StromTribute to Rocky Stone
Howard “Rocky” Stone died on August 13th at age 79. As one of the major forces behind Senators Harkin and Simon in the development of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) relative to provisions for people with hearing loss, as well as a prominent voice in the “White House Conferences on the Aging,” Rocky would have easily cemented his place in any “Hall of Fame” for disability rights advocacy; the fact that he also established a powerful organization for individuals with hearing impairment, Self Help for Hard of Hearing People (SHHH), easily places him as one of the foremost champions for persons with hearing impairment in the 20th century.

Carl Rogers once wrote that, when a person’s “awareness of experience…is fully operating, his behavior is to be trusted.” It is in these moments, says Rogers, that the human body becomes “aware of its delicate and sensitive tenderness toward others.” The quote applies well to Rocky Stone. Rocky had incurred a severe bilateral hearing impairment in the Army during World War II. Through the use of hearing aids, he went on to earn a college degree, become a key member of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Soviet Block Division during the Cold War, and establish SHHH in 1979 as an organization for and run by people who have hearing loss. His focus was self-help, empowerment, and advocacy.

Not surprisingly, Rocky’s views as the leader of a consumer and disabilities rights organization were occasionally at odds with the hearing industry. But there was never any question about his great depth of intelligence, experience, humanity, or commitment. Carole Rogin, executive director of the Hearing Industries Association (HIA), writes:

In the early years of SHHH, assertiveness skills of members often meandered into aggressiveness, and peoples’ hearing aids were often the target of the aggression. I remember with some fondness (mostly because I was not on the panel) the 1st SHHH Convention—HIA was the first exhibitor for this convention and was also one of the first speakers selected for the program. Rocky asked us to develop a panel presentation that he himself would moderate. He recognized that, because SHHH members were so dependent on their hearing aids and the absolutely best performance was so important to them, they might get agitated during the Q&A session, and he wanted to moderate that for us, so that information rather than anger would be shared. The HIA Panel was John Zei representing the manufacturing sector, and several other individuals no longer in the industry representing components and batteries. Each of the presenters spoke about his area of expertise, and then the floor was opened for questions. The questions were about size, performance, fidelity, repairs, and just about every other issue you can name. However, the one issue that Rocky really wanted to “moderate” and HIA members least wanted to tackle was not raised by the audience, so the moderator asked it himself: “Why do hearing aids cost so much?”

And that was the essence of our friend Rocky Stone. He always asked the tough questions, but he always ensured that the important players were there to have the opportunity to answer them. For Rocky personally, for the members of his beloved organization, and for people with hearing losses around the world, hearing aids were critically important to living life to the fullest—and he certainly did. He leaves a rich legacy for all of us.

The value of SHHH, the Americans with Disabilities Act as it relates to hearing impairment, and Rocky Stone’s other important initiatives, such as “Teamwork,” are a testament to his ability to affect change. He is a classic example of one person motivating others to help move the world in a better direction.

Karl Strom