AUBURN UNIVERSITY – Audiologists in the Department of Communication Disorders in the College of Liberal Arts are working in partnership with the municipality of Guatemala City to provide hearing screening, follow-up testing and hearing aids for children in inner city schools.
Students and faculty from the department have been traveling to Guatemala annually since 2009, but that meant follow-up testing could only be completed once a year.
“Imagine failing a hearing test in June and having to wait until the following May to be seen by an audiologist,” said Sandra Clark-Lewis, professor emerita in the College of Liberal Arts. “With our audiometric test equipment, we are now able to serve these children on a regular basis to assess their needs.”
With the support of grants from a 2012 Auburn University Competitive Outreach award, the Department of Communication Disorders and Auburn University at Montgomery, the clinic was able to purchase a new audiometer with remote testing capabilities, which they delivered to Guatemala, and the software, Blackboard Collaborate, which allows the testing to take place anywhere as long as there is an Internet connection.
Once a child in Guatemala is identified as needing an audiological evaluation, school personnel make an appointment by email. The audiologist at Auburn and the school assistant in Guatemala both log on to a Web-based service, which allows the audiologist at Auburn to control the audiometer in Guatemala. The school assistant puts earphones on the child being tested and the audiologist in Auburn administers the test. The computer program allows the audiologist to see and hear the child throughout the test.
By conducting the remote tests, Auburn audiologists can use their limited time in Guatemala each year to deliver more hearing aids and to continue to train school personnel.
The experience is also beneficial to students in the department, who assist in conducting the tests and are receiving hands-on training for their future careers.
“Telepractice is the future of audiology practice,” said Kelli Watts, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Communication Disorders. “It can be used not only for international humanitarian aid, but also to reach local patients, such as those in nursing homes or rural areas, who may have difficulty traveling to an office.”
Since the project’s inception, the approximately 1,500 children in the municipality of Guatemala City Schools have received hearing screenings and evaluation.
To learn more about the project, go to the Facebook page, “Auburn University Audiology Outreach in Guatemala Project” at https://facebook.com/AUAudiologyInGuatemala. To see video and photos, see the featured story here.
(Written by Carol Nelson.)