My past vocations have taken me to some pretty noisy places. Nine years on the back of a fire truck for one. Ten summers of standing in the middle of a racetrack as an EMT for another. All very fun, but has no doubt led to some hearing loss. It wasn’t so bad at first. Just a missed word hear and there. When it progressed to whole sentences, I purchased hearing aids…very EXPENSIVE hearing aids.
Like anything else, hearing aids require care. Ear wax is normally a good thing, trapping bad bacteria but also clogs the hearing aid tubes when there is too much of it. Constant cleaning of the tubes was a hassle and frequent flushing of my ultra tiny ear canals was painful. Then there was the expense of batteries which at best, only last a week. Instead of sucking up the needed care to make my life better, I chucked the hearing aids in a drawer.
I don’t need a hearing test to know my hearing has worsened over the last several years. You know, when everyone in the room is laughing, but you never heard the joke. And when you miss 80% of the conversation in a TV program. Or when you have to keep asking your family “What did she/he say?”. I mention these things because I know I am not alone when I say hearing loss seriously impacts your life! For most insurance company’s to label hearing aids as “cosmetic”, is a travesty, but that is a rant for another day. STAY TUNED! Hope is on the way! Read on.
A couple of weeks ago, I took my hearing aids out of the drawer and started using them again. Not only am I providing them with their needed care, but I’m viewing them through the eyes of a survivalist. In the case of a home invasion, I would actually hear someone prying a screen off a window on the far side of the house, or a door opening or unfamiliar foot steps down the hall at an unusual time of night. In a SHTF scenario, helping protect my family and the Homestead, will depend in part, on my ability to hear. But what about batteries? Normal NiMH hearing aid batteries have a 2-3 shelf life and are expensive. Running through two or more a week would blow through a stash of them pretty fast. Doable, but expensive. I wondered if there was some kind of rechargeable or solar battery out there so started to do some research. I found zero. Until I came across one company called Solar Ear.
Solar Ear is a non-profit company that has developed a Nickel Metal Hydride hearing aid battery that can either be charged through AC or it’s own solar charger. Each battery lasts 2-3 years and comes in 3 sizes; 675, 13, and 312. And those are just the batteries. They also make hearing aids. All are manufactured in Brazil, Botswana and China, by deaf people who are hired, then trained by Solar Ear. How cool is that? Full approval and endorsement comes from the FDA, The World Health Organization, Unicef and other prominent organizations.
Currently, Solar Ear is available in 40 different countries……but not here. At least not yet. When I called their closest distributor in Montreal Canada,they told me they are currently setting up distributors in the US and plan to start selling the hearing aids and their batteries here, this October. I even asked if I could buy one from him but he declined.
Want to hear the best news of all? Solar Ear can make, sell, and receive a profit for a single hearing aid for under $100.00. That’s quite amazing since the usual price for a single hearing aid here is $2,500.00. I don’t know what Solar Ear will charge when they start distributing in the US, but I’m sure it won’t be the current inflated price. I expect some push back from the major hearing aid companies when Solar Ear starts rolling out in October.
One of the ways Solar Ear has been able to make this fine product, is early on, they partnered with Sound Design Tech, who happens to make the microprocessors for the major hearing aid companies. So why would Sound Design partner with a non-profit company making $100 hearing aids? Two reasons. One is for pure humanitarian reasons. The second reason is from a business standpoint. World wide, there is a huge untapped market out there for affordable hearing aids.
According to the World Heath Organization, there are 642 million people who are hearing impaired with 2/3 of them living in developing countries. Only 12% of the world’s hearing aids make it to those developing countries. I wonder how many here in America, literally suffer in silence because they simply can not afford hearing aids? My best guess (as well as Sound Design Tech’s) is there will be a flood of people with hearing loss who will be able to rejoin the world of the hearing through more affordable hearing aids. Add in the solar rechargeable batteries, and that flood may become a tsunami. And that’s just here in the U.S.
Since Solar Ear reinvests 100% of it’s profits back into the company, they are continually spreading their wings. They are currently working with Verizon to build a smartphone that will transform the cell phone into a hearing aid. All this started back in 2001 but the real story started in 1995 with a man named Howard Weinstein.
After Howard lost his 10 year old daughter due to an aneurism, he became quite depressed. Not long after that devastating event, he lost his job. Therapy was not helpful to him. Over the next few years, his former affluent lifestyle disappeared.
Howard was flat broke when a civic organization, World University Services of Canada, offered to send him to Otse, a village in the South-East district of Botswana. His mission? To set up a company that would provide affordable hearing aids to the partially deaf Africans. Even though Howard was only offered $1,000 a month to do so, he saw it as an opportunity to use his skills to help others and jumped at the offer.
He took to the phones calling manufacturers, as well as consulted with financiers and electronic experts which was largely unproductive. But then he landed a grant from the African Development Foundation And Electronic Geeks. Then he connected with Sound Design Tech and things finally started to roll. As they say, the rest is history…..still in the making!
Solar Ear functions to help break the poverty cycle. Their cause in a nut shell:
“To hear again means to transform dreams into sound which translates into more education and work opportunities.”
Anyone who no longer remembers the sound of a knife slicing through a watermelon will know the impact of that statement. I personally can’t wait for October to get here. I’m going to be first in line for a solar ear. Update to follow.
Feel free to visit Solar Ear’s website here for more information on what they will be offering.