In Celebration of Women’s History Month, which is internationally recognized annually in March, this article honors five female champions who blazed a trail in the field of audiology—many of which were founding members of the AAA.

Women make up 82% of the workforce in hearing healthcare1, however, that hasn’t always been the case. When the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) was founded in January of 1988, only seven of the 32 founding members were women.

One of those founders, Laura Ann Wilbur, Ph.D. has done far more than serving as founder of the AAA. With more than five decades of valuable contributions to the field, her early work helped develop the practice of modern audiology, applying the knowledge of early disciplines like acoustics and psychophysics in clinical hearing evaluations. She has served on multiple writing committees, helping to set the U.S and international industry standards governing noise measurement, acoustic immittance, loudness scaling, and audiometry.

Dr. Wilber serves as a professor emerita at Northwestern University. According to her biography at the University, she has been published in professional journals like the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and the Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, where she wrote several chapters discussing audiology testing and calibration of equipment.

She has served as president of:

  • The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
  • The Academy of Rehabilitative Audiology
  • The American Auditory Society

Dr. Wilbur’s service and contribution to dozens of professional boards, industry associations, and state and local agencies — along with teaching at ten universities, including UCLA and Northwestern — are testaments to her commitment to the profession.

Lucille R. Beck, Ph.D., another founding member of AAA, has also served as a past president of AAA. Dr. Beck is currently appointed as the Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services for the Veterans Health Administration. She was a pioneer in the fight for the acceptance of the Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree and access to audiology services for VA patients.

On November 28, 2000, Dr. Beck was the first audiologist ever to receive the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive Service, which recognizes executives with “a sustained record of exceptional professional, technical, and scientific achievement—on a national or international level.” She is also the recipient of:

  • 2007 Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Executive Service                      
  • 2008 Deafness Research Foundation Research and Public Education Award for outstanding contributions to the development of hearing healthcare through research and education
  • 2016 Howard E. “Rocky” Stone Humanitarian Award from the Hearing Loss Association of America
  • And numerous other industry awards and accolades

Tomi Browne Aud., another AAA founder, founded the non-profit organization HEARt of the Village Inc., which works with HIV+ children in Kenya to treat hearing loss and diseases of the ear.

In addition to more than 20 years in private practice as a clinical audiologist, Dr. Browne has worked as a political consultant and has been involved in strategic development and fundraising across the industry, including being directly involved in securing access to audiological services for Medicare recipients.

Browne’s work as a patients’ rights advocate was recognized in 2004 with AAA’s Presidential Award and the Audiology Foundation of America’s Professional Leadership Award. Additionally, Browne was one of three recipients of the first-ever Presidential Medals of Honor from Salus University in 2019.

Dr. Anita Pikus, was a founding member of AAA and a founder and first director of the National Institutes of Health Audiology Clinic. Along with Dr. Beck, Dr. Pikus was another proponent in acceptance of the clinical Audiology (AuD.) Degree and was a lifelong advocate in moving the profession forward. At the time of her death in 2007, Dr. Pikus was a distance learning Professor at both the Arizona School of Health Sciences and the Pennsylvania College of Optometry’s School of Audiology.

According to her Audiology Online memorial page, Dr. Pikus was a “practitioner scientist, who spent much of her career researching and developing protocols for rare and genetic diseases affecting the ear and hearing. She ‘put audiology on the map’ and played a key role as an advisor in formulating policies and the development of the National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders.”

Dr. Marion Downs instituted the mass infant hearing screening program in 1963, shining a light on the importance of hearing loss in infants and children. Thanks to her efforts, over 96% of babies born in the U.S. today are screened for hearing loss as newborns, and numerous countries worldwide have since established universal infant hearing screening programs.

In 1969, Downs established and proposed the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing (JCIH). The JCIH was the first committee of its kind, comprised of industry professionals who for 35 years worked together to formulate and recommend best practices in infant hearing screening programs.

Dr. Downs additionally co-authored three books, including the textbook Hearing in Children, which was updated through six editions from 1972 to 2014 and translated into multiple languages for use throughout the world. She also compiled over 130 articles in scientific journals across the industry. Her legacy, the Marion Downs Center, is a nonprofit organization “supporting individuals and families with hearing or communication challenges.”2

Downs was still speaking at seminars and symposiums around the world well into her 90s. She passed away in 2014, at the age of 100, but not before publishing her guide to living a long and enjoyable life, titled Shut up and Live (You Know How) – A 93-Year-Old’s Guide to Living to a Ripe Old Age.

These five women not only contributed greatly to the field of hearing healthcare, they also changed the world. From helping children with hearing loss to introducing legislation to give people with hearing loss better access to care, the world would be different without their significant contributions. At CaptionCall, we strive to make a difference in the world as well. To learn more about our commitment to helping people with hearing loss who need captions to use the phone effectively, visit our professionals page below.

References:

1. Women in Audiology—Stories of Courage and Strength – The American Academy of Audiology

2. Nonprofit Organization in Denver, CO | Marion Downs Center

Laura Ann Wilber, Ph.D. – The American Academy of Audiology    Laura Ann Wilber | Northwestern School of Communication

Lucille R. Beck, Ph.D. – The American Academy of Audiology

Lucille Beck, Ph.D. – Locations (va.gov)

Lucille B. Beck, Ph.D. Receives Presidential Rank Award Associations 6413 (audiologyonline.com)

Salus University Awards First-Ever Presidential Medals of Honor to Three Audiologists | The Hearing Review

In Memoriam: Anita Pikus Associations 4209 (audiologyonline.com)

Thoughts on Growing our Profession: Are We Ready? Anita T. Pikus Practice Management and Professional Issues Professional Issues 1201 (audiologyonline.com)

Dr. Marion Pfaender Downs, the world-renowned audiologist and pioneer for infant hearing screening, dies at age 100 | ENT & Audiology News (entandaudiologynews.com)