hearables, hearing aids, hearing loss

Has Apple’s iPhone 7 “Jack Controversy” just helped people with hearing loss seek help sooner?

(Featured image via https://9to5mac.com/guides/iphone-7/)

The iPhone 7 is officially here, and with it I had to ask “Did Apple just help people like me (with hearing loss) want to get help sooner?”

Hearing aids today are basically tiny wearable products packed with technology equivalent to that of a NASA rocket. And yet, the outdated (in my opinion) stigma surrounding hearing aids and hearing loss still exists. We hear either and automatically think “old age” and “grandparents,” but in 2015 however, the World Health Organization destroyed that thinking when it found that over 1.1 billion teens and young adults are at risk for hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices.

“It’s not just old folks who suffer hearing loss. Just by listening to music at what you probably think is a normal level, or hanging out in loud bars, nightclubs and music and sporting events, you can permanently damage your hearing. By analyzing listening habits of 12- to 35-year-olds in wealthier countries around the world, WHO found nearly 50% of those studied listen to unsafe sound levels on personal audio devices and about 40% are exposed to damaging levels of music and noise at entertainment venues,” a CNN article read.

In short: Age is irrelevant to having hearing loss or needing hearing aids. You either have it or you don’t. You either need them or you don’t. That simple.

Made for iPhone technology has already started to transform hearing aid stigma

Recent innovations in hearing technology have already helped to transform the hearing aid stigma. Hearing aids are faster, perform better and smaller than ever before. They are also more fun to use, streaming calls, music and media. More importantly, hearing aids today work with our mobile technology—our phones that we can never seem to part with. Collectively, these advances have given a “wearable” edge to hearing aids.

For example, I wear Halo Made for iPhone hearing aids from Starkey Hearing Technologies. My father wears the next generation, Halo 2. Both of us can wirelessly stream phone calls, Siri, FaceTime, media and music directly to our hearing aids. We can create multiple, personalized geotagged memories that automatically turn on and off. We can completely personalize our programs for our unique hearing losses.

I brag about these things all the time, even to people without hearing loss. And the funny thing is, once I explain all that they can do, those same normal-hearing people want to buy them! Even though they don’t need them! Hearing aids have come that far.

Age is still an obstacle

Yet, despite hearing aids’ improved “cool factor,” age is still a prevalent obstacle for many. Because hearing loss and hearing aids have been equated with old age for so long, it is difficult for younger generations to accept, acknowledge and embrace hearing loss and take the next step towards getting hearing aids.

My father and I both have severe hearing loss. We both need the hearing aids. The only difference between the two of us is that I am 25 and he’s 56. I used to care that I needed hearing aids in my twenties, but after becoming more involved in the hearing loss community, I realized what an idiot I was. Again, age is irrelevant. The only thing that holds people back from getting help when they are younger is that they are clinging to a stigma that is practically gone.

Technological changes and the increased focus on hearing technology by organizations such as Forbes, Inc., CNN, TechCrunch and PSFK have helped not only raise awareness about how prevalent hearing loss across all generations, but have also helped to further establish hearing aids as “futuristic hearable devices” everybody wants.

Here’s how Apple comes in

In 2007, Apple changed our entire vision and opinion on mobile phones with the original iPhone. I remember being in high school and thinking my Motorola Razr flip phone was all that. After dating each iPhone version for at least a year or so (iPhone to iPhone 6S) my 25-year-old can’t help but laugh at my 14-year-old high school self for thinking that Razr was the epitome of cell phone technology.

So when I caught CNN Money’s “Apple unveils water-resistant iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus” article by Heather Kelly today, I of course investigated. I am getting bored with my iPhone 6S relationship after all. But while I entered into the article thinking, “Yes, waterproof, finally!” I stopped when I read about the “Jack controversy.”

“Jack controversy: The removal of the audio jack might make it easier to waterproof the iPhone, but will make all existing wired headphones obsolete, unless people buy a Lightning adapter.”

Oh snap! There go four Apple headphones into my trashcan. Normal-hearing people will have to go buy wireless earbuds (probably Apple’s new Air Pods), but for those with hearing loss, the “Jack controversy” means people with hearing loss might want to get hearing aids sooner than they’d planned.

Why? Headphones aren’t designed to protect hearing. They are designed to provide high-definition audio enjoyment for users. And according to a study by audiologist Brian Fligor in 2004, it’s fun to listen to music at damaging volumes. Dr. Fligor’s study on hearing loss related to earbuds found that “There is a substantial majority [of people] who do listen too loudly — 15 percent to 25 percent.”

Now take the same ability to clearly stream calls, music, FaceTime and more and pack it in a tiny, wireless device that’s practically invisible and is designed for people with hearing loss. Add in the fact that with these devices, I don’t need to listen to music at loud, damaging volumes. This is exactly what my hearing aids do.

Clear audio, cool streaming capabilities, efficiency and ease. Now add in better hearing across any environment for those with hearing loss, and those Made for iPhone hearing aids are starting to look pretty cool for people with hearing loss.

The removal of the “Jack” forces users to go wireless. Most wireless headphone products today aren’t built with people with hearing loss in mind either, so Made for iPhone hearing aids become the wireless options for those with hearing loss.

In short, with many hearing aid brands producing Made for iPhone technology, by removing the ability to use wired headphones, Apple may have just helped people with hearing loss seek help sooner. By removing the “Jack” Apple has opened the door for increased conversation around wireless hearing aids, around hearing loss in general. In fact, Apple may have just forced us to not only enter the age of purely wireless technology but also to do so with our hearing in mind.

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