diversity and inclusion in audiology and healthcare

According to the 2020 U.S. Census Data, over 18% of the United States population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, while over 12% of the population identifies as Black or African American. Yet in the field of Audiology, just over 7% of audiologists identify as Hispanic or Latino, and a mere 3.5% as Black or African American. Why the disparity? And what can those of us in the industry do to change it? In this article, we’ll examine the importance of societal and cultural diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the field of audiology and provide useful suggestions on how we can all start to make a difference for future professionals.

DEI in Communication Sciences Educational Programs

In hearing healthcare and beyond, the definition of diversity is more than race and ethnicity as mentioned above. Diversity also encompasses gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, physical disability status, and socioeconomic levels. While in this context the word diversity defines a vast array of human differences, what matters is including each individual and allowing equal access to a seat at the table, regardless of these and any other differences. Whether it be unobstructed access to healthcare or choosing a meaningful and rewarding career (or anything in between), differences of any kind should no longer equal obstructions. Inclusion also means recognizing and reversing biases, stomping out discrimination, and in the world of audiology, eliminating barriers to ensure that effective communication is accessible to all.

The DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Task Force at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine is committed to doing just that. Made up of twelve members and alumni, the DEI Task Force is part of the university’s Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences. Similar DEI initiatives can be found in communications sciences programs at colleges and universities throughout the country.

In a recent interview conducted by The Hearing Journal, Dr. Jessica Sullivan, Assistant Professor and Interim Department Chair in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at Hampton University, and Dr. Lauren Calandruccio, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and the Louis D. Beaumont University Professor II at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), explained how their desire to mentor and empower their students in the competitive field of audiology led them to create the Innovative Mentoring and Professional Advancement Through Cultural Training (IMPACT) program for undergraduate speech-language pathology and audiology students.

Founded in 2020, the IMPACT program offers both live and virtual events where students in the fields of audiology and speech pathology have an opportunity to meet and network with other industry professionals of color, expanding their knowledge base and increasing their network of mentors. When asked why diversity was important in mentoring students, Dr. Calandruccio replied, “Something we considered when developing the IMPACT program was that students of color often feel isolated and lack a sense of belonging at Primarily White Institutions (PWIs). One thing we wanted to do was provide a broader network of professionals for our students at CWRU. This is a huge benefit of pairing with Hampton, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Jessica and I work as a team and bring different things to the table. Jessica has a unique perspective from my own. As a Black audiologist, she is able to offer a perspective to my students that I can’t.”

“Something we considered when developing the IMPACT program was that students of color often feel isolated and lack a sense of belonging at Primarily White Institutions.”

Dr. Lauren Calandruccio

Healthcare and Educational Programs Join Forces

Programs like these are imperative for students and professionals alike in all facets of healthcare, and the faculty at the Boys Town Center for Perception and Communication in Children at the Boys Town National Research Hospital have taken notice. They recently partnered with Drs. Sullivan and Calandruccio to not only provide mentorship to the inaugural class of IMPACT students but also gain valuable insight from them.

Dr. Lori Leibold, Director of the Center for Hearing Research and the Human Auditory Development Laboratory at Boys Town National Research Hospital, shared: “It was a great learning opportunity for all. Boys Town Researchers were able to support students of color who are pursuing careers in audiology, speech-language pathology, and research. In turn, the students provided our researchers with insight into some of the difficulties they encounter in reaching their professional goals, such as racism, feeling isolated, poverty, opportunities to gain experience, and advocacy.”

ASHA, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, continues to expand its commitment to diversity and inclusion since first implementing the practice in 1969. ASHA’s actions have only increased in the last couple of years. While they have continued their practice of “[promoting] careers in the [communication sciences and disorders (CSD) professions to historically underrepresented groups to ensure a diversity of experience and breadth of perspective among the membership,” more recently they have begun instituting a variety of programs and initiatives geared toward supporting and empowering various groups to eliminate systemic racism in the industry and beyond. Some of these programs include the Student to Empowered Professional (S.T.E.P.) Mentoring Program, the Grant Program for Projects on Multicultural Activities, the Minority Student Leadership Program, and their overall promise to support, work with and advocate for Transgender and Gender-Diverse Individuals.

Inspired by these programs and professional trailblazers? Wondering what you can do to support the cause? Check out the resources below!

ways to effect change for diversity, equity, and inclusion in audiology and healthcare