MusicMusic Features

Free Hearing Screenings at Nuçi’s Space Saturday

It happens every night. A music fan heads out to a show. On her way to the stage, she visits the bartender to grab a PBR and say hello. As she reaches to drop a dollar in the tip jar, she notices a container of bright-orange foam earplugs, provided by local nonprofit We’re hEAR for You, sitting next to it. Her hand lingers for a moment as she considers grabbing a pair, but then she turns away. She doesn’t want to compromise how well she’ll hear the show. Hours later, as the band loads out, she notices her ears are ringing, and she doesn’t think much of it.

“Your ears can’t send out pain signals. If they did, you would leave the concert,” says Dr. Holly Kaplan of the University of Georgia Communication Sciences and Disorders Program (CMSD) and the Speech and Hearing Clinic. “What they do is ring, and that means you have done damage to the fibers in your ear that help you hear.”

To help Athenians understand the effects of unprotected rockin’, Kaplan and UGA’s Speech and Hearing Clinic have teamed up with We’re hEAR for You to host their first annual Free Hearing Screening Day, Feb. 1 from 12–3 p.m. at Nuçi’s Space. Masters students from the CMSD program will spend the afternoon administering 15-minute, non-invasive tests, including an otoscopic exam—in which they’ll use a cone-shaped device to peer into ears to check for obstructions—and a pure tone screening, which tests a person’s ability to hear adequately enough to understand speech.

“We wanted to make it at a time of day when people from the music community would be free to come,” says Katie Carmody, vice president of We’re hEAR for You, who co-founded the organization in 2009 with her friend Caroline DeCelles. 

Carmody, who also serves as the Georgia Theatre’s head of marketing and hospitality, has been on a crusade in recent years to protect music fans from hearing loss. She and DeCelles, a speech-language pathologist, decided to launch the nonprofit in 2009 after DeCelles suffered a ruptured eardrum. Feeling particularly sensitive to loud noise at the time, DeCelles discovered that procuring earplugs at local venues was not always easy. We’re hEAR for You started with a simple goal: providing free earplugs to venues, and using volunteers to help keep them stocked.

Since then, the organization has grown fast, partnering with bands like Phish, Widespread Panic, Pretty Lights and, recently, Drive-By Truckers to make earplugs available to fans on the bands’ tour circuits. They also work with festivals like AthFest and Atlanta’s Shaky Knees, providing ‘plugs and setting up information booths where they can talk to festival-goers about preserving their long-term hearing health. 

“It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Carmody says of these partnerships.

There is a persistent aura of squareness surrounding earplugs. But with the endorsement of the very artists fans are there to see, the stigma of being uncool for wearing them is lessened. Carmody also says educating fans about the risk of hearing loss has been pivotal. The amount of earplugs distributed by We’re hEAR for You has doubled every year and shows no sign of stopping.

As it goes with most nonprofits, the biggest challenge is funding. Until very recently, We’re hEAR for You was funded exclusively by private donations. It’s had help from heavy hitters like Phish, whose Water Wheel Foundation raised $4,000 for the group. But with demand growing fast, Carmody has had to look around for other sources of funding. The group recently won a grant that will help, and Howard Leight by Honeywell donated a whopping 50,000 earplugs in December. These swells of support keep Carmody motivated to grow the organization; it already operates in Atlanta and Nashville, and she has dreams of opening chapters in other cities, with Denver, where DeCelles now lives, already in the works.

Carmody sees the upcoming Free Hearing Screening Day as a call to action, but it’s also a testament to the hard work of her organization and the Speech and Hearing Clinic toward raising awareness of this cheap, easy and essential preventative healthcare measure. With this weekend’s event, We’re hEAR for You moves a step closer to its vision of not only providing hearing protection, but helping people understand how hearing works so they can make healthy choices.

You can sign up for an appointment by calling Nuçi’s Space at 706-227-1515. As Carmody says, it’s a no-brainer.

WHAT: Free Hearing Screening Day
WHERE: Nuçi’s Space 
WHEN: Saturday, Feb. 1, 12–3 p.m.