Collin Tastet was just 9 years old when he made hearing-loss history in his home state of North Carolina. On a spring day in 2010, Tastet stood at the elbow of Governor Bev Purdue and watched her sign into law a mandate that would require all state health benefit plans cover hearing aids for children ages 3-21.
When Governor Purdue finished signing the bill, she turned to the boy who had been the lead advocate behind passage of the mandate, and gave him the pen with which she’d signed the bill. Tastet beamed. His year of political lobbying had paid off. “I was, like, very happy,” remembers Tastet, now 11. “All the kids would get the hearing aids that they need.” The bill Tastet helped usher into law requires North Carolina state insurers to cover up to $2,500 for each hearing aid, every three years, until a child is 22.
“All the kids would get the hearing aids that they need.”
Tastet’s efforts illustrate that advocacy for those with hearing loss can start at any age, and unfold in any arena – political, personal or professional. The young Greensboro native, born with moderate-to-severe hearing loss, was lucky. He had received his first pair of hearing aids when he was just an infant, after his father wrote a letter to his company’s chief executive officer and asked that their insurance policy be changed to cover hearing aids. It worked.
When Tastet was 8, he was shocked to learn that there were kids in North Carolina who couldn’t afford hearing aids. That’s when the grade-schooler jumped into political action. Over the course of the next year the boy lobbied state senators and legislators. He made calls; he shook hands; he attended votes on the issue. Most importantly, he educated and never gave up. “In the first meeting I had to give a speech. Then, after that, I kind of said, ‘Hello, will you support this bill?’’’ says Tastet.
The boy’s parents supported their son’s efforts, making sure he didn’t miss any committee meetings or votes on the issue. Tastet’s father was also instrumental in the boy’s letter-writing campaign to members of the North Carolina General Assembly. “My dad would help on that because I didn’t really think I could write something,” says Tastet. “He was kind of my publisher.” Tastet’s mom and dad both credit the boy’s success in school to his early access to sound and, like their son, wanted the same opportunity for all North Carolinian children with hearing loss. Their family commitment is now making a difference in the Tar Heel State.