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Release: Oct. 29, 2001

UI receives grant to develop website on voice health for teachers

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Teachers make up 4 percent of the workforce in the United States, yet they account for nearly 20 percent of patients seen at voice centers. A University of Iowa Web project aims to help teachers ward off and treat the voice disorders that are all too typical of their occupation.

Researchers in the UI Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology have received a three-year, $447,000 grant from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The project, "Teaching the Teacher about Healthy Vocalization," will develop the first comprehensive outreach effort to help teachers adopt healthy vocal habits in their work.

The focus of the project will be an educational Web site called "Teachers Express," said Julie Ostrem, UI program associate in speech pathology and audiology, and the study's principal investigator.

"We will develop the Web site over a two-year period, followed by a year of testing and marketing," Ostrem said. "It's an unusual but much needed project. Little has been done to teach teachers about vocal health. However, teachers are 32 times more likely to have voice disorders than people in other professions."

Voice problems include hoarseness, changes in voice, such as increased breathiness or running out of breath, and swelling in the neck not accompanied by a sore throat or cold. These difficulties may become so severe that teachers prematurely abandon their careers. However, behavioral changes can prevent the vast majority of occupational voice disorders.

Research on the human voice shows that a return to vocal health depends on four elements: genetic predisposition, the state of the vocal tissues, how much a person uses his or her voice, and how efficiently the person uses his or her voice.

Leading voice research has been completed by the National Center for Voice and Speech, which is directed by Ingo Titze, Ph.D., UI Foundation Distinguished Professor in the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology and the School of Music. Titze is an investigator on the new UI project, which will use his and others' research to promote strategies for teachers' vocal health.

"The interactive Web site will bridge the gap between voice scientists and teachers," Ostrem said. "In addition to providing general information about the voice, the site will allow teachers to learn how to prevent voice disorders, how to improve voice comfort and quality and how to seek medical help, when necessary."

The site also will include a curriculum that school speech-language pathologists can use to educate teachers in schools nationwide about voice health and maintenance.

In addition to UI investigators, the study team includes researchers from the Denver Center for the Performing Arts and the University of Utah and a teacher with the school system in Arlington, Va.

The National Center for Voice and Speech is a consortium of investigators at the UI, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and the University of Utah. The center can be visited online at http://www.ncvs.org/.

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI College of Medicine and the UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at www.uihealthcare.com.