Karl White Honored by Alexander Graham Bell Association

Karl White, a 1984-1985 AAAS Congressional Fellow, recently accepted the Volta Award given by the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The award, presented at the organization’s June 2006 convention, was in recognition of Karl’s persistent contribution to hearing loss prevention in newborns and infants and his continued campaign for public awareness over the past 15 years.

Referred to as an “invisible disability,” hearing loss affects three in 1,000 children, influencing a child’s learning, language and thought processing. It was Karl’s experience as a AAAS Fellow that began his critical research to aid this most vulnerable population.

A statistician by training, Karl is an “accidental” Fellow. Looking for a sabbatical opportunity while at Utah State University (where he was performing cost-benefit analyses of highly disabled children), Karl happened upon an ad for the AAAS fellowship, and his career took off on a new direction.

When he applied to the AAAS fellowship in 1984, Karl did not know much about the congressional process. However, he was awarded one of two AAAS Congressional Fellowships and accepted an assignment with the Senate Subcommittee of the Handicapped (which has since been renamed the Senate Subcommittee on Disability Policy). At first, he was quite surprised that his academic training did not transition naturally to working on Capitol Hill. Although, in time, Karl gained new respect for the system and its ability to do good works for the public.

During his tenor with the subcommittee, he contributed to the creation of the Commission on Education of the Deaf and the Education of the Deaf Act of 1986. The ramifications of this act and a call from the Congressional Commission on the Education of the Deaf led Karl to the area of newborn hearing loss, and hearing screening and intervention programs.

Now as director of the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM) at Utah State University, which promotes programs for early detection and management of hearing loss in children, Karl has a keen understanding that a bridge between science and policy is not just beneficial, but necessary. “If you don’t take what you’re finding in science and apply it,” Karl notes, “society is the loser.”

Today, Karl is building on the success of NCHAM in the U.S. by taking his research abroad to Poland, Costa Rica, and soon to India. There, he is starting a pilot program in conjunction with the Indian government to create a system within health clinics to help prevent and identify hearing loss in children.

For more information on Karl and his work, visit www.infanthearing.org.