MUNICH, GERMANY/BOULDER, CO–Ever since wearable hearing aids were introduced 70 years or so ago, they have been marketed as “discreet,” the “smallest ever,” and, more recently, “invisible in the ear.” That’s because consumers don’t want others to know they’re wearing hearing aids—or so manufacturers and dispensers believe.
Of course, that’s not true of everyone with hearing loss. Kids have been wearing colorful instruments for a long time. And, several years ago, manufacturers were promoting an assortment of tiny but stylishly designed mini-BTEs that came in every color in the rainbow. Now, though, invisibility seems to be regarded as the highest virtue.
However, there is a segment of the market, possibly a growing one, that rejects the idea that hearing loss and hearing aids should be hidden away.
For example, Louise Carroll, chief executive of New Zealand’s National Foundation for the Deaf, wears two red beads on each of her hearing aids to make sure no one misses them. In an interview with Stuff.co.nz, she said, “By personalizing our hearing aids with adornment we show the world we are willing and able to communicate.”
Others are now calling attention to their devices with dangling jewelry, diamantes, and brightly colored sleeves to their hearing aids.
TAKING IT TO ANOTHER LEVEL
There is at least one company, designaffairs Group Gmbh, that takes the trend of conspicuous hearing help to an extreme. Its web site displays some wild earware, which it calls “Fashionable Hearing Machines.”
These devices feature a three-microphone system that is placed around the circumference of a large ring. As shown above, the ring is inserted into the user’s earlobe and stretches it, which the Munich, Germany-based company says results in enhanced hearing ability.
The marketing message accompanying this bizarre looking product is, “A new era has begun. People don’t try to hide their handicap anymore. Rising self-confidence is taking hearing aids to a new level…Be individual, be cool, be yourself.”
THE HEARING DRESS
Speaking of bizarre, news.discovery.com reports on the concept of a dress that doubles as a hearing aid. Note the term “concept,” as the so-called flutter dress is an idea whose time has not yet arrived—and probably never will.
It was dreamt up by two students, Halley Profita and Nicholas Farrow, and a faculty member, Nikolaus Correll—at the Wellness Innovation and Interaction Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The envisioned garment has numerous microphones embedded inside the bodice to pick up sound from different directions. The inventors explain, “The microphones collectively agree on the direction of sound and, in turn, activate small vibration motors to simulate fluttering in the direction of the auditory cue.” When those wings flutter a certain way because of a loud horn honk or fire truck blare, it signals danger.