I’m a fairly conservatively-dressed young male and I have several. The each serve different needs in my life, based on the activity I am doing or the place I am going. I don’t wear my running shoes to weddings, and I don’t wear my leather chukkas to the beach. However I, and everyone else who uses them, only have a single pair of hearing aids. Does that make sense?
(Ok, maybe I’m not the most conservative about fashion. I just used “chukkas” in a sentence”)
Charles Eames was a notable designer of the early 20th century who believed that “design depends largely on constraints.” (I learned this from the book Design Meets Disability by Graham Pullin. You can expect a few more posts inspired by this great read.) For shoes, this makes sense. The design of dress shoes is constrained by the need to be fashionable and match the rest of the outfit. Running shoes are much more brightly coloured, because they don’t have that constraint. Instead, they are constrained by the need to be supportive, grippy, and breathable. When it comes to hearing aids however, all of these constraints fall on a singular set of devices. Hearing aids need to be fashionable, water-resistant, perform well in noise, etc, etc, etc. This is because almost no one owns multiple sets of hearing aids.
To a large extent, this is due to cost. High quality devices aren’t cheap, forcing people to sacrifice certain wants to meet their needs. As I discussed in my last post, I gave up bright, flashy BTE hearing aids to have a pair that would be better suited for the needs of sweat-protection and phone use. Now its no secret that the cost to build hearing aids is nowhere near the cost for a consumer to purchase them. Much of the cost is due to things like research and development, and the time spent adjusting the hearing aids to the user’s needs. The actual cost of the hardware, the bits of metal and plastic that make up hearing aids, is practically nothing. If a hearing aid manufacturer offered the option of owning multiple devices for different needs at a comparable cost to a single pair of hearing aids, wouldn’t a high volume of customers switch over to that manufacturer?
(Unrelated, but if you are reading this and are in any way responsible for the hiring at Sonova, Sivantos, Oticon, Resound, Widex, Starkey, or any other hearing aid manufacturer you’ll be happy to know I don’t currently have a summer job lined up. Send me an email, we can talk.)
Imagine visiting your hearing care professional not to obtain a new set of hearing aids, but a new tool-box of hearing aids. In such a package, you might be able to pick out a fun, colourful pair of RITEs for everyday use, a more robust pair of BTEs for playing sports and exercising, and a muted, discrete pair of CICs for formal events. All of these devices would run on the same technology, so adjusting them to a user’s hearing would take far less time that fitting three sets from three different manufacturers. People wouldn’t have to give up things they want in their hearing aids for the sake of meeting their needs.
What do you think? Is this something you’d be interested in? Let me know!