At first, the 61-year-old Jackson resident wasn’t concerned. "I have always been a person who has frequent bronchitis and sinus infections, and along with those, head stuffiness that was always coming and going," she explained. "I knew something was different when it stopped coming and going."
Lorraine, who has worked as the Technical Services Coordinator for Jackson District Library for the past 45 years, said she began experiencing problems at work, as well.
"My supervisor has a soft voice, so when I couldn’t hear him speaking, I assumed it was just his soft voice," she explained. "But then when I started not being able to hear other people too, I knew it was something else."
Lorraine’s first step was to seek medical advice. "I just turned 61," she said matter-of-factly. "I’m not ready to quit working. It’s still fun." However, she realized she needed help to be able to stay on top of her career.
Lorraine began by going through a variety of tests and treatments, but her problems persisted. Lorraine needed hearing aids.
She was referred to Allegiance Health in Jackson, who walked her through the next steps. "They thoroughly explained the hearing aids and how they worked," said Lorraine. "Then I got the sticker shock of the price. I went out of there thinking, ‘I don’t know where I am going to find $6,000.’"
After investigating further, Lorraine was frustrated to learn that her insurance company would not cover the hearing aids, as they are considered "cosmetic." Her audiologist suggested she speak to Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS) about possible funding options.
She went into the MRS office and filled out paperwork, but was given pause when she came to the blank where she was asked her disability. "It was hard to consider myself disabled," she said. "I had a little issue there I had to get over."
After completing the paperwork, Lorraine was set up with a counselor and went through an interview process, where she explained how the hearing aids would help her and keep her employed. MRS asked her to get a letter of support from her employer stating that the devices would help with her job.
"I want to give credit to my employer for their support," said Lorraine. "I had to divulge my hearing loss to them, and you wonder if you are doing something to hurt yourself by saying it … but I never felt that was the case."
MRS agreed to pay $2,500 of the total $6,000 cost for Lorraine’s hearing aids. She said she had mixed feelings about the news. "There was a lot of guilt over it," she explained. "I didn’t want to be a drain on the system … but I was told ‘No, the funds are there to help people stay employed.’ I felt better after they told me that."
MRS then referred Lorraine to UCP Michigan’s Assistive Technology Loan Fund (MATLF) for a low-interest loan for the remaining $3,500 needed to finance the hearing aids. The loan was approved.
Lorraine immediately knew she wanted to work with Allegiance Health, even though she was required to get quotes from more than one provider. She liked the warranty, service, and business longevity that Allegiance offered.
Once she got the hearing aids, Lorraine noticed an immediate improvement, especially at work. "I can hear employees across the room and respond to them across the room," she said. "Before, I was constantly jumping up out of my chair, asking, ‘What did you say?’"
In addition to keeping her employed, Lorraine said the hearing aids have led to better communications with her friends and family. Interactions with her family members are less frustrating and more fulfilling. "I don’t think most people realize what a strain it is on other people to have to keep repeating themselves — or to be constantly misunderstood," Lorraine explained. Lorraine said the hearing aids have improved the quality of her life by improving the quality of her hearing, and have enabled her to be a more active participant in her work, family, and community. "I’m entering a new phase of life," she said. "I want to be a vital, vibrant person who can participate in life, improve my lifestyle, and maintain my lifestyle for a long time to come."
The MATLF frequently works in collaboration with MRS and many other state and community agencies that help individuals with disabilities keep and maintain employment, acquire assistive technology devices, modified vehicles, and home modifications, and more.