As members of the Coordinating Committee for ASHA Special Interest Group 7, Aural Rehabilitation and Its Instrumentation, we—Deb Culbertson, Beth Humphrey, Jani Johnson, Nicole Marrone, and Jessica Sullivan—recently spent a day on Capitol Hill. As a group, we visited our various representatives to advocate for the professions—with guidance from ASHA’s legislative team—the day before our annual business meeting at the National Office.
After our visit, we debriefed about the experiences so other audiologists and speech-language pathologists considering advocating for our professions on the Hill might gain some insights about the process. In addition to getting a behind-the-scenes view of our federal government, joking with congressional staff, and often enjoying refreshments, here are some highlights from our discussions.
Advice and expectations
Jani: Bring your business cards! The staffers hand you their cards during introductions, and you naturally want to give yours to them. Also, it helps to create a document with your talking points that you can leave behind. ASHA maintains summaries on its advocacy page of issues for this purpose.
Jessica: Prepare for a range of engagement from staffers, and don’t feel discouraged if you can’t meet with your actual congressional representative. Sometimes the staffers are more effective in getting the most important points across to lawmakers.
Nicole: Expect the unexpected. We had some delays because of protests and security issues. Sometimes we met in offices, conference rooms, or even hallways. Prepare your elevator speech and be flexible.
Deb: Personal stories make the issues real.
Jessica: Try the buddy system! Even if you don’t have the same representative as your colleagues, it’s fun to go to meetings together.
Beth: Prepare your talking points, but also be ready to speak to a variety of topics from your own experiences.
Jani: Try not to be intimidated. The staffers are usually right out of college and friendly, and the reps are there for their constituents. No one expects you to be an expert on the legislation—they just want to hear about your own experiences and expertise.
Beth: No matter how the interaction goes, know you can create an impact just by making our professions more visible.
Beth: ASHA’s Advocacy page offers great resources, like what bills are in preparation and under consideration. On the “Take Action” page, a link lets you enter your zip code to find your elected officials.
Deb: My state association offered good advice about how to meet your legislators.
Nicole: I contacted the scheduler for each of my representatives’ offices. Phone and email worked better for me than going through website systems. I also reviewed the websites for each person, so I’d know which committees they served and to get an idea about their priorities.
Jani: Last year I wasn’t aware of all of my representatives’ priorities and some visits were less productive. For example, last year I scheduled meetings only with health care staffers and missed that one of my senators chairs a committee working on education issues. This year, this committee is drafting language to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which includes issues related to student loans and loan forgiveness, and we knew to meet with health care and education staff. We discussed several key issues because we were more aware of priorities.
Nicole: I came prepared with data on how hearing loss affects people in my district and state—Arizona—to help convince my representatives about the importance of the issue and how it applies directly to their constituents.
Deb: Last year it struck me how important it was for us to make these issues real for the legislators and staffers. At every visit we asked, “What experience have you had with hearing loss, balance, or tinnitus?” Every single staffer related some personal experience, usually with a family member. I also presented several patient stories showing how upcoming legislation on expanding Medicare coverage for audiology treatments will help real people.
Jani: Beth and I are both from Tennessee. We scheduled our senator staff meetings together and went together to visit both of our representatives. We had a great day talking about issues important to us as audiologists and educators. It was exciting to share information about our professions with people who know very little about what we do.
Beth: It was a fun day! One thing that stands out to me was our visit with one of our representatives. He had just flown in to D.C. He seemed tired, holding a cold soda to his head while I was talking, and I wasn’t sure how he would receive my talking points. But he was very personable, joking around and wanting to connect with me about my city’s local landmarks. Ultimately, we had a productive conversation. I would feel comfortable reaching out to him again in the future.
Deb: Jessica and I felt energized after our day on the Hill. The staffer at one senate office was highly interested and made a sincere effort to understand our issues and how legislation will help people with communication disorders. I wasn’t expecting—and felt excited by—such a high level of interest.
Jessica: Our interaction gave me hope that we actually might see meaningful change in the near future.
Nicole: I 100% agree! It really felt like there is momentum behind this new initiative supported by several of our audiology organizations to enhance Medicare access to audiology services. My most memorable moment was when the legislative aide said the data I brought helped them understand how important the situation is to the state.
Deb: Last year I took a wrong turn down a hallway and spotted some high-profilers before I realized I was in a restricted area. It was definitely memorable!
We hope our shared experiences on Capitol Hill will encourage you to visit your representatives at all levels. The word on the Hill is that the joint initiative from ASHA, the American Academy of Audiology, and ADA to enhance Medicare access to audiology services will drop in the coming weeks. Keep an ear out for this bill (see what we did there?)!
You can also call, email, or request local meetings with your congressperson in your home state. Take action and encourage your representatives to support ASHA-backed legislation!
SIG 7 Coordinating Committee: Coordinator Deb Culbertson, PhD, CCC-A, firstname.lastname@example.org; Associate Coordinator, Beth Humphrey, AuD, CCC-A, email@example.com; Member-At-Large, Jani Johnson, PhD, CCC-A, firstname.lastname@example.org; Professional Development Manager, Nicole Marrone, PhD, CCC-A, email@example.com; and Perspectives Editor, Jessica Sullivan, PhD, firstname.lastname@example.org.