Recently I have been asked quite a lot about Hearrings, an element of my 'former commercial' life which was a project originally conceived out of a discussion of attitudes towards hearing loss. So I thought it might be useful to write a blog post, and to explore whether things have changed in the intervening years.
In 2008 I was invited to explore how hearing aids are perceived within wider society at the national conference of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (BSHAA). The presentation covered what could be done to challenge misconceptions about hearing aids in the media and how the hearing aid industry could encourage uptake of hearing aids. How could we make hearing aids more ‘sexy’ to the media so that they were discussed more positively and how could the modern benefits of wearing hearing aids be better portrayed?
I covered the history of portrayal of hearing aids in the media such as outlets like the Daily Mail's article about Jodie Foster (a prominent Hollywood actress at the time) being ‘hearing aid shamed’:
The discussion of making hearing aids ‘funky’ started way back in the 1950s. As can be seen at the fabulous Becker Exhibit website there were some ingenious ways in which people have tried to conceal their hearing devices as well as incorporating them into jewellery such as brooches and hair clips. http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/did/index.htm
So as a gimmick for the presentation I designed a piece of jewellery that clipped onto my hearing aids. I was old enough to have started my career occasionally fitting NHS body worn hearing aids which utilized a coupling that connected the receiver. I used this coupling on a standard ear mould to clip on a carefully adapted piece of jewellery… the Hearring was born. There was huge interest from the delegates at the conference as to where they could buy them for their customers, so we embarked on the journey of making the Hearring commercially available.
So along with patenting the design and trademarking the name Hearrings, we worked with a designer, Victoria Glynn to create a range of Swarovski crystal encrusted hearts. The strap line was "Changing hearing aids from a necessity into a must have accessory". Designing packaging and promotion seemed to take up an inordinate amount of time and as well as attending the ill fated San Diego American Academy of Audiology congress (where we all got stranded by the erupting volcano in Iceland grounding all flights) interest really grew. We were lucky to be featured in many Fashion pages of magazines and newspapers including a whole page feature in the Independent Newspaper.
Hearrings set out to get people talking and it did... but with the advent of slim tube / receiver in the canal technology and concentrating on my main hearing aid audiology business the whole concept took a back seat and I always said that technology in society, away from hearing aids, was always likely to lead to change in hearing aid perception. So with the advance in bluetooth head phones and the advent of 'hearables' and self fitting hearing devices via iPhones and apps have things changed? Are people queuing up to get fitted with hearing instruments?
In 2019 the Hearing Industries Association (HIA) survey, the MarkeTrak10, measured trends in hearing aid adoption / or non use. For those individuals where hearing aids were recommended to help with a hearing loss but who chose not to wear hearing technology 12% cited “Too noticeable/visible” 12% thought hearing devices were “unattractive” and 11% felt “too young to have hearing aids”. ( https://hearingreview.com/uncategorized/marketrak-10-hearing-aids-in-an-era-of-disruption-and-dtc-otc-devices-2 )
I have to admit being surprised by this data, ten years since we discussed this at the conference it seems that little has changed, however the number of devices fitted continues to grow, so surely this shows that uptake of hearing device use is rising. With the recent move in the US towards over the counter devices or self fitting personal sound amplifiers (PSAPs) it's looking like the traditional hearing aid manufacturers dominating the market may be heading for a shake up, especially in the wake of the Covid19 pandemic where telehealth solutions were the only option for many individuals to access audiological advice. There seems to be a raft of studies looking at the impact of telehealth on Audiology. So has this major societal shift been reflected in the uptake of hearing devices or will people with untreated hearing loss stay in the shadows? I guess "time will tell" and the next few Marketrak studies may be quite revealing. Indeed with PSAPs and self fitting amplification strategies implemented through phone Apps it may be this data will be impossible to obtain as people move from just using earphones to adding in some amplification strategies as their hearing deteriorates... it will become the norm... no big deal...
Back in 2011 the Audira think tank published a blog article about "Why we must never use the ‘S’ word in hearing care" ( https://audira.info/index.php/articles/why-we-must-never-use-the-s-word-in-hearing-care ) whilst Audiologists are encouraged to stop talking about stigma it would be interesting to hear from readers of this blog as to whether or not users of hearing aids in 2022, experience discrimination or dare I say it 'stigma' relating to hearing aids. Often these real life stories are the most revealing of society as a whole. At some point in this blog I will explore whether the lived experience of those born with deafness (or Deafness) are different to those that acquire hearing loss later in life with conditions such as presbycusis.
Certainly " The times they are a-changin' " and as a kid when first fitted with hearing aids I would have loved to have owned a Barbie wearing a hearing aid, who knows maybe I would have also designed her a Hearring or two!
Some examples of my Hearrings, quite a few nature inspired ones!