• Hope for hearing-impaired through the arts

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    GEORGE VAIL KABRISTANTE

    According to the recent DOH National Registry, hearing impairment is placed at approximately 17-percent or 97,957 per 577,345 population also indicating that unemployment among deaf people is within 95- to 99-percent.

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    Data by the nationwide survey of Better Hearing Philippines established the prevalence of hearing disability and ear disorders at 8.8-percent and that the disability is the second highest form of condition next to moving disability.

    The Philippines has one of the least number of hearing specialists in the region, confounded by the fact that being a very new field of concern, the practice of ear care thrives on hearing aid as business rather than as health concern.

    Caveat brought out this concern to Maribel Mueller – a colleague, philanthropist, and one of the early graduates of Special Education at the University of the Philippines.

    Back in 1997, Mueller through the kindness of her Austrian dear departed husband George Mueller, donated implants costing a fortune each for free to four marginalized Filipino school children. Living up to their advocacy, the couple had been repeating the most humane gesture yearly sans the obligatory photo ops.

    Restoration of normal hearing is through electrical stimulation of the auditory nerve via a multi-channel prosthetic device called cochlear implant, the first of its kind ever invented in the field. Beneficiaries of the implants included constituents under the care of Senator Loren Legarda and broadcaster Anthony Taberna.

    Maribel had connected with innovators in the field of Special Education in the country both public and private, one of whom was Rebecca Santos, founder and executive director of one of the leading schools for special disabilities in Quezon City called VSA (Very Special Arts) Philippines.

    An internationally-acknowledged pedagogue and expert trainer in sign language, Santos joined as one the faculty members of Earthsavers DREAMS (Development, Rehabilitation, Education, Arts and Media Science) Ensmble founded by RM Awardee in Public Service and former executive director of National Commission for Culture and Arts Cecile Guidote-Alvarez.

    The joint advocacy of Mueller and Santos to promote special arts for differently abled schoolchildren and youths have come a long way since then, sharing the achievement of Guidote-Alvarez’s group of handicapped artists (deaf, blind, afflicted with Down Syndrome, paraplegics) who won the coveted UNESCO Artists for Peace Award based in Paris. Some of those accorded the same accolade included international celebrity advocates for UNESCO like Celine Dion, Gong Li, Shirley Bassey, Marissa Berenson, Sarah Brightman, and our very own The Philippine Madrigal Singers.

    Mueller, through executive director of Medical Electronics (Med-El) Tosh Soliven, has announced they are going to hold their 20th anniversary of extending their services to the community of hearing-impaired beneficiaries throughout the country. It will showcase the composite talents of differently-abled schoolchildren and youths in a weeklong celebration of Deaf Awareness Month in November.

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