What a Decade for ASHA With 10 years under her belt at the helm of ASHA, Arlene Pietranton reflects on how far the professions and the association have come in a decade. Features
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Features  |   August 01, 2014
What a Decade for ASHA
Author Notes
  • Gary Dunham, PhD, is ASHA publications director and editor-in-chief of The ASHA Leader. gdunham@asha.org
    Gary Dunham, PhD, is ASHA publications director and editor-in-chief of The ASHA Leader. gdunham@asha.org×
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Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / Features
Features   |   August 01, 2014
What a Decade for ASHA
The ASHA Leader, August 2014, Vol. 19, 68-73. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.19082014.68
The ASHA Leader, August 2014, Vol. 19, 68-73. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.19082014.68
Pause for a moment, and think back 10 years. A decade ago, the Summer Olympics were taking place in Athens; folks were getting down with Usher’s Confessions; thanks to Oprah’s Book Club, everyone was rediscovering the 127-year old novel “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy; low-carb diets like Atkins and South Beach were the rage; and television gave us a memorable wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl, as well as Ken Jennings winning 74 games on “Jeopardy!”
Oh, yeah, how can we forget that obscure “The Facebook” online thing, still slowly rolling out to college students only? And what about tweets, you of the earnest-persuasion may inquire? Just from the beaks of birds, folks.
Now set aside these nostalgic tidbits and focus on ASHA. At the beginning of 2004, the association boasted 16 Special Interest Divisions and a little more than 114,000 members. More 10 percent of the members had just returned from a lively ASHA convention in Chicago, where the theme was “Exploring New Frontiers in Biology.” The association was governed differently then, overseen by a 13-member Executive Board and 150-member Legislative Council.
2004 is especially memorable for ASHA because it marked the first year of Arlene Pietranton’s tenure as chief executive officer. Quite some shoes to fill, as her predecessor, Fred Spahr, had led the association for 23 years before retiring at the end of 2003.
Fast-forward 10 years of dizzying digital communication advances and steady growth in the association and the professions…and there’s Arlene, still in the game and going strong. I first met ASHA’s CEO four years ago during my job interview—and that spirited, enjoyable conversation between fellow New Englanders and Red Sox fans paved the way for many more that have followed.
On the 10th anniversary of Pietranton becoming ASHA’s CEO, I asked her to take a good look back over the association’s past decade. Where have we come from and what have we learned?
OK, it’s early January 2004, the beginning of a memorable year for Red Sox fans like you and me. That bleary cold month also marked your first day on the job as ASHA’s new CEO. What were you thinking when you first sat down at your desk that day?
Several things, as I recall. Excitement about taking on a new and challenging role with professions and an organization to which I was—and remain—deeply committed. A deep sense of gratitude for the confidence and responsibility that ASHA’s Board had entrusted to me—and for the incredible outpouring of support that I received from other ASHA staff, so many ASHA members and colleagues in the association community. And, yes, a surge of adrenaline as I realized that I needed to deliver—and strived to reassure myself that although there were any number of things that I didn’t know, that I was fortunate to “know who knows.” At its core, ASHA is an amazing community made up of deeply committed and talented members, volunteers and staff. I can’t begin to estimate how many times I’ve reached out to seek information or ask a favor. But it must be in the thousands … and I’ve never once been turned away!
You are only the third CEO in the history of ASHA, soon to celebrate its 90th year. Wow. Taking the long view, how has this incredible continuity of executive leadership made a difference in the history of the association?
Stability can be a double-edged sword. On the down side, you run the risk of becoming complacent and having a false sense of security. On the other hand, stability can also enable you to look beyond the bend, think and act strategically, and take calculated risks.
In some ways, I think that ASHA has had the best of both worlds through its long-tenured stable staff leadership working in partnership with its highly engaged and talented volunteer leadership that changes from year to year.
Stability among staff leadership means that there is follow-through on the decisions by the board, even if it requires planning and execution for several years after the individuals who made the decision are off the board. It also assures that institutional memory is available to help inform current board conversations about topics that may have come up in the past.
The Practice Portal is a great example. ASHA’s 2010 Board of Directors approved a recommendation to invest substantial association resources to totally revamp ASHA’s practice policy documents and materials into a comprehensive, nimble and easy-to-navigate online resource. This multi-year effort has required ongoing collaboration by successive board members and a small army of member subject-matter experts and dedicated staff. If any of you haven’t seen it, I urge you to check it out—the feedback has been awesome!
ASHA has changed since you took office and, of course, will continue to evolve in the years ahead. As the members look back over the past decade, what significant changes have occurred in the association’s makeup, governance and ability to serve them, their clients and the professions? How is the ASHA of 2014 the same or different association from what it was 10 years ago?
Oh my—so many things are different!
  • ASHA has a new vision statement: “Making effective communication, a human right, accessible and achievable for all.”

  • The association moved into a new, energy-efficient and environmentally friendly Gold-LEED certified home. A new national office at 2200 Research Boulevard in Rockville, Md., was completed in December 2007.

  • ASHA’s governance model in place since 1969 was updated to be consistent with 21st-century best practices. ASHA’s former bicameral governance system, with an Executive Board and a Legislative Council (representative assembly), was changed into a single, unified governing body (the Board of Directors) in 2008.

  • We have grown a lot. At the beginning of 2004, ASHA’s members and affiliates numbered 114,035; in 2014, we number more than 173,000 … an increase of 51 percent!

  • But our dues haven’t. They’ve gone up only twice in the last 10 years, from $189 to $200 in 2005 and from $200 to $225 in 2010 … with no increase planned at this time.

  • Telepractice was something that relatively few members knew about or engaged in.

  • The Mutual Recognition Agreement expanded from the professional organizations in two countries (Canada and the U.S.) to six, with Australia, Ireland, Great Britain and New Zealand now in the mix.

  • We have Special Interest Groups (no longer Divisions) and there are 18 of them, with the addition of 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders, and 18, Telepractice.

  • ASHA’s advocacy has helped to create a total of 24 new procedural billing codes for audiologists or speech-language pathologists since 2004.

  • There are a slew of new ASHA programs and services for members. To name just a few: Clinical Practice Research Institute, Pathways, PROGENY, Clinicians and Researchers Collaborating, National Center for Evidence-Based Practice, Leadership Development Program, Associates Program, and Student to Empowered Professional Mentoring Program.

  • There are several new committees and boards addressing key issues on behalf of our professions: International Issues Board, Schools Finance Committee and the Committee on Medicaid.

  • We revamped the International Affiliates Program.

  • NSSLHA and ASHA committed to operating in an integrated manner, wherein the autonomy of decision-making by the NSSLHA Executive Council is preserved while relieving the Council members of the fiduciary duties, and better supporting the mutual goals of each organization.

  • ASHA launched the “Listen to Your Buds” and “Identify the Signs” public education campaigns.

  • ASHA just received a 2014 Summit Award from the American Society of Association Executives for its diversity recruitment programs.

  • And, we’ve capitalized on the digital revolution. Back in 2004, we didn’t have online communities or an online store; there was no Practice Portal or ASHAWire—the journals, Perspectives and the Leader were in print only. Ten years ago, iPads and apps did not exist and dues renewal was all done by paper and postal service.

Speaking of the digital revolution, the past 10 years have witnessed an explosion of digital communication technologies and capabilities. Glancing back from 2014, what have been the chief effects of that communication revolution on the association? Equipped digitally today, what can ASHA do now for its members and the professions that it couldn’t do or couldn’t do as well a decade ago?
Clearly, it’s now a whole new world of communication, wherein folks can access whatever information they want in whatever way they want (by phone, mail, e-mail, laptop, iPad, smart phones …). And ASHA’s responsibility and commitment is to closely monitor those rapid changes in communication and stand ready to meet our members however and whenever they choose to connect with us.
For example, over the past 10 years, ASHA has embraced social media in many ways, making it easier for members to stay current and continuously receive vital information, to communicate with the association, and to learn from and stay in touch with one another.
These include launching an official ASHA YouTube channel in 2007 (it’s been viewed more than 350,000 times), a Twitter feed and Facebook page (now with more than 66,000 likes) the following year, the first ASHAsphere blog post in 2010 (the blog has received more than 1.4 million page views), and, of course, the online ASHA Community in 2011 and the mobile app for those communities in 2013.
The digital revolution over the past decade has also helped ASHA members in many other ways. Hmmm … let’s see: there’s EdFind, the most popular digital service ASHA offers, that provides information about CSD programs; the Learning Management System, which allows for faster processing of CE exams as well as access to one’s registry of completed exams; and, of course, as I mentioned earlier, let’s not forget the Practice Portal, an amazing online resource for vetted practice guidance, which went live last year!
And, just recently, all of ASHA’s major publications were moved to the ASHAWire online platform, where they benefit from a powerful and sophisticated search engine.
I should also mention that apps today are rapidly growing in importance as tools in treatment. As shown monthly in the “App-titude” column in the ASHA Leader, apps with CSD clinical relevance are proliferating, and more and more audiologists and SLPs are finding them quite useful when treating clients.
Let’s look at the past decade in a different way. You’ve had the opportunity to meet and speak with so many ASHA members at such varied settings and occasions over the last 10 years. Please share with us some of your favorite memories of those conversations, and why they still matter to you.
Well, of course I always love hearing a member comment on how an ASHA resource, or professional development offering, or issue of the Leader, or phone call to the national office was so helpful to them!
But truthfully the conversations that stand out most for me are the ones that so many of us share about why we chose the profession of audiology or speech-language pathology and the amazingly rewarding and fulfilling experiences we’ve had in helping to make the lives of individuals with a communication disorder or difference better.
Corny as it may seem, I still get goosebumps when I see a video of someone hearing for the first time as an audiologist activates a cochlear implant or when an SLP shares a story about a granddad with aphasia who is now able to resume reading to his grandchildren.
And there are countless other stories of returning vets with blast injuries being fitted with the right hearing aid, children who stutter who are finally comfortable speaking up in class, a performer able to return to the stage free of vocal abuse, or a previously marginal student benefiting from an FM system and excelling in school.
I am sure these 10 years have also seen their share of roll-up-the-sleeves and hunker-down moments as well. What have been the biggest challenges the association has faced since 2004? How did ASHA tackle them?
An ongoing challenge for all associations is to stay relevant and provide real value to its members, especially now that there are so many alternative online resources for information and networking.
Obviously, I’m not unbiased, but I think that ASHA’s done a very good job of informing clinical practice through vetting and curating accurate and reliable resources about evidence, new and emerging topics and trends, and policy and reimbursement requirements. This information also helps the public and decision-makers understand and value the services of certified audiologists and speech-language pathologists.
Other than the Red Sox winning another World Series last year, 2013 is also memorable because you were elected chair of the Board of the American Society of Association Executives for this year. You’re now having a very busy 2014! (The Sox…well, enough said.) From the vantage point of your new duties and opportunities as ASAE chair, why is it important for ASHA to participate and support the broader world of associations? What can we learn from other associations and how can they in turn benefit from us?
Just as there are best and effective practices in audiology and speech-language pathology, there are in associations as well. Being involved in an organization like ASAE gives us the opportunity to learn from and with colleagues in other associations that offer some of the same services and programs that we do—advocacy, convention, media relations, scholarly journals, technical assistance, just to name a few.
In light of the standards we promulgate, the resources we develop and the professional development we provide, it’s by no means an exaggeration to say that associations truly help to make a better, safer and smarter world! And, like the professions of audiology and speech-language pathology, there is a genuine spirit of generosity of information sharing within the association community.
I’m very thankful for the ways that ASHA benefits from that generosity and proud of the ways that we, in turn, are a good citizen of the association community. A number of ASHA’s programs—certification, continuing education, multicultural issues, National Outcomes Measurement System, social media communications, just to name a few—are considered to be “gold standards” in the association community and ASHA has been generous in sharing information about such programs with our colleagues in other associations.
For example, Ellen Shortill, Karen Beverly-Ducker and I are using association venues we participate in to heighten awareness and improve practices in the association community about appropriate and effective accommodations so individuals with a hearing loss or other potentially limiting factors can participate more fully in our respective organizations’ programs.
So, how has ASHA left its stamp on you? If the woman who became chair of the ASAE Board of Directors this year could reach way back and give advice to the newly minted ASHA CEO in 2004, what would it be?
A few things come to mind: As CEO, your most important jobs are to “know who knows” and to engage the talents of others; listen well and don’t be afraid to ask questions; always try to understand the full story and see the big picture; be comfortable with leading and managing change—it is the one constant.
I’ve learned so much from so many over these past 10 years. Things like: it’s important to keep your priorities in mind so you don’t get sidetracked by the “nice, but not necessary”; there’s always more than one way to get something done, and it’s always good to have a Plan B; it’s important to be a good listener—there’s a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth; it’s pretty much always better to address a problem than to let it fester; and, because change is the one constant, it’s important to be comfortable leading and managing change!
Final question: We’ve come so very far in just 10 years—what’s next? Looking forward a decade or so to ASHA’s centennial year, what do you see as some important opportunities and challenges ahead?
Of course there are a lot of things we can’t anticipate—who would have thought about treatment apps 10 years ago?
I see a day when ASHA will have more than 225,000 members and affiliates who will engage with the association and one another in even more ubiquitous ways than we do now, including perhaps virtual real-time consultations with national office staff and member subject-matter experts. I anticipate ASHA’s members having access to a full spectrum of professional development offerings in a variety of mediums (face-to-face, virtual, online, self-study) that run the gamut of just-in-time, “how tos” for procedures to advanced workshops in areas of clinical specialization.
As I look into my crystal ball, I’m confident that 10 years from now, audiologists and speech-language pathologists will be even more highly valued for our knowledge and services—not only in the ways we are today, but also for the ways we can help organizations and systems as a whole communicate more effectively to help assure that effective communication, a human right, truly is accessible and achievable by all!
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August 2014
Volume 19, Issue 8