Free hearing aids for those in need

Lillian Spence 11, has her free hearing aids placed in her ear. By Sarah Fournier

At the Bronx’s Montfiore Medical Center’s waiting room today, Lillian Spence, 11, of the Bronx, waited for free hearing aids. She has spent the last year almost deaf.

“Lillian has been living without any hearing aids for almost a year now, because we couldn’t afford it,” said her father, George Spence, 43, a high school counselor. “My insurance used to cover Lillian’s hearing aids, but they stopped. Hearing aids are around $2,000 and I cannot afford that.”

Like Lillian Spence, 18 other low-income individuals with hearing disabilities received free hearing aids today as part of the “Help America Hear” program organized by the Foundation for Sight and Sound.

“We like to give a hand up, not a hand out” said Mitchel Shapiro, creator of the foundation. “Research is very important, it’s hope. Hope is great, but with those free hearing aids we offer an immediate solution.”

Mitchel Shapiro, creator of the Foundation for Sight and Sound gives free hearing aids for people in need. By Sarah Fournier

Shapiro launched the foundation in 2004 and suffers from Usher Syndrome III himself, a rare genetic disorder causing him to progressively lose both hearing and vision.

The foundation for Sight and Sound depends only on donations and fundraising.

“Since 2009 we received 2,000 applications for hearing aids, 332 people already received them,” he said.

Walking into the exam room to get her hearing aids set up, Lillian Spence was excited.

“I can read lips, like a spy, but this is going to be great,” she said.

When the hearing aids are placed in her ear and turned on Lillian Spence is surprised to hear noises that didn’t exist for her a few minutes ago. When a computer blip went on in the room she turned around, looking for the source of this noise she couldn’t hear before.

“I am just happy, so happy,” George Spence said.

The free hearing aids received by Lillian Spence. By Sarah Fournier

The foundation, which supports several programs designed to help “differently abled persons,” relies on volunteers.

George Spence wants to join those ranks.

“I want to volunteer,” he said to Shapiro. “I obviously don’t have money, but I want to be involved in the future. This is an awesome gift.”