How Hearing Aid Technology Has Evolved in Society, and Why — Part VI

Editor’s Note: Today’s post continues the discussion by Abigail Farmer and Bruno Sarda on the evolution of hearing aid technology.


Ageism impacts the way individuals see themselves in relation to society. In 1895, the Hawksley Catalogue of Otacoustical Instruments to Aid the Deaf reminded deaf individuals that they were “always more or less a tax upon the kindness and forbearance of friends” and admonished them that it was a “duty… to use any aid which will improve the hearing and the enjoyment of the utterances of others without any murmuring about its size or appearance.”1

Although this perspective is not expressed so plainly today, the underlying sentiment appears to be persistent. For example, in January 2016, the screeching noise caused by a hearing aid’s feedback loop during a performance by the London Philharmonic Orchestra resulted in a member of the Philharmonic standing up and shouting at the audience to turn the sound off.2 It later turned out that a hearing aid had fallen from its wearer’s ear who, unable to hear the high-pitched noise, had to be alerted to the noise during the intermission.3


One of the most common complaints about hearing aids: that they make the wearer look and feel old or broken.4 How an individual’s primary communication partner5 views the hearing aid also affects whether the individual will use a hearing aid; the more negatively the partner views hearing aids’ appearance, the less likely the individual is to wear a hearing aid.6


Vanity: one of many reasons people decide against getting hearing aids

Vanity is closely associated with both ageism and self-perception. Individuals considering hearing aids tend to be concerned with how the hearing aid looks, particularly whether it is visible or not.While eyeglasses have become stylish fashion accessories, “hearing aids remain clunky and uncool.”

There is also an element of vanity in an individual’s reluctance to admit having any hearing problem at all.Certain professionals, like lawyers, are concerned that visible hearing aids could be viewed as a sign of weakness.10 One notable exception to the stigma surrounding hearing aid use was President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 announcement that he used hearing aids.11 The idea that a world leader would use (and enjoy the benefits of) a hearing aid was revolutionary; President Reagan’s announcement did much to alleviate the stigma surrounding hearing aid use.12 What followed was a spike in hearing aid adoption; however, the bump in sales was relatively short-lived.13


The result of the stigma surrounding hearing loss is an intense demand for smaller, more discrete hearing aids—even if that means a patient chooses a hearing aid that works worse for his or her needs than an invisible, in-ear hearing aid.14


In-ear hearing aids are of course more difficult to fit, so the industry has had to adapt to consumer demand by developing technologies to improve fit like 3D digital ear scanning or injecting impression ear mold material.15

Those who choose to wear a hearing aid have made a conscious decision to ignore this stigma; they do not deny its existence.16 One young woman who uses hearing aids stated that she does not mind wearing her hearing aid at her age, but conceded that she would have been more reluctant to wear one if she were younger.17 Even so, some young individuals do choose to wear hearing aids, despite the stigma (and despite not being covered by insurance) simply because the hearing aids restored so much functionality.18


*Stay tuned for Part 7: Demographics and Deaf Culture; title image courtesy Beltone



  1. Concealed Hearing Devices of the 19th CenturyWash. U. Sch. Med.: Bernard Becker Med. Lib. (emphasis added).
  2. Gerard Ramalho, Hearing Aid Brings Royal Philharmonic Show to Screeching Halt at Smith CenterChannel 3 News Las Vegas (Jan. 19, 2016).
  3. Id.
  4. Wallhagen, supra note 72, at 70
  5. Such as a spouse or caretaker.
  6. Wallhagen, supra note 72, at 70.
  7. Wallhagen, supra note 72, at 70–71.
  8. Graham Bower, How Apple’s Wireless EarPods Could Change the Way We Hear Everything . Cult of Mac, (Jan. 16, 2016, 5:00 AM).
  9. Wallhagen, supra note 72, at 71.
  10. Sarah Klegman, How Hearing Aids Changed My Life at the Age of 27Huffington Post: Accessibility Blog (Jan. 29, 2016, 1:11 PM), .
  11. Hearing Loss and US Presidents, Audicus (Feb. 16, 2015).
  12. Id.
  13. Interview with Wayne Staab, supra note 15.
  14.  Staab, Hearing Aid Technology Evolution, supra note [].
  15. H. Christopher Schweitzer, Are You Ready for the Next Major Disruption? Rechargeable Hearing AidsHearing Health & Tech. Matters (Feb. 17, 2015); Wayne Staab, Hearing Aid Evolution VI: Hearing Aid Coupling. Hearing Health & Tech. Matters (May 18, 2014).
  16.  Klegman, supra note 87.
  17. Id.
  18. Id.



Abigail Farmer graduated summa cum laude with B.A.s in French and Spanish from Texas A&M University. Before starting law school, she interned with the U.S. Commercial Service in Paris, France. Abigail served as Executive Note and Comment Editor for the Arizona State Law Journal from 2014–2015 and as the Hong Kong team editor for the Wilhem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot from 2015–2016. She also co-authored an article on bitcoins and estate planning, which won the Mary Moers Wenig Student Writing Competition and was published in the ACTEC Law Journal; she and her co-author presented the article at the Arizona State Bar Convention. Abigail is graduating summa cum laude with a J.D. from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and with an M.B.A. from the W.P. Carey School of Business. After graduation, Abigail will join Shell’s legal department in Houston, Texas

sardaBruno Sarda is a leading practitioner in the field of corporate sustainability at Dell, where he’s worked since 2005. In his role as Director of Social Responsibility, he leads the company’s strategy on social aspects of sustainability, including human rights and labor practices, working with internal and external stakeholders. He also manages Dell’s groundbreaking partnership with Phoenix-based TGen (Translational Genomics Research Institute) to accelerate adoption of precision medicine in addressing childhood cancer. In addition, Sarda is an adjunct faculty member and Senior Sustainability Scholar at Arizona State University, where he teaches and helped design and launch the Executive Master’s for Sustainability Leadership working with the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU.

About HHTM

HHTM's mission is to bridge the knowledge gaps in treating hearing loss by providing timely information and lively insights to anyone who cares about hearing loss. Our contributors and readers are drawn from many sectors of the hearing field, including practitioners, researchers, manufacturers, educators, and, importantly, consumers with hearing loss and those who love them.

1 Comment

  1. “Vanity is closely associated with both ageism and self-perception….There is also an element of vanity in an individual’s reluctance to admit having any hearing problem at all.”

    I really think articles like this should be written by CONSUMERS. These statements alone have an element of moralism to them. I cannot imagine such sentences being used about someone having heart disease and not utilizing an intervention. Have you ever read about someone with cancer being termed “vain” because they didn’t follow advice? Seriously? How do we know what consumers want when there has never been a nationwide survey of attitudes and knowledge levels? Lack of health literacy may have been an issue; it is for many people. How many people were studied/interviewed in these studies; many relating to HL often have very small samples, are sponsored by the hearing aid industry, and/or have validity and reliability issues. I constantly see this kind of language about people with hearing loss–almost an impatience and blaming consumers. I don’t care how many patients hearing health professionals see, or how well-intentioned people are, if you don’t live with hearing loss, you don’t entirely know what it’s like. If people don’t get or keep aids, it is a FAILURE OF EDUCATION BY PROFESSIONALS and in society, not a character flaw. Unless you truly engage consumers, you’ll never get baby boomers to buy in. And that means consumer councils and advisory boards in practices, as is now done with chronic disease prevention and treatment in primary care practices.

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