Columbus, OH — Nobody wants their doctor to say, “you’re losing your hearing,” but for the 48 million Americans suffering from hearing loss, most dread the idea of the clunky, uncomfortable hearing aids of yester-year. Fortunately, these days, therapeutic devices have become sleeker, more discreet, and less intrusive – thanks to inclusive design.

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), only about one out of five adults who could benefit from some form of hearing aid actually seek intervention. Perceived versus actual benefit, cost, stigma, and value are contributing to this gap in action. But, a new inclusive design approach could mean good news for the 17% of American adults who have been reported as having a hearing impairment.

While time, education, and continued improvement tend to help alleviate these types of roadblocks, one factor takes a little more effort to overcome: the stigma. So how do we address it? By turning to inclusive design and the companies who are placing more focus on the condition and the unseen symptoms of being diagnosed.

Max Julian Fischer, an industrial design student at the University of Pforzheim in Germany,  noticed that only 3 million out of 15 million Germans suffering from hearing impairment actually opt to use a hearing device. He decided to do something about it.

“As a designer, I wanted to change this,” said Fischer.

Over the course of a year, with input from companies like Siemens and help from the jewelry design program at his university, he developed what is known as Incluse. These cylindrical, sleek, and modern looking hearing devices look more like modern jewelry than hearing aids. By approaching hearing aids from the patient’s perspective, he hopes that more people may be able to overcome the stigma of their condition.

This same approach is what propelled Warby Parker to success with consumers looking to combat various sight impairments without compromising their style. Prior to Warby Parker, the only way to do so was to shell out hundreds of dollars for over-priced frames, making it an inaccessible option for most. Now, the company has coupled a smooth buying experience with their Buy a Pair, Give a Pair initiative, leaving a lasting impact on the eyewear industry while making glasses cool to wear again.

Why This Matters —

When looking for a solution to a problem, most of the time, there are human elements that are ignored. It’s easy for medical companies to overlook the reasoning behind why consumers hesitate to act. But, by creating a bridge through inclusive design, we can enhance our understanding of what stands in the way of treatment and streamline the retail experience around these devices.

If inclusive design becomes standard in the development process, products won’t be associated with stigma. With a different approach, people can live better lives with the medical and therapeutic devices they need. 

About the Author:

Colin is an Associate Director of Innovation helping the team show the way in a changing marketplace. A graphic designer by trade, he comes from a brand marketing background. Colin hopes to continue bringing life to brand’s stories through innovative and attractive new ideas.