When Hear and Say opened its doors on 6 July 1992, the options available for children with profound hearing loss were at the edge of change.
There had previously been no parent-led programs available for families; newborns weren’t typically screened for hearing loss at birth which delayed diagnosis by months or even years; and sign language was often the only form of communication taught to children who were severely or profoundly deaf.
The cochlear implant – invented by Australian surgeon, Professor Graeme Clark – was rapidly gaining interest, with the country’s first child implanted in the late 1980s. Opportunities for clear speech and language were no longer impossible for children born deaf, and so began Hear and Say to bring these advances to Queensland for the very first time.
Inspired by a lecture from Canadian childhood hearing impairment consultant, Judy Simser, Dimity Dornan received a Churchill Fellowship in 1991 to begin pursuing her dream of supporting children born deaf to learn to listen and speak. The opportunity saw Dimity travel to Canada to study the auditory-verbal therapy approach with Simser and North York General Hospital’s Warren Estabrooks, with the purpose to set up a non-profit auditory-verbal program in Brisbane.
Dimity returned from her Churchill Fellowship in Canada and set up Hear and Say as a not for profit for teaching deaf children to listen and speak on 6 July 1992. An offer from likeminded organisation, The Shepherd Centre in Sydney came for a one-year, part-time seed grant to continue the clinic in Queensland. At that time, a group of ear, nose and throat surgeons and audiologists wanted to start a cochlear implant program in Brisbane. The stars were aligning, and Dimity was asked to join with them to take care of pre-implant preparation and post-implant support.
“It was about this time – the point of no return – when I chanced upon my future motivating words,” recalled Dimity.
“The quote is credited to pioneer aviator, Amelia Earhart: ‘Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.’ With that, I took courage and set up a charity board consisting of about 20 professionals across hearing, medicine, business, finance and education sectors, and we began services with six children.”
The name ‘Hear and Say’ was chosen to emphasise that children with hearing loss could learn to listen and speak. After several logo iterations – including Mac the Mouse as a nod to the shape of the cochlear implant and also to one of the early premises known fondly as ‘the Mouse House’ – the butterfly, commonly thought not to be able to hear, was ultimately chosen as the centre’s symbol.
Growth comes quickly
Hear and Say rapidly expanded from six to 30 children, and by 2002 saw over 100 children annually. In 1997, telepractice lessons via videoconference had made the centre’s operations truly Queensland (and world) wide, with the capacity to support regional and remote families from the comfort of their own homes.
In the years that followed, Hear and Say centres would open in Toowoomba, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Cairns and Townsville, supporting a growing number of children and their families. In 2005, St Gabriel’s School for Hearing Impaired Children was assimilated into Hear and Say, boosting families’ access to auditory-verbal therapy even further.
A major milestone in the landscape for children’s hearing loss diagnosis came with the introduction of the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening program, rolled out for the first time in Queensland in December 2006. Hear and Say, along with Quota International and many other passionate organisations and individuals, played a critical role in getting this initiative off the ground.
In 2007, a world-leading hearing health education program, known as Hear and Say WorldWide, launched to comprehensively educate professionals about hearing loss in babies and young children.
A new home
It was in mid-2011 that plans to build a new headquarters in Brisbane were announced. Hear and Say’s 20th anniversary celebrations timed with the purchase of a rundown building complex in Brisbane’s Ashgrove, and a $10 million capital campaign, Project Possibility was soon launched. Construction of the new Brisbane centre began in 2014, and with the support of hundreds of donors, community organisations and government partners, doors officially opened in January 2015.
By 2017, Hear and Say’s 25th year of operation, 900 children were enrolled in programs supporting their hearing and spoken language. A school screening program, Hear to Learn was piloted in 2015, reaching its 50,000th student by early 2020. Recognising the whole-of-life needs of Hear and Say’s ever-growing cohort, hearing services for adults were formally launched in 2019.
Now celebrating almost 30 years of service to families impacted by hearing loss, much has changed since Hear and Say first began. Technology has gone from strength to strength; babies are diagnosed and supported earlier than ever before; knowledge about the brain and the auditory system continues to grow.
However, there are also many constants. The dedication of parents and carers seeking the best outcomes for their child. The bright eyes of a baby revelling in a new world of sound. And a passionate team of professionals at Hear and Say, ready to provide a lifeboat to families in times of need.
Learn more about Hear and Say’s fascinating role in Queensland’s history by purchasing a copy of Sounds of Hope, written by Madonna King.