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Legal Settlement Set the Stage for Au.D. Growth

The favorable settlement of litigation between ASHA and the Audiology Foundation of America (AFA) in the late 1990s allowed the Au.D. to gain a firm foothold as the profession's entry level common degree designator, from which it has made its substantial growth to date. While the parties fought in court over the Au.D. credential, two regionally-accredited Au.D. degree distance learning programs were established to fully accommodate existing practitioners. The settlement of the litigation in 1999 prevented any challenge to those programs and included ASHA's explicit recognition of the objectives of the Au.D. movement. 

The AFA's original two-track transition program for practitioners, established in 1995, advocated both the Au.D. credential and the Au.D. distance education degree from accredited academic institutions. However, the establishment of degree programs experienced obstacles that threatened to stop the progress of the Au.D. in its tracks. The AFA went ahead with the credential, which led to a lawsuit by ASHA alleging that the credential went against federal trademark and other laws. The AFA defended the lawsuit very vigorously over several years, and by 1999 the AFA and ASHA each had filed extensive motions with the court to award them judgment. The outcome was uncertain.

In the meantime, the AFA and the Academy of Dispensing Audiologists (ADA) had encouraged the development of two new Au.D. programs, and provided valuable information and resources including candidates for program directors. The opening of these two significant distance education programs in 1999, the Arizona School of Health Sciences and the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, School of Audiology, spurred the distance education component of the transition. These regionally accredited institutions (a requirement) met very specific requirements outlined in the AFA's plan to transition audiology to a doctoring profession, including accessibility, affordability, credit for assessed capabilities, completion of courses only in areas of documented deficiencies, and no terminal research component.

The existence of these additional distance education program developments at the time the motions were pending with the court convinced the AFA that there were now sufficient Au.D. degree opportunities available to practitioners. The AFA was ready to stop offering its credential as part of the transition process, and instead focus singularly on distance education degree opportunities. As a result of these program additions and the terms of the settlement agreement, the AFA could offer voluntarily and permanently to cease issuing the Au.D. credential, which it did in return for concessions from ASHA. ASHA was itself prepared to settle, since the outcome of its lawsuit was uncertain and a settlement would mark the end of the credential to which it objected. However, ASHA had to agree in the settlement that it would recognize the regionally-accredited Au.D. programs, not just those accredited by the AHSA-affiliated CAA.

AFA Action

Under the settlement, the AFA continued to encourage credential holders to pursue a distance education Au.D. degree from a regionally accredited institution of higher learning, and no longer advocated or promoted the public display of the Au.D. certificate or the use of the designations Au.D., Doctor of Audiology, Dr., or Doctor in connection with the practice of audiology, unless the practitioner had the degree. Special consideration was given by AFA and ASHA for practical difficulties that prevented practitioners from immediately discontinuing the use of the credential.

ASHA Action
As part of the negotiations, ASHA agreed to reaffirm its continuing support for the transition of audiology to a doctoral level profession. It also agreed to support the Au.D. degree when conferred by a regionally accredited institution, as well as the use of distance learning mechanisms and the granting of reasonable academic credit for demonstrated competencies by Au.D. programs. ASHA agreed to support the use of the degree and titles Au.D., Doctor of Audiology, Dr., and Doctor by those who obtained degrees from regionally accredited institutions, and expressed its appreciation to those working toward the establishment of Au.D. programs.

Amnesty by ASHA for prior use of the credential was negotiated. ASHA's Board of Ethics did not pursue disciplinary action arising from the use of the AFA's Au.D. credential.

The legal settlement between the AFA and ASHA effectively set the stage for thousands of people to obtain additional education in the form of an Au.D., even while continuing to work as full-time employees. By allowing the establishment of the ASHS and PCO programs, and precluding challenges to them, the litigation successfully pushed the Au.D. forward. This early growth of Au.D.-educated audiologists helped lay the foundation for the present Au.D. movement, and has continued to propel the field of audiology into the future. It has allowed audiology to become what it was always meant to be - a doctoring profession dedicated to the highest quality of standards and patient care.