Hard of Hearing Israelis in Wartime

Hard of Hearing Israelis in Wartime

By Ahiya Kamara, MA

Editor: We’ve published a lot of stories about the problems encountered by people with hearing loss during emergencies in the US. I believe this is our first about people dealing with communications issues during wartime! Thanks to bhNEWS (groups.yahoo.com/group/bhNEWS) for this timely and interesting story.

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Introduction by bhNEWS owner Bob MacPherson: The following is posted on behalf of member Ahiya Kamara, MA, and Bekol, which is the HLAA of Israel. We are fortunate to have also in our bh News family, Dr. Jerry Reschstein, professor, Hearing Impaired Program, School of Education,Tel Aviv University. Brief bios to to follow:

Ahiya Kamara, MA, is a co-founder and currently serves as the executive director of Bekol (which means “with hearing”), the organization of hard of hearing and deafened people in Israel. His hearing was damaged when he was 1 year old. He has been a lifetime user of hearing aids and various hearing aid accessories. Kamara volunteered to serve in Israel’s Defense Force and later earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a master’s degree in special education for the hearing impaired from Tel Aviv University. He is one of the four founders of Bekol, which was established 7 years ago.

Jerry Reichstein, EdD, has also been hard of hearing since age 1, and has been an audiologist and educator of deaf and hard of hearing children and adults for more than 50 years. Although he began his career in the US, he and his wife moved to Israel in 1954. There he has set up and directed new services in the field of hearing impairment to include the Micha Center for Preschool Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children in 1958 and a program in Tel Aviv University to train teachers of hearing impaired students in 1978. With Kamara, he helped co-found Bekol in 1997, along with two other individuals.

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Israel Under Fire – Assistance for Hard of Hearing People in Time of Emergency

During the months of July and August this year, Israel was bombed by the Hezbollah from Lebanon. We are speaking of one and a half million citizens in the North of Israel that were being hit by rockets and missiles.

In Israel, like in the Western World, ten percent of the population is hard of hearing. Every third person over the age of 65 has a hearing loss. The hard of hearing people, in this situation, are in double jeopardy. First because of the physical threats we all face and secondly because of their physical limitations: Difficulty in hearing warning sirens when sleeping at night without the hearing aid; difficulty in gaining accurate information from the media; difficulty in communicating with the immediate surroundings (for example, in the bomb shelters, the acoustics, lighting and noise of groups of neighbors huddled together, substantially lower the ability of the hard of hearing person to communicate and to understand).

Bekol Drafted to the Aid of the Hard of Hearing People in the North

Bekol is the only organization for and of hard of hearing people in Israel. The organization is dedicated to the improvement of the quality of life of the adult community of hard of hearing people (18 years and above). Bekol is active in pushing legislation and legal rights, demanding accessibility in public and work places, removal of stigmas and prejudices and encouraging the hard of hearing to deal with their limitations; to gain independence and social respect.

Bekol reacted immediately to the current crisis and went right into action reaching out to help hard of hearing people in areas under fire as well as victims suffering from hearing injuries. In addition Bekol reached out to inform the community of how to deal with their limitations at this time of emergency.

These services included:

1 -Dealing with the Lack of Subtitles on News and other Television Programs

At the outset of fighting in the north, we began to act to change the main problem for the hard of hearing in the north which was the lack of subtitles for the hard of hearing on television news broadcasts. In 2005, a law was passed requiring subtitles stipulating that all television broadcasts include subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Unfortunately, this law has yet to be fully enforced. In light of the emergency situation Bekol approached the three major Israeli networks and asked that all news broadcasts have subtitles. We also pressured the public boards of the broadcast corporations as well as Parliament members and Government Ministers. The situation was much improved although there is still a lot more to be done.

2 Dealing with the Difficulty of Hearing the Air Raid Siren

Despite experience gained during the Gulf War (2001?), Israel’s civil defense apparatus was slow in responding to our needs and many hard of hearing people were unable to hear the call of the air raid sirens – ordering us to move into shelters. Hard of hearing people were helpless and dependent on others. Bekol applied pressure on the Civil Defense Command to provide the hard of hearing with special air raid Beepers which operate with both SMS written messages and or vibration.

3 – Problems with the Time Lag Between the Siren and Notification by the Beeper

Dealing with the time lag between the siren and the beeper warning was a problem which we had to work on. In this case, every minute and second counts! At first the lag time between the time the sirens went off until the beeper responded was three to five minutes.

Through our efforts, the technical problem has been solved with almost no lag time between sirens and the personal beeper warning signal.

4 – Emergency Directives for Hard of Hearing People

The subject of emergency information is of course critical. Hard of hearing people have special needs: Protecting a spare hearing aid, keeping fresh batteries for changing; flashlight for lip reading. Immediately at the outset of hostilities Bekol sent out special emergency instructions to the community which also appears on Bekol’s web site www.bekol.org The instructions were also mailed to 8,000 hard of hearing persons and translated to Arabic, Russian, Amharic, French, English, and Spanish. They were also publicized through the media reaching tens of thousands more citizens and helping them to deal with the situation. Distribution of emergency directives to the hard of hearing community was made possible through the aid of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) – Israel and the United Jewish Federations of North America (UJC).

5 – Working Emergency Hotline for Hard of Hearing People and their Families

No less important was the setting up of an emergency hotline using telephone, fax and e-mail for the hard of hearing. Bekol’s hotline numbers are shown on subtitles on television broadcasts. Many people with special needs called in for help; some examples of their needs were; Lack of ability to hear the warning sirens; requests for air raid Beepers; Requests for batteries and spare hearing aids for those that were damaged; and requests for personal television amplifiers. Hot Line volunteers helped find temporary housing for those desiring to evacuate to central Israel. Hotline volunteers worked overtime, keeping lines open 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the help of the UJC and the JDC.

6 – Information on the Web (Internet)

Our internet website is updated continuously, thus achieving three objectives; increasing awareness of the needs of our community; preserving the independence of hard of hearing people during emergency periods; and aiding hard of hearing people to cope better with their communication limitations in times of stress.

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Ahiya Kamara, Executive Director
Bekol – Organization of Hard of Hearing & Deafened People in Israel
17 Tchernichovsky St. Tel-Aviv 63291, Israel
Tel. +972 3 525 7001 Fax. +972 3 525 7004
eMail: ahiya@bekol.org Web Page: http://www.bekol.org