Diablo Valley Chapter History

Diablo Valley Chapter History

chartered October 2, 1984
by Don Senger, Founder

The Self Help for the Hard of Hearing (SHHH) Diablo Valley Chapter was founded sort of by accident. Over the years, I had taken classes in lipreading at the San Francisco Hearing Society and sign language at Deaf Counseling, Advocacy and Referral Agency (DCARA). In 1983, I was looking for a better understanding of hearing loss and what I could do to improve my functioning in the hearing world. Having a 90dB hearing loss, I was often struggling at home and at work.

During the summer of 1983, I received a notice of a seminar being held by the Alexander G. Bell Association in Palo Alto. I thought perhaps this might give me some answers, so I attended. Unfortunately, sign language seemed to be the primary means of communication at this meeting and I felt out of place.

A couple of months later, I received a copy of the Self Help for the Hard of Hearing-Bay Area Members (SHHH-BAM) newsletter put out by Bill Cutler. Bill, who was president of the SHHH Peninsula Chapter at the time and president of the SHHH National Board of Trustees, had gotten my name and address from a mailing list of the attendees of the Alexander G. Bell seminar. The newsletter was very interesting and full of information and things I never heard of, like the audio loop system ie. hearing loop.

The following month another informative newsletter arrived in my mail and in it was a plea from Bill asking volunteers to form SHHH chapters around the Bay Area. I wasn’t willing to do that, but I wrote a letter to Bill saying that I was willing to help whoever decided to form a SHHH chapter in my neighborhood. Wrong move! A week later a letter arrived from Bill, saying that I was the only
person to respond to his plea and he was asking me to take the reins in forming a chapter in Diablo Valley. I responded that I knew nothing about forming chapters, wasn’t a public speaker, and didn’t think I was the right person to do this. Bill wouldn’t accept that and invited me to dinner at his home and to attend a SHHH Peninsula meeting afterwards.

I learned quite a bit from Bill that evening. I still felt uncomfortable starting a chapter, but at the Peninsula meeting, I discovered the audio loop system. I was amazed at how well I could understand all that was being said at the meeting. I was asked to speak and take questions for a short while and found I was able to do this without difficulty. I agreed to try to form a chapter. Bill suggested I contact a local audiologist to help me get started.

John Darby at the Hearing Society had been my audiologist for a number of years. I met with him and told him what I was planning to do. John suggested I contact Patricia Gillian, an audiologist in Walnut Creek. He said she had been interested in forming a peer group in Walnut Creek for some time. I met with Patricia and together we planned the first meeting.

The first meeting was held in February 1984 at the Mt. Diablo Hospital. Patricia made arrangements for use of a meeting room there at no charge to us. She would do a talk on explaining audiograms and I would talk about SHHH and my hopes of founding a chapter for hard of hearing people living in Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Lafayette, and Concord as well as other nearby
communities. I also made an audio loop system, using a Radio Shack amplifier, FM microphone and a 100-foot orange extension cord.

We had over 30 people at that meeting. I know Cathy Gaspar and George Chin were there but don’t recall who else attended except for one deaf man who kept complaining of his need for a sign language interpreter and we should provide him with one. I had a 10-page speech written and tried to present it but found I was skipping pages and getting things mixed up. I threw the speech away and decided to just ad-lib my way through the night. It was a very successful evening. We were on our way.

A week later, Patricia informed me that the hospital said we couldn’t have a meeting room on a regular basis and needed to call a few days in advance to see if a room was available. I told her that wouldn’t work, as we needed to announce when and where the meetings would be, well in advance. I moved the meeting to the parish hall of Christ the King Church in Pleasant Hill. A good move, as over 70 people came to the next meeting. Bill Cutler was our speaker for the evening and he was very impressed with the turnout and how well we were doing. It was at this meeting that I met and became close friends with Jim Montgomery, who brought his son with him to see what our meeting was all about.

The group began and grew. By October 1984, we were certified as a formal chapter of SHHH and had close to 100 members. Over the years since it’s founding, the Diablo Valley Chapter, now named Hearing Loss Association of America – Diablo Valley Chapter, has been one of the HLAA’s brighF:/My Web Dev Sites/hlaadv.dev stars.

Our members serve, or have served, on boards or committees such as the Department of Rehabilitation, FCC, BART, and Oakland Airport, representing the hearing loss community. Many have also been recognized and received awards for their contributions for community service. Year after year, through the efforts of its membership, the Diablo Valley Chapter has had a major impact on the lives of hard of hearing people throughout California and is truly a chapter that its members can be proud of.

First published on our 20th Anniversary
Reprinted on our 25th Anniversary