Hearing Tracker Helps Consumers Find Affordable Hearing Aids in their Neighborhoods

World’s Most Comprehensive Database of Hearing Products and Providers

More than 200,000 people visit the HearingTracker.com every month to find information about hearing aids and local hearing healthcare services. The website provides the world’s most comprehensive and up-to-date database of hearing aids, with detailed feature descriptions and cross-model comparisons. Hearing Tracker also publishes a directory of thousands of hearing care providers, which provides details about each provider’s services, qualifications, educational background, and even what brands of hearing aids they fit.

And now, by visiting Local Hearing Aid Deals, visitors will see offers from hearing care practices within a few miles of their homes. Dr. Bailey compared the new service to the car-shopping comparison sites that have made the process of buying a car more transparent in recent years. “In the past, there was no easy way to compare products, prices, and services available from local independent retailers. Now, consumers have all the information they need to make an informed decision about purchasing hearing aids.”

“Consumers will benefit from the increased price transparency, and retailers will capture more of the online shoppers that have increasingly been siphoned off by third-party discounters,” said Dr. Bailey, who emphasized that the new Local Hearing Aid Deals platform is designed to eliminate the expensive middle-man in the transaction. “In bypassing online discounters, local clinics can afford to offer deeper discounts and still make a profitable sale.”

From Ground Zero

For consumers starting from ground zero, Hearing Tracker recommends its new Personalized Hearing Aid Match tool. After taking a 3-minute survey, consumers receive a list of hearing aids that are likely to alleviate their hearing problems and meet their wireless streaming and device preferences. The tool helps to educate consumers by explaining how each hearing aid feature may benefit them, and links consumers to local deals for the product matches.

“For the first time, consumers frustrated by their hearing loss have all the information they need at their fingertips, when and where they need it most,” Dr. Bailey said. “And now Hearing Tracker gives them easy, immediate access to qualified local professionals who can get them on the road to better hearing right away. Consumers can even narrow their search to include only hearing aids fitted by a Doctor of Audiology using Real-Ear Measurements, a gold-standard objective measurement used to ensure maximum benefit.”

About Hearing Tracker

This content was originally published here.

Many Go Without Hearing Aids Because of Cost

A new national study has revealed that there are wide gaps in the use of hearing aids among Americans age 55 and older, divided largely by race, education and income.

A little more than a third of older adults with self-reported hearing loss are using hearing aids, the study found. Those who are non-Hispanic white, attended college or have incomes in the top 25 percent are about twice as likely as others to have the devices.

High cost is the main obstacle, said researchers from the University of Michigan, who published their findings in the journal Gerontologist.

Good-quality hearing aids can cost thousands of dollars, and they are not covered by Medicare or most insurance plans. Veterans Affairs health plans do cover hearing aids in many cases, so veterans age 55 to 64 are more than twice as likely as nonveterans to use them, the researchers reported.

“Hearing aids are not easy for many to obtain due to their costs,” Michael McKee, M.D., an assistant professor in the University of Michigan Department of Family Medicine, who led the analysis, said in a news release.

The researchers examined survey data from more than 35,500 55-plus people nationwide who said they had hearing loss. They found that:

  • 40 percent of whites, 18.4 percent of African Americans and 21.1 percent of Hispanics used a hearing aid.
  • Users included nearly 46 percent of those who had attended college but less than 29 percent of those who hadn’t graduated from high school.
  • Nearly half of the older hearing-impaired Americans with incomes in the top 25 percent used a hearing aid, but only about a quarter of those in the bottom 25 percent did so.

This content was originally published here.

Eargo Neo is a hearing aid you might actually want to wear

Eargo has been around since at least 2015, with a couple of products under its belt. The company’s website states that it believes people should wear a hearing aid because they want to, not because they have to (and as I don’t have to, I have tended to avoid it). This week at CES, the company announced its latest model — the Neo — and I’m wearing it right now. I’ve been wearing it for a couple of days in fact. Importantly, I might even go as far to say I find myself “wanting” to wear it.

The Neo, along with the rest of Eargo’s hearing aids, are small, and of the “ITE” (in the ear) or “invisible” variety. This one thing alone, while far from unique, is a major selling point — that said, I’ve never seen hearing aids this small. I’ve tried several BTE (behind the ear) solutions, even fairly discreet ones, but they all suffer from at least two problems for me: They don’t feel secure or just look and feel plain ugly (adding to that stigma). As someone who wears glasses, there’s also an extra minor annoyance — the two things vying for space on my ear.

Perhaps the biggest difference with the Eargo line in generl, is how the whole packaging looks and the experience feels. The Neo comes in a smooth, circular charging case that looks more “AirPods” than a medical device. The case will charge your Neos every time you pop them back in — like when you go to bed. According to the company, you can keep your Neos charged for a week this way (you charge the case whenever in-between). That same case contains Bluetooth, so when the buds are in there, you can alter settings via the mobile app. This means you can’t do that while wearing them, but it also means the Bluetooth tech is in the case, and not the buds, allowing them to be smaller and have better battery life.

Other modern touches include gestures to change presets (tap the side of your head twice) and an app that lets you create custom audio profiles, send feedback and contact one of Eargo’s audio professionals. Nearer to release (the Neo will be available at the end of this month), you’ll also have the option to create custom profiles, on top of the four presets. Basically, all this comes together to create a product that’s modern and… maybe even cool?

But cool doesn’t count for anything if they don’t improve your hearing. I’ll admit, when I first tried these on a busy show floor, I couldn’t tell how well they were working. Later I tried them in our trailer here at CES and I had a much better experience. Eargo states these are designed for people with mild to medium hearing loss, which I feel is the category I’m in. That said, even in a more controlled environment, the “boost” to audio wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. It’s nearly there, but I find myself craving just a little more. The best I have tried in this regard are the Livio from Starkey. With those the sound really feels like both my ears are balanced, whereas with the Neo it’s more like one good ear, and the other getting a bit of a leg up.

This might sound like a big negative. If the audio isn’t quite able to “repair” my hearing, then that surely is the main thing. It is, but then there’s so much other good stuff going on here, that I still think this is likely my favorite product out of all the ones I have tried which includes the Starkey, a Siemens model and one called “LifeEar” — plus various headphones that claim to enhance hearing also.

A decent hearing aid that you enjoy wearing is far better than a better one that you don’t (because ultimately you won’t). Perhaps when the app is more capable, or with some experimentation with bigger tips etc, I might find an even better configuration. The Neo is also primarily tuned for voice enhancement, and I did notice that that was improved, even if other ambient noises were still lacking.

One last selling point for the Neo? The price. The Eargo Neo cost $2,550 a pair. That might seem like a lot, but regular hearing aids can typically retail for (or upwards of) $2,000 each. That’s quite a difference. And if you assume that just means the Neo is a hearing “amplifier” (PSAP) then Eargo claims that it’s a Class 1 FDA-regulated hearing aid. Whether that means it works in the same way as something from one of the traditional manufacturers is unclear (the FDA’s definition of a “hearing aid” is broad).

For me, it’s just refreshing to see a company working to make a product that people actually want to use. If this sends a message to other manufacturers, or creates a trend towards sleek, more usable products then that’s good for everyone. The Neo goes on sale at the end of this month.

This content was originally published here.

Hearing aid maker William Demant trusts in hearing quality, not smart features

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – William Demant, the world’s second largest hearing aid maker, said it would continue to focus on products that provide hearing quality rather than smart features, after it sold fewer devices than expected in the third quarter.

William Demant said it expects industry unit growth slightly below its target of 4-6 percent a year and its shares were down 3 percent at 181.60 Danish crowns ($28.38) 1302 GMT.

Following in the footsteps of market leader Sonova and Danish rival GN Store Nord, William Demant said last month it would launch a product that enabled users to stream phone calls and music from their hearing aids.

“Smart features don’t sell hearing aids, but real user benefits for either our distributors or the end-user do and that is what we focus on,” Chief Executive Soren Nielsen said.

“Everyone wants to grow and the underlying market growth is insufficient. On the bottom line it’s a zero-sum game and no business will survive by not winning market share,” he said, adding that competition was tough.

Swiss Sonova earlier this year launched a new hearing aid microchip capable of streaming audio directly from wireless devices and now aims to compete on direct-streaming with a 2.4 GHz chip, which GN Store Nord was first to present years ago.

Danish peer GN Store Nord’s shares fell more than 5 percent last week as weaker-than-expected quarterly revenue stoked fears that rivals were catching up with its technology.

“William Demant doesn’t stand out from peers in any crucial way,” Sydbank analyst Morten Imsgard said, noting that all producers now have technologies with small differences but none had entirely unique products.

Imsgard has a ‘sell’ recommendation for the shares.

($1 = 6.3984 Danish crowns)

Reporting by Julie Astrid Thomsen; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

This content was originally published here.

Two Scouts among nominees for 2018 Oticon Focus on People Awards

“To help other people at all times.” Those words in the Scout Oath mean something, and these two Scouts are living them every day.

Julio “James” Hernandez and John D. Cobb use hearing aids, but neither young man lets his hearing loss slow him down.

Their remarkable volunteer efforts recently gained the attention of Oticon, the global hearing aid company. The company has chosen John D. and James as two of three student finalists for the 2018 Oticon Focus on People Awards. Oticon says the awards honor “people who are helping to change perceptions of what it means to have a hearing loss.”

Two out of the three finalists are Scouts? That’s cause for celebration right there.

Also cool: You get to help select the winners for these awards. Simply click here to read about each finalist and, if you’d like, cast your vote for John D. or James. But don’t delay; voting ends Aug. 24.

Keep reading to learn about James, an Eagle Scout from Atlanta, and John D., a Life Scout from Knoxville, Tenn.

John D. has been deaf since birth and uses hearing aids.

He and his best friend started RefugeeLikeMe, a nonprofit that aims to humanize refugees by sharing their stories and raising funds for resettlement agencies.

“The story’s not, ‘There’s a refugee crisis, and here’s how many refugees there are, and 5 million people have fled Syria,’” John D. told the Knoxville News Sentinel. Instead, he says, the story is how refugees are people “just like me, with favorite books, foods and bedtime stories, who honor their parents and work hard to survive.”

John D. is a Life Scout in Troop 46, chartered to Cokesbury United Methodist Church in Knoxville. He’s been through National Youth Leadership Training and has served on NYLT staff.

Right now he’s working on his Eagle Scout service project, where he will lead volunteers in the construction of a ferro-cement water tank at his school, Clayton-Bradley Academy in Maryville, Tenn.

In addition to Scouting and school, John D. is on his school’s debate team. That’s actually how he first became interested in the plight of refugees. When the topic of refugees was selected for debate, John D. started to dig beyond the faceless facts and figures. He wanted to learn more about the people.

Through recorded interviews and educational commentary, RefugeeLikeMe will introduce others to the refugees in their community and beyond.

Go John D.!

James is a 16-year-old Eagle Scout who has given hundreds of hours of service to his community.

He earned a bronze President’s Volunteer Service Award and is president of the junior class for the Young Men’s Service League.

In January, James raised $1,000 to help build houses for needy families in Guatemala.

Even while juggling Scouting, school and service, James works 10 to 15 hours a week at a fast food restaurant.

When customers learn about his hearing loss, they sometimes ask if they need to speak up or use sign language.

No, he assures them. He hears just fine with hearing aids, thank you.

He’s serving up food and an enlightening lesson about living with hearing loss.

Go James!

This content was originally published here.

Deaf woman, twice the victim of sexual assault, gets donated hearing aids

The expectations were not that high as the delicate black hearing aids were inserted into the ears of the profoundly deaf 22-year-old woman.

Once in, the devices were obscured behind her black bob. At least that had gone as she wished.

But no one was too hopeful the high-end hearing aids would actually work. The detectives were worried it would be a letdown. Her mother had the same concern. Even the doctor said he was prepared for just about anything as they all stood around her as she sat in a chair.

As Dr. Tom Wardzala turned on the volume to the custom-fitted devices from a nearby computer, Dalesha’s eyes darted in his direction, and she nodded quickly.

Laughter erupted in the cramped room.

“Wow,” Cook County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Jim Davis said under his breath from the back of the room. “You seeing this?”

Davis and his partner, Judith Powe, first met Dalesha about three years ago while investigating her rape in a south suburb where she once lived.

In the ensuing months, the detectives, along with sheriff’s investigator Ruth Mendez, who knows sign language, took Dalesha as their charge, helping her reach her dream of walking across the stage to graduate high school. During their first meeting, she had surprised them with the request, saying it was a step to bigger things. Like a job or moving out of a dangerous neighborhood.

The detectives became her contact at the Chicago public school where she enrolled. They took her to appointments, helped with community service hours, shopped for school supplies and cheered her on when she collected her diploma.

Since her graduation in June, even more has changed for Dalesha, who is not being identified by the Tribune because she is a rape victim. Donations have been given to her. She was scheduled to start work at a grocery store on Friday. But most life-changing was the offer from HearStrong Foundation to contribute to her college tuition and fit her with hearing aids.

Dalesha will be among those honored Monday night at a HearStrong event downtown. The Chicago-based organization raises awareness and advocates for the deaf community.

Brian McCaskey, a Bears vice president who suffers from hearing loss and co-founded HearStrong, read about Dalesha’s story in the Tribune in June and offered the help.

Dalesha was sexually assaulted by acquaintances in a home in 2013. She had grown angry and confused when the investigation languished — until Davis, Powe and Mendez reached out to her.

Dalesha had already faced similar adversity. She had been the victim of another rape in 2010.

Susan Herman, a national expert on crime victims who has written a book on the subject, says Dalesha has received the kind of support that all victims of violence need.

Herman, a deputy commissioner of the New York Police Department who oversees its collaborative policing, argues that victims of violence need help in their recovery at the same time that law enforcement pursues the criminal and charges.

“This is an unusual case — the length they have gone to meet her needs,” said Herman, praising Dalesha for articulating her concerns. “We have an obligation to not only hold offenders accountable but to help victims rebuild lives.”

In the push to help Dalesha stretch to that next level – attending college — the detectives have learned that she in fact had earned in 2014 the credit hours she needed at a south suburban school to graduate.

“She had no clue,” Mendez, the investigator who knows sign language, said of Dalesha. “If anything, we gave her that. For that I will be forever grateful. She got the experience to cross that stage, to feel like a graduate. It goes to show you how important it is to have a support system.”

Wardzala, who works for Sertoma Speech & Hearing Center, said the hearing aids given to Dalesha became available only about half a year ago.

Most people with profound hearing loss benefit from hearing aids, Wardzala said. But not everyone has access to the devices they need, and certainly not the high-end ones given to Dalesha that cost about $6,000 a pair.

The doctor said Dalesha would have to learn sounds before she can easily use them to communicate with others. But she will hear noises around her when she is outside. Inside, she will be able to tell when people are talking to her. Still, she will not give up sign language or reading lips.

Wardzala taught Dalesha how to take the devices out and change the batteries. Her graceful fingers fumbled at first, but she figured out how to flip the black case open and roll out the tiny silver battery.

All the while at the hourlong appointment her mother beamed.

She called out her daughter’s name to grab her attention.

“Now we got some talkin’ to do,” she said.

asweeney@chicagotribune.com

RELATED: Deaf sexual assault survivor graduates with help from Cook County detectives »

This content was originally published here.

Woman killed by Tampa garbage truck wore hearing aids, not earbuds

TAMPA — A confused witness reported that Marcia Woodside Rivers wore earbuds the day she was crushed to death on Davis Islands by a city garbage truck.

Strangers took to social media to criticize the victim.

But Rivers, 65, was wearing hearing aids, according to a medical examiner report obtained by the Tampa Bay Times.

One was in her ear and the other had fallen to the ground, after the big blue truck hit her on a sidewalk June 26 and dragged her 20 to 30 feet into the street, the report states. The driver was backing away from a dumpster near the office of Ronald McDonald House Charities.

Now the truck is impounded and driver Jarvis Mercer, 49, of Brandon, is on paid administrative leave, while police and city officials investigate.

Police have not yet said what, if any, safety equipment was in use on the truck as it backed out from between two buildings on Davis Boulevard. The medical examiner report does not say whether there were backup lights or an alarm to alert Rivers.

It said the truck has two back up cameras, one on the passenger side and one on the rear.

A city official responded to a public records request shortly after the incident, saying there was no recorded video.

BACKGROUND: ‘She was nothing but sweet,’ former coworker said of woman killed by garbage truck

Rivers’ family members are upset that people criticized her, based on an early TV report that mentioned earbuds.

Online commenters suggested that earbuds kept the retired school teacher from hearing the truck. A running enthusiast pointed out the danger of jogging with earbuds in.

Tampa police refuted the earbud rumor in a news release without noting hearing aids.

But they are mentioned in an initial case summary from the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The report says that Rivers’ left hearing aid was found on the ground in front of her. The right one was still in her ear.

The report also said she had diabetes. An insulin pump was found near her.

Rivers had been walking on the sidewalk just minutes from her apartment. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The driver will face a civil traffic citation for the crash, police announced June 27. Two weeks after the crash, police say their investigation is ongoing.

Mercer has been on paid administrative leave since the crash, said Mark Wilfalk, director of the city’s Solid Waste department. A spokeswoman for the city said Mercer is using accrued leave time, a subcategory of paid administrative leave.

The Times could not reach him for comment. He did not answer his door Tuesday.

As for whether Mercer will be back behind the wheel of a City of Tampa garbage truck again, Wilfalk said on Monday, “It’s too early to tell.”

He said after police decide on the civil citation, the Solid Waste department will evaluate the consequences the driver will face as an employee.

For now, Wilfalk said the department is making sure that Mercer has mental health resources available, which are offered to all city employees, following the “traumatic accident.”

The department has experience dealing with incidents like scraping other vehicles or hitting overhead power lines.

“But deaths, those are few and far between,” he said.

The deadly incident was not Mercer’s first crash on duty.

He was reprimanded in 2015 for a crash on Broadway Avenue that sent the other driver to the hospital with minor injuries and caused $500 of property damage, according to his city personnel file and the traffic citation. A review by the Solid Waste Department determined that crash was preventable.

Mercer has four total civil citations on his state driving record in the last 10 years, including him pleading no contest to two citations for careless driving, in 2009 and 2012. The 2012 case resulted in a crash that caused $3,000 of property damage.

The most recent file in his personnel record as of July 9 was the Solid Waste department’s annual review file for a period ending May 28, 2018. It stated that he had a pending disciplinary action for an incident on Dale Mabry Highway Jan. 17, 2018, in a city garbage truck.

The report said his truck made contact with a tractor trailer’s passenger side mirror and damaged it.

Rivers’ sister now wants to know if, considering Mercer’s previous incidents, the sudden death was preventable.

“The false earbuds stories were asking that question about my sister, who was not wearing earbuds!” Susan Sheppard wrote in an email to the Times.

Noting the four previous citations on his state driving record, Sheppard questioned why Mercer was still behind the wheel of a city garbage truck at all. She asked if there is assurance that he is being permanently prevented from driving a city garbage truck.

“I’m sure he is a very nice person and I hear he was inconsolable,” Sheppard wrote. “Knowing what I know about the condition of my sister’s body after he ran over her with a garbage truck, I can imagine why.”

Bre Bradham can be reached at [email protected] or (803) 460-9001.

   

This content was originally published here.

A First Look at the Bose Hearing Aid – Self-Fitting Bose “Hearing Aid” Resembles Bose Hearphones

Self-Fitting Bose “Hearing Aid” Resembles Bose Hearphones

A self-fitting air-conduction hearing aid is a wearable sound-amplifying device that is intended to compensate for impaired hearing and incorporates technology, including software, that allows users to program their hearing aids. This technology integrates user input with a self-fitting strategy and enables users to independently derive and customize their hearing aid fitting and settings.

The Bose Hearing Aid looks like the popular Bose Hearphones, with a flexible neckband housing a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and electronic components with extending cables for the right and left ears. Earbuds are connected to the neckband by flexible wires, with an ear-tip mounted on each earbud. Three sizes of tips are packaged with the product so that the user can choose the optimal size.

The Hearing Aid has two microphones in each earbud that may be configured in omnidirectional or directional modes to enhance understanding of speech in noise. Active noise reduction using “feedback and feedforward control loops” reduces environmental sounds, with power from a rechargeable 3.7 V, 250 mAh lithium-ion battery pack.

Hearing Aid Features

Clinical tests satisfy FDA that self-fitting software works

A human-factors study, non-clinical bench tests, and two clinical studies satisfied the FDA that the Bose Hearing Aid will be safely deliver on the promise of self-fitting software for people with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

Among two groups of users, one with a professional fitting and one that used the self-fit software, the studies concluded that:

Hearphones’ kissing cousin

But unlike the Hearphones, you can’t buy Bose self-fitting hearing aids in a Bose store, from Amazon, or from your local electronics store. So the most important question that remains to be answered is, “When?”

The benefit a patient/subject receives from a device is determined ALWAYS on several things…

A.  the technology in the device

B.  the individual who has adjusted it and their skill in doing so

C.  the user’s understanding of how to use the device (adjustments, maintenance, proper wear, etc.)

Just because a device has a feature or certain technology (take for example a directional microphone for noise reduction) does NOT mean it is equivalent to another device with the same feature.  Technologies are used differently and to different effect in differerent devices.  Each manufacturer (and even within a given manufacturer’s product line) applies technology differently.  So there are differences between manufacturers and within a given manufacturer’s product line.  

PRICE MEANS NOTHING BY THE WAY other than to say what you paid.  What I mean by this is that it doesn’t assure you of anything about your benefit.  It is relevant, yes, but one could say, “I spent $10,000!”, but that amount does not assure one of better benefit than spending $4000 or $6000.  Noting the price of the device is simply a statement about how much you were willing to pay for what was sold to you and sometime is money well spent if your hearing aids work and sometimes money wasted if they don’t!

The individual adjusting the device DOES MATTER.  Interesting way Bose/FDA stated (don’t have the exact wording now that I’m commenting-see article above) the device was set equally well for speech understanding by a professional as it was by the consumer and moreover, consumers preferred the way they themselves set it rather than the way the professionals set it for quality of sound.  Firstly, I haven’t read the white paper/peer reviewed research where Bose shows their methodology and statistical analysis to prove the statement they claim, but for the sake of argument, I will assume it to be scientifically rigorous opposed to flawed or poorly designed.  It is obvious to me that a professional would be equally adept or put at a disadvantage in fitting this device as it isn’t fitted by using traditional HEARING EVALUATION results to adjust the device.  Real ear (a verification technique) presumably wasn’t used either to verify the fit as there is no mention of it.  Real ear is the most well accepted method of verifying a hearing aid fitting (although not the only method).  So I’m wondering how Bose knows the device was “equally well fit” by either consumer vs. professional except by consumers’ subjective report.  If so, the methodology was indeed flawed as the consumer will rate the professional adjustment against their own adjustment which is biased as there is no independent rating system.  Ultimately, a patient/subject making adjustments will be able to make a device “sound” more pleasant as they are the one perceiving the sound quality while the device is manipulated, so no surprise there.  However, the question isn’t really whether the professional and consumer can equally well adjust the device or whether one does so better than the other, the real question is, is the device set to provide the patient/subject with the best ability to hear and communicate!  I argue that what is being promoted by Bose as the professional vs. the consumer adjusting the device equally well really means nothing when what they are trying to have the consumer believe is that the device offers the SAME benefit as PROFESSIONALLY FIT HEARING AIDS.  This is NOT what Bose tested based on the above article but it is what they want you to take away from what they said.  Bose is comparing adjustment of their device only by a consumer vs. professional NOT Bose device vs. professionally fit hearing aid benefit.  

Again, the individual who adjusts the device matters!  In the comments above, many talk about their brand a, brand b, brand c hearing aids.  If the professional adjusting your hearing aids doesn’t adjust them properly.  You could spend a million bucks and it doesn’t change the fact you won’t be able to hear well.  When buying professionally fit hearing aids, invest with a provider who impresses you that they know what they are doing or your benefit will suffer for it.  

Lastly, the consumer and how they maintain and use the device also makes a difference in the benefit achieved.  Do you know how to keep the device clean?  Do you know when to use your program button most effectively?  How should you position your body verses the signal you are trying to hear vs. background noise around you.  If you don’t perhaps your provider didn’t explain it, or perhaps you need a refresher course, but again it goes back to having a good provider who can help you when you need it.  

The Bose device IS less expensive, but it’s because it has no professional assistance and no scientific verification of benefit.  The federal government failed the US public by passing the OTC Act when they should have passed mandatory insurance coverage for professionally fit hearing aids.  

This content was originally published here.

New emoji for 2019 includes wheelchairs, canes, and hearing aids – Curbed

Last week, the Unicode Consortium announced the approval of 59 new emoji (230 when counting all gender variations and skin tones) for 2019, including symbols representing a yawning face, a falafel, an otter, and ballet shoes, as well as interracial and gender-inclusive couples. Another prominent theme? Emoji of disabled people.

These disability-related emoji, including people in manual and motorized wheelchairs, people walking with probing canes, guide dogs, an ear with a hearing aid, and a mechanical arm and leg, were suggested by Apple in a proposal submitted to the Unicode Consortium last March.

Developed by Apple in concert with organizations like the National Association of the Deaf, the Cerebral Palsy Foundation, and the American Council of the Blind, the emoji are intended to represent four disability communities as identified by the tech company: blind and low vision, deaf and hard of hearing, physical motor, and hidden disabilities.

While some disabled people have expressed their approval of the emoji, others are skeptical, even offering up revisions of the designs. As reactions to these new emoji continue to pour in, one can’t help but ask: How do you design a symbol for disability?

The first emoji set was released in 1997, so the disability-inclusive emoji are a long time coming. “It’s baffling when you look at things that have been accepted [before disability-related emoji],” says Elizabeth Guffey, author of Designing Disability: Symbols, Space, and Society and professor of art history at SUNY Purchase, like “a waffle with a pat of butter on it” or a water polo player.

Before the 2019 update, wheelchair users have made do with a version of the International Symbol of Access, or ISA, which shows a white stick figure in a manual wheelchair. The version found in the emoji decks of Google and Samsung, among others, is the original, more upright ISA, while the version on the Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter platforms shows a wheelchair user leaning forward with their arms behind them, as though in motion.

“That thing [the original ISA] is 50 years old,” says Guffey. “It was a very weak, feeble compromise: What happened was a wheelchair was drawn, originally, to be the symbol, but it was thought to be too inhuman. A committee of people—none of them designers—came together and they just plopped a circle on top of it. So it’s very static, rigid; it doesn’t look like a human being, it looks like a wheelchair.”

The efforts of a grassroots organization, the Accessible Icon Project, led to the creation of the more dynamic ISA that inspired the version in the Apple and Microsoft emoji sets. In 2011, artist Sara Hendren and philosopher Brian Glenney began placing transparent stickers over the ISA on signs around Boston, transposing a new figure onto the rigid original icon. The person depicted in the transformed icon had their feet farther back, arms bent behind the wheel, and head extending forward. It was “a re-editing of the city, in many ways,” says Guffey.

A post shared by Wheelgrrl (@accessibleiconproject) on

What started as a street-art project became the legal ISA for New York and Connecticut. “It was intended as a kind of radical statement,” Guffey says. “The very oddity of it is people started taking it seriously as a new symbol, and it’s such a weird life that it’s lived, that it’s become a kind of legal symbol.”

The ISA’s function in public spaces is undeniable—even the original, more static version. “It has a kind of power to it,” says Guffey, “a kind of graphic communicability, but the problem is that most people who are disabled don’t look anything like that.”

The new emoji offer a set of symbols for disability that reflect a wider range of disabled people, but there are still notable omissions. Both Guffey and Cherry Thompson, an accessibility consultant who works with video-game developers, mentioned the lack of crutches, canes, and other walking aids.

The design of the emoji themselves also leaves more to be desired. “The emoji of the [manual] wheelchair, which is the one I know the most about because I use a wheelchair, is really inaccurate,” Thompson says. “A lot of it has to do with the type of the wheelchair: It seems based on old-fashioned hospital wheelchairs, or temporary wheelchairs that are made of steel [rather than lighter materials such as titanium or aluminum]. The vast majority of people who use wheelchairs don’t use them anymore.”

I don’t know why the creators of the new emoji didn’t do more than two seconds of research.

It’s pretty obvious they didn’t ask any wheelchair users for input. pic.twitter.com/1KNIf5GEz5

— Beth Wilson (@doodlebeth)

The push handles and the foot rests are also “weirdly high,” they say. “You can’t sit like that in a wheelchair and use it yourself; you have to have someone push you around—and no one likes to be pushed places if they don’t have to be.” The push handles could even be left out entirely, says Thompson.

The stiff 90-degree angle and the height of the seated person, Thompson says, is another problem: “In order to push efficiently, you have to reach backward to reach the wheels,” and to do that, you need more freedom of motion in the seat.

“What we’ve seen so far are just mockups,” Thompson notes. Once Unicode releases its final proposals for new emoji, tech companies have the chance to iterate on the design of the symbols for their own platforms.

After Thompson tweeted about the design inaccuracies in the wheelchair emoji, a Microsoft employee who focuses on inclusive devices took note and said he’d share her feedback with the company’s designers.

While she acknowledges the importance of disability-related emoji, Guffey would rather see an ISA for the digital world—and greater digital accessibility in general, something that’s out of reach for many people. Apple created a universal access icon, and Guffey says some other examples exist, like “a blobby-looking Vitruvian man” with a number of limbs representing different disabilities. Thompson imagines a digital symbol of access might include several symbols within one box.

In the meantime, disability communities will keep pushing for representation in design. “I’ve seen it trivialized by people who don’t realize the impact,” says Thompson. “Things keep getting done without us for us. We’ve been fighting to be included in the progress of design decisions that involve us for decades, and it still feels like we’re fighting to be heard.”

This content was originally published here.

Hearing Aid Recovered For Wareham Football Player

They’ve informally dubbed it the Cranberry Bowl. Each year, Old Rochester Regional and Wareham High School football teams suit up, head down Route 6 and face off in a spirited rivalry. The games can sometimes become chippy, but tonight, there was a nice moment during halftime.

With 6:27 left in the half and with the Bulldogs leading 28-0, Wareham tight end Dominic Labelle was being taken down by a tackle when he felt something come loose in his ear. It was Dominic’s hearing aid. “When I got hit, I felt it come loose,” said Labelle, “then when I hit the ground I felt it pop out of my ear.”

Play was suspended for 12 minutes as both teams’ players, coaches, officials, police and parents used cell phone flashlights to try to find the hearing aid, which costs thousands of dollars. The crowd of people thoroughly swept over the grass, but play eventually resumed with Labelle’s hearing aid still missing.

The search resumed when both teams cleared the field for halftime. A few minutes later, a small cheer erupted from the center of the field when someone held up a hand in the air. The cheer grew louder as the crowd realized what was going on. Wareham Police Lt. John Gerard was holding the hearing aid in his hand, and jogged to the sidelines to give it to Labelle’s father.

The tall tight end was visibly relieved to find out that his hearing aid was recovered, and immediately found Gerard to say thank you.

It was like finding a needle in a haystack, but with fans and players from both teams searching, the mission was accomplished.

This content was originally published here.

Baby With Hearing Aids Hears Sister For First Time — InspireMore

There are few sounds more beautiful than the joyful noise of a baby laughing, but this video is something truly special.

Carol Dianne Benjamin of Madison, Georgia is mom to two beautiful daughters. Her youngest, Scarlet, was born three months premature and suffered from necrotizing enterocolitis (NES), a stomach infection. Unfortunately, the medication to cure the baby’s NES lead to hearing loss.

Carol admits that “it has been a LONG and emotional experience” helping her daughter recover from the complications of being born early, but in spite of her hearing loss, Scarlet is a happy little girl who loves cuddling with her big sister.

Since Scarlet reacts to many sounds, Carol wasn’t sure how badly Scarlet’s hearing was affected until the baby received her first hearing aids at 11 months old. With help from Atlanta Hearing Associates in Milledgeville, Carol and her daughters soon discovered that Scarlet’s hearing had been worse than they thought, but the moment when she finally hears her sister’s voice sends her into gales of laughter that would put a smile on anyone’s face.

“Baby sister! Baby sister! Baby sister!” the little girl coos. Scarlet’s face remains blank for a split second before suddenly cracking open into the biggest smile ever. When she begins to laugh, it’s impossible not to smile, too!

Scarlet laughs so long and hard that her mom and sister start laughing along, and soon big sis is making funny “roar” sounds to entertain the baby. Scarlet then starts making loud noises of her own, getting used to the sound of her own voice. It’s simply adorable to watch her discover that she has a voice to use too!

“Hearing aids make a WORLD of difference!” Carol wrote on Facebook.” I am so blessed and thankful for Atlanta Hearing Associates in Milledgeville for all that they have done for our baby girl. Anyway, enjoy one of the absolute best days of our lives. By the way, I’m crying, you’re crying, everyone is crying.”

Carol’s video quickly went viral online, and hearing Scarlet’s laughter is truly good for the soul. Check it out in the video below, and be sure to share.

As everyone knows when Scarlet was born she was 3 months early. She ended up getting NEC (and certain stomach infection) and the antibiotics that she needed cause hearing loss. It has been a LONG and emotional experience. She reacted to most sounds so we thought she could hear fairly well. After what I witnessed today, it was not as well as I thought. Hearing aids make a WORLD of difference! I am so blessed and thankful for Atlanta Hearing Associates in Milledgeville for all that they have done for our baby girl. Anyway, enjoy one of the absolute best days of our lives. By the way, I’m crying, you’re crying, everyone is crying. 😍😍😍😭😭“To use this video in a commercial player or in broadcasts, please email licensing@storyful.com”

Posted by Carol Dianne Benjamin on Thursday, January 10, 2019

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This content was originally published here.