Brown will accept 31 students this September.
Applicants must have a high school diploma, although many have degrees and diplomas.
Graduates have to complete a six-month paid internship before they are allowed to practise.
Both Wu and Ayvazyan came to the industry in a roundabout way. Wu had completed George Brown's orthotics and prosthetics technician's course, but was looking for something that got him away from a lab bench and interacting with clients.
Ayvazyan says, "I kind of fell into this job." He's been a telecommunications consultant and did professional audio work -- concert setups and so on --for 10 years. One day he was asked to fix his grandmother's hearing aid and found he'd been hooked.
Fond as they are of their chosen profession, neither Wu nor Ayvazyan will get rich, although unemployment for them and their classmates will hardly ever be an issue.
Ashton says her graduates' futures look good and they can expect to find jobs in private clinics, retail chains and manufacturing. She says it's difficult to pin down starting salaries because there is so much to consider, but it's hard for her to imagine anyone earning less than $28,000 a year to begin.
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