News Item

Lander Grads Team Up to Help Hearing Impaired in North Carolina

December 09, 2014

Lander University graduate Danita Washington knows from personal experience that hearing aids can be expensive and that there are people who need them but go without because they cannot afford to pay for them. So, she has created a foundation that provides financial assistance and other services to children and adults with hearing loss, and two other Lander graduates are working with her on the project.

Washington, a native of Clio, in Marlboro County, S.C., was 6 years old when she was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and was fitted with hearing aids. When she was older, an audiologist suggested more technically advanced devices, but they were very expensive and her family did not qualify for assistance to help pay for them. She continued to depend on less sophisticated hearing aids but, because she was self-conscious, she wore them infrequently, even while she was a student at Lander. Over the years, she taught herself to read lips and developed other strategies to compensate for her hearing loss. She said, “I looked people full in the face (to communicate) and always sat at the front of classrooms.”

Washington earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a health care management emphasis from Lander’s School of Management in 2006. She also received a master’s in health care management from the University of Phoenix in Raleigh, N.C., where she works as a recovery auditor for HMS, a health care cost containment firm.

Her sister, Timeni Washington, graduated from Lander this year with a degree in biology.

According to research that Danita Washington conducted, about 80 percent of the one million North Carolina residents who need hearing aids, do not have them because of the cost. She said people have found that their health insurance does not cover hearing aids and they do not qualify for government assistance to pay for them.

In 2010, she began the groundwork for creating the DKW Hear Me Speak Foundation; DKW are her initials. The organization raises money to help the deaf or hard of hearing purchase hearing aids. It offers free screenings by audiologists who are members of the foundation’s advisory board, and conducts workshops to raise community awareness about the risks of hearing loss. She also works with employers on workplace strategies for hearing impaired employees.

The foundation has partnered with the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf to create scholarships for students with hearing loss and to conduct community outreach. She said the program has given 95 middle and high school students backpacks containing a variety of school supplies.

Washington said her foundation is fortunate to have the assistance of Rashell Archie and Justin Singletary, who graduated from Lander in 2007 and are on the foundation’s advisory board. Archie, who has a degree in biology, specializes in legal research while Singletary, who majored in sociology, applies his nonprofit management skills to DKW’s operations. Washington and the others are unpaid volunteers, and the foundation has no offices. She said, “We all work out of our homes.”

At present, DKW concentrates on helping hard of hearing and deaf citizens in the Raleigh area, but Washington’s goal is to expand the program statewide.

As for her career plans, she is enrolled in a long-term care certification program, which, when completed, will qualify her to become an assisted living administrator.