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Today's Family Magazine

Helping People Connect Through Communication

By Mary Flenner

Founded in 1921, the Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center is the nation’s oldest hearing and speech center and northeast Ohio’s only nonprofit agency dedicated to helping individuals gain or regain their ability to communicate and live more independently.

The CHSC was founded by Helen Newell Garfield, daughter-in-law of President James Garfield, who lost her hearing as a young woman.  It began with the simple mission of providing lipreading classes for adults who are deaf or hard of hearing and has grown to serve thousands of children and adults each year.

CHSC provides a variety of services to promote effective communication among people of all ages and ability levels.

Beginning with infants and toddlers, they work to develop speech-language skills that will serve as the child's foundation for all future learning.  CHSC assists parents by teaching strategies used to help children build strong listening, speaking, reading and writing skills as they grow.  They also help adults who have lost communication abilities due to stroke or other neurological diseases.

The Center also oversees the management of the Early Intervention Program.
“Outcomes are absolutely better with early intervention,” says director of hearing services, Bridgid Whitford.

Early detection and intervention with speech and language issues have been shown to improve communication skills before reading and/or behavioral problems arise.  CHSC clinicians provide screenings primarily at locations in the community including preschools, daycare centers, private schools and Head Start programs.

“We provide audiology testing, hearing aids and we are affiliated with the state’s Help Me Grow program.  We also provide free hearing services for children with hearing loss from birth through age three,” adds Whitford.

CHSC works a lot with children with developmental delays and autism.

“A lot of times there isn’t a reason per se for the language delay, we just sort of help jump start it.  So we teach the parents how to interact and become good language models,” says Whitford.

“We’re really looking at language because language skills become literacy skills.  Early language directly equates to academic success.”

CHSC also utilizes the cutting edge Opti-Speech technology for someone who may have problems with residual speech sounds in cases when traditional therapy hasn’t worked.  Opti- Speech works by placing sensors on the tongue, so the patient can actually see where they’re moving their tongue on a screen as well as a target for the placement they are trying to achieve.  They can see firsthand where their tongue is versus where it should be and learn that muscle memory.

CHSC also offers services in schools.  They will make sure hearing technologies are working, that staff is trained on best practices and that the curriculum is set up for success for students with hearing loss.

“We also have a really cool accent modification program.  We’ve had professors from Case Western and doctors from Cleveland Clinic take part.  Sometimes it’s hard for their students to understand or patients to trust them when there is that language barrier,” says Whitford.

CHSC is unique because they offer their high standard of care to everyone.  Because of this, they receive many referrals from Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals for people who don’t have any other place to go.

“We’re trying to break that poverty cycle so people that are raised here get a good education, they’re literate, and they’re able to come back and be a contributing member in the community,” says Whitford.

“We are committed to serving people regardless of their ability to pay.  We also accept Medicaid and offer income-based payment assistance programs… we want to bring evidence-based treatment and quality practice to everyone,” Whitford adds.

CSHC has four locations across Cuyahoga County, including South Euclid, University Circle
and their newest location in Westlake.  CHSC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and a United Way agency that is always looking for support. 

Visit to learn more about their services or to donate.