SEATTLE — The World Health Organization estimates that more than 466 million people worldwide are hearing impaired, which means that these people are unable to communicate, seek education or work without a hearing aid. Of the many afflicted by a hearing disability, more than 80 percent live in developing countries. For many in poor communities, the cost of both a hearing aid device and the associated batteries can be extremely prohibitive. Solar Ear, a social company dedicated to ending hearing loss worldwide, has produced the world’s first solar-powered hearing aid device.
Overcoming Obstacles for the Hearing Impaired in Developing Countries
For children with a hearing disability, a lack of hearing aids makes it hard for them to learn to speak or to succeed in school. Especially in developing communities, deaf people face many challenges. Children rarely have access to schools that cater to the academic needs of the deaf, leaving them with few options to escape poverty. Worse, employers rarely have the means to accommodate the needs of a deaf employee, making employment even harder for those without a hearing aid.
Hearing aids can be expensive in upfront cost and cost over time, especially in areas without access to the global market. A typical hearing aid device costs around $5,000 for a full set, not to mention the cost of replacement batteries. The average disposable battery lasts about a week. In contrast, Solar Ear hearing aids cost between $100 and $250. The solar-powered batteries need to be replaced every two to three years and cost about the same as a single disposable battery. This makes Solar Ear batteries much cheaper in the long term than buying and replacing disposable hearing aid batteries every week.
Solar Ear Makes Solar-Powered Batteries Accessible to All
Moreover, in impoverished communities reusability has a lot of value. In isolated areas, access to replacement disposable batteries on a regular basis can be difficult or even impossible. Rechargeable batteries still require access to electricity, which many in the developing world do not have. Solar Ear answers this issue with its solar-powered, rechargeable hearing aids. Solar Ear frees users from needing electricity to charge the hearing devices they so depend on. If a hearing-impaired person already has a hearing aid, they can opt to replace their disposable batteries with Solar Ear batteries, as Solar Ear has specifically engineered its solar batteries to be usable with 85 percent of hearing aids.
A business is social when it is focused on generating employment for people in low-income communities while still being sustainable in the long term. Solar Ear has been recognized as one of the best examples of a social business by international organizations, such as the Ashoka Foundation and the American Academy of Audiology Humanitarian Award. With centers in Sao Paolo and Jordan, all of its products are manufactured by deaf people. The hearing aid devices and batteries are usually distributed to low-income children and released at much lower costs than comparable assistive devices. By 2020, both Solar Ear and UNICEF predict that the social business will grow to serve 60 different countries and have access to more than three billion people.
– Peter Buffo