There are 466 million people in the world who are deaf or living with disabling hearing loss, which amounts to more than 1 in 20 people worldwide. The majority of these people do not have the funds to buy hearing aids and the batteries required to keep them going. Currently, there are two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids in order to help those living in poverty to afford and power hearing aids.
Poverty and Hearing Aids
Approximately 89 percent of those who are hearing impaired live in low and middle-income countries. However, the production of hearing aids currently only meets around 10 percent of the need worldwide. Because traditional hearing aids are expensive, the majority of these hearing aids are going to those who can afford them. This typically means that people in developing countries are going without.
Traditional hearing aids typically cost around $1,000 and have an average battery life of only one to two weeks. Because of this huge financial barrier, solar-powered hearing aids are dramatically changing the accessibility of hearing aids for low-income people in developing countries. Even more importantly, they are cheaper and last longer than traditional hearing aids.
Godisa Technologies was a Botswana-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that began research on the solar-powered hearing aid in 1992. Godisa Technologies aimed to manufacture hearing aids that were accessible to those with hearing disabilities in Africa and throughout the developing world. Godisa Technologies shut down in 2008 due to a lack of funding, but its research led to two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids. Solar Ear and Deaftronics provide inexpensive and long-lasting hearing aids all across the developing world.
Solar Ear is a solar-powered hearing aid company based out of Brazil. Solar Ear’s hearing aid was designed by Howard Weinstein, a former Peace Corps volunteer at Godisa Technologies. These hearing aids only cost around $100 and have a battery lifespan of around three years, which is approximately one-tenth of the price of traditional hearing aids for 150 times the lifespan.
Solar Ear designs their hearing aids specifically for young children living in regions without access to deaf education. Their mission is to provide solar-powered hearing aids to children before the age of three so that they can learn to communicate and receive an education alongside their hearing peers. The hearing aids are manufactured and produced by people with disabilities in Brazil, Botswana and China. They are now available in more than 40 countries.
Deaftronics is another company pioneering solar-powered hearing aids. Deaftronics was created in 2009 by Tendekayi Katsiga, another former employee of Godisa Technologies. Katsiga, like Weinstein, knew that Godisa’s hearing aids were still too expensive for many people to afford and wanted to build a company that took this technology a step further.
Deaftronics provides solar-powered hearing aids along with four rechargeable batteries for $200. These hearing aids have an overall lifespan of up to twelve years. By 2015, Deaftronics had already sold more than 10,000 hearing aids to people in Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa and Angola. But, Katsiga became convinced that solar-powered hearing aids alone could not be the only solution to hearing loss. In an attempt to provide a cheap and easy way to catch hearing loss early and prevent it from worsening, Deaftronics has also produced a mobile app that allows people to test for early signs of hearing loss.
Solar powered hearing aids have become readily accessible in many developing countries due to the dedication of Solar Ear and Deaftronics. These two companies pioneering solar-powered hearing aids have changed the world for those who previously could not afford them. The technology has been crucial in making hearing aids accessible to the world’s poor. Thanks to solar-powered hearing aids, children who would otherwise be unable to learn to talk or communicate are able to go to school and learn regardless of where they live or how much money their families have.