Forty Years of Advocacy for Canadians who are Hard of Hearing

By Sheila Serup

With notes from the files of Dr. Marilyn Dahl, Dr. Charles Laszlo, and Mr. Frank Algar

This year, CHHA commemorates 40 years of advocacy and serving as the voice of Canadians with hearing loss. Please join me in looking back at how far we’ve come. The following review of our journey includes an interview with Dr. Marilyn Dahl.

An Idea is Born

The idea of a national association to advocate for the rights of persons who are hard of hearing was raised in 1979. Across Canada, disability organizations were mobilizing. Frank Algar, who believed he lost his job due to his hearing loss, became a delegate to the national Coordinating Council on Deafness. Mr. Algar became aware of other HOH groups across Canada which had, between 1974 to 1979, representatives at CCCD meetings. Members of these HOH groups across the country began sharing ideas and tips for coping with hearing loss.

Mr. Algar learned about advocacy work underway for the “balanced armature receiver telephone” and “lip reading” (now speech reading). He attended the first congress for the International Federation of the Hard of Hearing (IFHOH) and presented a paper about Canadians with hearing loss.

At the 1979 CCCD national forum, a meeting was held with representatives of HOH societies and the idea was born to establish the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association.

Letters Patent Issued and CHHA Formed:

CHHA became the voice of Canadians who are hard of hearing because there was no national organization speaking for the needs of people with hearing loss.

Letters Patent were granted in 1982. In 1983, CHHA was organized as a consumer, bi-lingual self-help organization by hard of hearing and for hard of hearing.

“It may be said that CHHA was born on that date,” notes Dr. Dahl, “but in fact it was agonizing labour and slow, slow birth. We argued about everything: objectives, organization, name. Oh the name! It took weeks and months to decide. It was Ruth Warick who suggested Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, because “CHHA, CHHA, CHHA” sounded upbeat? A battle cry to rally the troops! We had no money, no experience, and few members.”

New Bylaws Considered HOH Societies:

There were no chapters or branches at the beginning, not until the Bylaws were written and incorporation completed. The first draft of the Bylaws was compiled by Charles Laszlo and completed with formal 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 respect 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.”

Dr. Marilyn Dahl explained that 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.” She noted this was because “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.”

Dr. Dahl and Dr. Laszlo identified 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’ led to the National, Chapter and Branch structure.”

Over the Years:

CHHA works cooperatively with professionals, service providers and govt bodies, giving its members information about HOH issues and solutions. The philosophy of CHHA is to produce knowledgeable hard of hearing consumers who understand how to have their needs met. Its mission is to raise public awareness concerning issues that are important for persons who are hard of hearing, to promote their integration in Canadian society, to remove any barriers to their participation and to generally make every community in Canada a better place for persons who are hard of hearing.

Originally, the board of directors was comprised of directors from every province and territory in Canada. The role of provincial/territorial directors was to serve the mandate of the national board and to serve as a liaison with members in their area.  The first annual conference was held in Toronto in 1983, A Sound Beginning.

CHHA’s motto was: “A Chance to Hear – A Chance to be Heard.”  Audi alteram partem are Latin words which represent one of the most fundamental principles of law: the right to be heard.

Advocacy is a large part of our mandate. CHHA has become increasingly successful in winning battles for technological access. In the early years, CHHA advocated for changes to the National Building Code to mandate ALD in public meeting places, the requirement for universal telephone accessibility, Disability Tax Credit, and much more.

In 1994, there were 31 CHHA Branches and Chapters.

In 1998, the CHHA Foundation was registered as a charitable organization to fund activities and programs of CHHA. It was established to raise funds, and to manage the investment of these funds to generate income on a year-to-year basis.

By 2000, there were 55 chapters and branches of CHHA across Canada, and this grew to 57 chapters and branches.  At the 30th Anniversary Conference in Ottawa in 2012, CHHA had nine provincial Chapters, 51 branches and two national networks.

One of the largest projects undertaken to date was the CHHA National Speechreading Program (NSRP) with Lynn Wheadon as Executive Director. Between 2013 and 2016, the three-part project resulted in the creation of national guidelines, developing the training program and training 50 instructors from across Canada. Super instructors for the nearly $1 million project funded by the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program were: Leslee Scott, Lynn Wheadon, Kim Scott, Rhéal Léger, Gladys Nielsen and Cindy Gordan.

Recently, CHHA provided a strong, informed voice into the creation of the Accessible Canada Act which came into force in 2019.





An Interview with Dr. Marilyn Dahl

Both you and Charles founded CHHA in 1982. Were there other founders too and what are their names?

 I am actually not listed as one of the founding members of CHHA – what happened was that there was a meeting of the Coordinating Council on Deafness in Ottawa at which interest was expressed in setting up an organization for the hard of hearing. Some of the people at that meeting formed a Steering Committee to pursue this goal. They were Dr. Charles Laszlo (Vancouver), Gordon MacDonald (Ottawa), Frank Algar (Ottawa), Ruth Warick (Sask), Larry Medwetsky (Montreal), Irene Cox (Winnipeg). They are listed as the founding members.

I had just set up the Hearing Education Resource Society (HEAR) in Coquitlam and was contacted about attending a meeting at WID in Vancouver, in regard to this Steering Committee and their goal.  Dr Laszlo at that meeting reported to the attenders (Dana Brnylsen, Gladys Head, Ray Donnelly and myself) about the decisions taken in Ottawa. After that meeting, I began working actively with Dr. Laszlo and joined the board as Secretary at their first AGM in Toronto.

When CHHA was founded, I understand there were HOH societies and organizations across Canada. Was this an opportunity to bring voices of the various HOH societies together, and advocate together for accessibility, ALDs and changes to Canadian legislation such as the Building Code.

 Yes, advocacy was our biggest issue then, and effecting changes to legislation you have mentioned was crucial. The first issue addressed was that of restoring the telecoil in telephones and how we finally managed that is a whole story in itself. It was chosen because it was a big issue which would garner national attention and so aid in raising CHHA’s visibility as the voice of HOH people in Canada.

There was a need to form a national organization for the hard of hearing which would have the priority of addressing hard of hearing needs. At that time, the Canadian Coordinating Council on Deafness (CCCD) was an umbrella organization which was supposed to advocate for both Deaf and hard of hearing issues but actually it was only Deaf needs which were addressed. The hard of hearing had no recognition, no voice or visibility. The Deaf had their own national organization, Canadian Association of the Deaf (CAD) which was a member of the CCCD. We did not want to take away from their needs being met, but we needed to have society understand that our needs were different. In my opinion, one of the most useful things we did was to make the federal government change its vocabulary. In all their published and spoken documents, they referred only to the Deaf. We insisted they say: “Deaf and Hard of Hearing.” This is now the norm and establishes an identity for us.

What was your vision for CHHA back then, and did you foresee that it would be a vibrant organization today at 40 years?

 I shared the vision which we all did and which is set out in the objectives of CHHA’s Original Bylaws.

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.

As to whether or not it would survive to reach 40 years, of course I expected it to! Funding was always an issue and many a time CHHA “stood on the brink of the precipice” as we waited for news about grants, etc. But we always stepped back from that edge.

What are your thoughts today about CHHA?

 I am grateful that there are people willing to step forward and fill the leadership roles.  It is not an easy task ever and requires commitment and optimism, among other qualities.

To learn more about the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, and its wide-ranging programs, services and e-store, please visit

 Membership is a wonderful way to make life-long connections and friendships with the hard of hearing community across Canada. Memberships can be purchased online. Please join CHHA today.