As someone who has hearing loss, whose father and grandfather and two uncles all have or had hearing loss, I’ve essentially been exposed to the rapidly changing world of the hearing-impaired for quite a while.
And probably up until the last couple of years, hearing aids have been overshadowed by an extremely negative stigma that automatically links them with old age, disability, an assumed lesser capability and being “different.” The reality is that in today’s highly technology and entertainment-focused world, hearing aids are actually transforming from a “that’s for my grandpa” product into a “wow that’s really cool, I want that” wearable.
Hearing aids aren’t just “aids” anymore, assistive devices for those with problems. They are now viewed more as technological creations akin to that of the iPhone and Pebble watch. Hearing aids are now “hearables,” and they go quite well with our age’s excessive love for smartphones, smart-watches and other smart-gadgets.
I can go home and tell you right now between me and my parents, we have the following: 2 iPad tablets, 4 laptops (Macs and PCs), 6 smartphones (Apple and Android), 1 smart-watch, 2 Fit Bits, a GoPro camera, and there’s a rumor going around that my brother is seeking to purchase yet another smart-device, this time from Windows.
So in light of my “technologically smart and culturally friendly” hearables, I had to sit and ask recently what in the world makes my hearing aids cool and my dad’s lame?
- The Age of SMART Watches?
All right, so recent reports say that in truth smart-watches are really not doing so great in terms of sales. This is most likely because my generation and those younger really don’t need or want watches anymore. We have smartphones that are glued permanently to our hands and butts, and with most of our time (work and pleasure) spent on some sort of technological device (thank you Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, Tumblr, Reddit, SnapChat…), we really don’t ever need to stop, flick our wrist and glance at yet another object for the time. It’s always in our face via phones, tablets, computers or the TV.
But despite recent low sales for smart-watches, the initial demand when such products were announced was insane! It wasn’t need or utility that fueled this demand, it was a desire for the “newest” and “coolest” piece of technology. It was also a demand born of “everyone is going to want one, so I need one too to keep up with the world,” and some of the most energetic and creative marketing yet. (Again, thank you social media).
Today’s hearing aids work with smart-gadgets like the Apple Watch and Pebble’s line of sleek, smart watches. I recently got a Pebble, and I got to say, as someone who isn’t watch-savvy, it’s pretty damn cool that I can mess with my hearing aids from my wrist. (Needless to say that it’s also more polite when at dinner with my boyfriend, versus using my giant iPhone 6 all the time on the table).
Pebble’s VP of Sales, Kristen Regelein highlights the new “coolness” that smart-watches have brought to hearing aids in a recent Mashable article.
“No one has any idea that I’m using my Pebble to control what I hear in the moment,” Regelein says. “When they do know,” she adds, “instead of worrying about what they think, they find it super cool — especially the mute button feature.”
Notice the key words here? “They find it super cool” It’s not me, I, or we. It’s THEY. They, people with hearing are now thinking hearing aids are cool, and they don’t even need them. Five years ago, no one, hearing-impaired or not, would say that.
Some smart-watches may not be doing as well as expected in terms of sales, but they are sure as heck are collectively and positively transforming the way the world views hearing aid technology.
- Derrick Coleman, Elton John, David Backes’ wife
Out of the three names above, it’s probably the first that really matters more than anything to how the perception of hearing aids has changed. The Seattle Seahawks’ Derrick Coleman has essentially become the face of hearing loss and hearing aids in the athletic world. He not only is the face of Starkey’s Halo product, but he is a huge advocate for athletes around the country who are pushing forward with hearing loss. Other athletes have also stepped out as well, or their relatives and spouses—see David Backes.
Can we also take a look at how many celebrities outside of sports have become hearing advocates for hearing loss or have come out about their hearing loss?
President Bush, President Clinton, President Ronald Reagan, Elton John, Matt Nathanson, Kate Hudson, and the list goes on. Between Starkey Hearing Foundation and Phonak, celebrities in entertainment, music and sports have all jumped on the hearing loss/hearing aid/deaf platform worldwide.
And as we all know, if celebrities like it, we should like it to. If celebrities say it’s cool, we think it’s cool too. In summary, increased celebrity openness and support has thrown hearing loss and hearing aids into a bright, shiny, popular spotlight.
- It’s the NEW Normal
It may not get much credit, but as more and more people have come out abut their hearing loss, the definition of normal has begun to change. Over the last few years, and even more so the last 6 months, it’s become common for kids, adults and celebrities to have or talk about hearing loss.
- A mom in the UK is now internationally famous for her creative hearing aid designs, a company started in her home called Lugs.
- Miss San Antonio, Emma Rudkin, gained international exposure for her #AidtheSilent campaign (which of course I submitted a picture to, and you should too!) which is helping raise money for kids who need hearing aids and is gaining unparalleled awareness for hearing aids and hearing loss across the world thanks to Facebook and Twitter
- Miss Michigan 2014, KT Maviglia, has used her crown to help those with hearing loss and has been working hard to draft a bill for an insurance mandate in Michigan
Hearing aids are quickly becoming as mundane as glasses. They will soon become functional, beneficial, “fashion” accessories. Okay, maybe not accessories, but they will most definitely reach the elite and couture status we now associate with glasses and sunglasses.
Also, did you know they save lives? Ok, not really, but obviously using them to hear can.
It’s only three big observations, and there are plenty more, but the short version is this: hearing aids are changing, and the way the world sees them is changing too.
Welcome to the future of hearables.