Some historical background of the early days of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA)Notes by Marilyn Dahl and Charles Laszlo - May 2016
CHHA was formed to be the voice of hard of hearing Canadians because there was no national organization speaking for the needs of such people with hearing loss. The signing (culturally) deaf group had the Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD); there was an umbrella organization, the Coordinating Council on Deafness which claimed to represent all people with hearing loss but in actuality worked only on Deaf issues. There were several service agencies for this population across Canada, such as Canadian Hearing Society, Western Institute for the Deaf, and so on, but they also focused on the needs of the signing deaf. Consequently, even the federal government recognized only the 'deaf' in its documents. You might say that one of the long lasting effects which CHHA has had was to change the vocabulary of the federal government and the service agencies, which now all refer to the
deaf and hard of hearing; the government in their vocabulary, most of the service agencies in their changed names, which now include the phrase,
deaf and hard of hearing.
How CHHA came to be On May 9th, 1982 a Workshop of Hard-of-Hearing people was held at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa. In terms of domicile, age, occupation, socio-economic status, and degree of hearing-loss a wide cross-section of the Canadian hard-of-hearing community was represented at this Workshop. The participants came to this meeting voluntarily, and most of them at their own expense, because of their concern over the problems of the Hard-of-Hearing community in Canada.
The time available at the workshop was too short to explore any of these problems in detail. Nevertheless, it was apparent from the discussion that there was a great sense of frustration, and in some cases desperation, about the inability of the existing societal and institutional systems to deal effectively with the concerns of the hard-of-hearing. The workshop was unanimous in its opinion that these concerns must be publicized and action initiated to solve the grave problems facing the hard of hearing individually and as a group. Recognizing the need for a national voice of the hard-of-hearing the participants voted to take the first steps toward creating a suitable organization and elected a Steering Committee. This Steering Committee was charged to look at the various issues and explore the alternatives for future steps to be taken, including the possibility of initiating an organization of the Hard-of-Hearing in Canada.
Six participants were elected to the Steering Committee by secret ballot: Mr. Frank I. Algar, Hard of Hearing Club of Ottawa Mrs. Irene Cox, Western League of Hard of Hearing Dr. Charles A. Laszlo, Clinical Engineering Program, University of British Columbia Mr. Gordon S. MacDonald, Hard of Hearing Club of Ottawa Mr. Larry Medwetsky, MacKay Centre for Deaf and Crippled Children, Montreal Ms. Ruth Warick, University of Saskatchewan
Subsequently, the first meeting of the Steering Committee was held in the afternoon of May 9, 1982. A specific outcome of these discussions was the decision to prepare a Position Paper outlining the objectives and avenues for future action.
The following day, Sunday, May 10th, the Steering Committee met again and decided on the creation of an association for hard of hearing people. It decided to seek incorporation and decided that Dr. Charles Laszlo will serve as President, Mr. Gordon MacDonald as Vice-President and Mr. Frank Algar as Treasurer.
It may be said that CHHA was born on that date, but in fact it was agonizing labour and slow, slow birth. We argued about everything: objectives, organization, name. Oh, the name! That took weeks and months to decide. It was Ruth Warick who suggested Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, because "CHHA, CHHA, CHHA" sounded sort of upbeat! A battle cry to rally the troops! We had no money, no experience and few members. In addition to the above six people we only had a few other key people across the country.
But there was one thing that we all shared: a vision.
This vision led us to define the aims of CHHA: l) To articulate the concerns and co-ordinate members' activities on behalf of and in the service of hard of hearing consumers in Canada; 2) To foster development of social, educational, technical and employment environments which would enable hard of hearing Canadians to achieve their potential; 3) To encourage the hard of hearing to take individual and collective responsibility for their growth and development; 4) To support the exploration of the capabilities and the problems of the Hard-of-Hearing, and to foster the study of solutions to these problems; 5) To promote the development of and accessibility to technical aids and to other services and facilities for the hard of hearing; and 6) To promote the education of the general public, social institutions, professionals and the hard of hearing themselves on hearing-related problems and the available solutions. This vision has endured and remains the foundation of CHHA's work to this day.
Where was the first office?
There was no funding for staff or office, the organization was run by the volunteers on the board, so the first
office was in the basement of the Ottawa-based Vice President, Gordon MacDonald. This is where mail was directed and original documents were stored. With the two subsequent Presidents (Bette Moulton, and Marilyn Dahl) the office was based in their own homes.
After a few years, when a federal sustaining grant was obtained, an office was set up at the Holly Lane address, although in a different larger suite than the present one, which they moved to some years back. In the first office, the Canadian Association of the Deaf moved their head office from the CHS building in Toronto, so shared office space with CHHA. We co-operated on major issues at that time. Later, this arrangement fell through, with CHHA moving to a smaller suite in the Holly Lane site, and CAD taking offices in downtown Ottawa.
How were Chapters and Branches setup?
There were no Chapters or Branches at the beginning, not until the Bylaws were written and the incorporation completed.
The first draft of the Bylaws was compiled by Charles Laszlo, and completed with legal assistance to satisfy formal requirements.
The writing of the Bylaws was complicated by the need to satisfy the requirements of the already-existing hard of hearing clubs in Canada.
These clubs and leagues were anxious to preserve their identity and independence and the Bylaws had to take into account their wishes. Without accommodating them they would not have agreed to become part of the organization. Hence, much emphasis was put on the transition of these clubs into Branches. However, the decision to join CHHA remained with the clubs and for some the transition took time.
The organizational structure also had to take into account the way the legislative and regulatory systems are set up in Canada. CHHA was set up to parallel the levels of our government structures. This is because of the categories of legislation and regulations are addressed either at the federal or provincial or local levels. Thus, it was envisioned that the national level will advocate on federal legislative issues, the provincial chapter level will deal with provincial legislative issues, and the local branches will engage with civic and municipal issues.
It should be noted that since hearing loss and its treatment involves the health care system and since health care is a provincial responsibility, we had to ensure that we have provincial 'presence'. The combination of the need for a recognized national, provincial and local 'presence' lead to the National, Chapter and Branch structure. Right from the beginning the idea was to create an organization whose structure would provide a means for hard of hearing people to address local, provincial and national issues at the proper level of authority. Since we were without resources at that point, we built on the contribution of the enthusiasm and work of volunteers at each of these levels.
Where were the Chapters and Branches set up?
Once CHHA was incorporated we helped existing clubs to become Branches. In some places where there were no clubs we encouraged individuals to establish Branches. We do not have a list of where these were at the beginning, but we do know that they were all over Canada.
The initiative to organize Chapters and Branches was the responsibility of local members. The Bylaws granted a great deal of autonomy to do so and to allow for self governance.This was so structured to appeal to the already existing five old local groups of the hard of hearing, in urging them to become local Branches of CHHA. This was not an easy task and took years to accomplish. The first branch of CHHA was the HEAR Society in Coquitlam, which was a new society, having been formed just shortly before CHHA was, and thus more willing to apply for Branch status, and change its name slightly to the CHHA HEAR Branch. Gradually, some of the other existing groups joined as well. The older existing groups, which eventually joined, were the Hard of Hearing Clubs and
Leagues for the Hard of Hearingin Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Ottawa. After a few years, a federal grant was obtained to run a series of workshops across Canada, to stimulate the formation of Branches, and this resulted, over time, in the gradual formation of more CHHA Branches. It was a slower job to establish provincial Chapters. The first Chapter was established in British Columbia.