The waves crashing onto the shore…
A rock band you love, live in concert…
A bird chirping to wake you from your slumber…
Friends laughing at your jokes…
These sounds are a given for most of us, but for some, enjoying them requires a bit of help.
Some hearing aid manufacturers have started to produce hearing aids that are more visible; with fun options to fit individual style. This is important. It raises awareness for the hearing impaired and the social stigmas that can hold them back.
"There shouldn't be any difference between wearing glasses and hearing aids, but people do doubt you intellectually" — Cassandra Mulo, profoundly deaf person known by her friends as the best listener in the world.
Hearing aids have been around for many decades. However, in the late 60’s and 70’s, technology made it possible to dramatically minimize their size. New improvements have helped users connect their hearing aids to their cellphones— or even make short recordings and play audio back to clarify speech.
"Last time I got an upgrade I couldn’t sleep for three days because I was blown away by a sound quality that I’d never heard before. Knowing I’ll be getting another upgrade soon—half the size and more technological benefits like the waterproof option (for the first time ever!)— is truly life changing." — Cassandra Mulo
However, design until now has focused solely on camouflaging and hiding devices. This has caused many users who cannot afford expensive hidden “in-ear” devices to decorate them themselves. This is especially popular among kids, who rhinestone their devices or use nail polish to brighten their earpieces.
In reality, many of the hearing impaired still have struggles with the use of hearing aids, especially with volume control in loud areas and tuning out unwanted sounds and maximizing conversations they actually want to enjoy. Other issues are, for instance, the lack of waterproof devices, feedback noises and battery life.
While these are technical problems to be solved, there is another problem for the hearing impaired that comes with this: social stigma. When having to explain to the people around you why you might not want to go to a certain restaurant or to put the music down one has to divulge their hearing issues. So why have hearing aids been designed to be hidden, like a shameful piece of your personal life? If issues surrounding hearing aids need to be improved and consideration for the hearing impaired need to be prioritized, then why aren’t hearing aids more visible. Why can they not be personalized to fit the user’s style?
We’ve seen trends in the updating of wheelchairs in recent years, where colors, lights or off-road features have been added to make the wheelchair less of a simple tool and more of a personalized vehicle to fit the needs and style of the owner.
When we look at other audio devices and their design, we can see the potential design possibilities for hearing aids. Anything from hip Bluetooth headphones to audio feedback earbuds used by singers – these have all had a major design upgrade in the last decade. At President Biden’s inauguration Lady Gaga sported a fabulous earpiece, which could be an example for the future of decadent hearing devices.
While some bigger companies have tried to launch alternative looks for their existing models, it is up to the smaller start-ups to revolutionize the game. Luckily, there are some that are breaking the mold and have started to make pieces of wearable art. Some have found their small success through fundraising websites such as IndieGoGo or through celebrity endorsement.
It seems like big breakthroughs are still far off, however. Popularity will only pick up when social stigmas are broken and hearing disabilities are not just accepted but celebrated. Mass production of improved hearing aids will also keep prices low and become affordable for those wishing to spice up their hearing aids.
What can you do to help?
Make sure to accommodate for the hearing impaired in your personal life or business. Be patient with those with hearing loss and make sure to communicate clearly instead of loudly.
Ask questions, but be considerate to those affected by hearing loss. Some might want to share and spread awareness, while others might not. Not choosing to wear a hearing aid at all, wearing a concealed hearing device or having an extravagant ear piece is a personal choice and should be accepted as such.