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Last Updated: Monday, 25 July, 2005, 07:36 GMT 08:36 UK
Call for 'designer' hearing aids
Geoff Adams-Spink
BBC News website disability affairs correspondent

Photo of the Svara hearing aid necklace
Stylish jewellery or hearing aid? This new design manages to be both
The UK's largest charity for deaf people and a design magazine are launching an exhibition of futuristic hearing aids to make them more popular.

The show, called Hearwear, opens at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London this week.

A variety of designs will be on display, ranging from stylish devices to enhance hearing to products that can be used by anyone to control sound.

The idea is to persuade people that hearwear can be as appealing as specs.

The show is a collaboration between the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), design magazine, Blueprint, and creative agency Wolff Olins.

The ideas on display include a remote control to block out irritating sounds, a device to enable people to have a clear conversation in a noisy bar, and hearing aids designed as fashionable jewellery or must-have gadgets.

Another concept, known as the Goldfish, instantly replays the previous 10 seconds of sound to the wearer in case they have failed to catch someone's name.

It is based on the idea that goldfish only have 10 seconds of memory.

Missing millions

The RNID believes that the number of people who have some hearing loss will rise from the current one in seven of the population as noise pollution increases and people live longer.

Some of the new ideas from the Hearwear exhibition, of which Henrietta Thompson is co-curator.

"This is likely to become one of the biggest health and social issues of our time," said RNID chief executive John Low.

"Millions of people who could benefit from wearing a hearing aid or hearing protection are reluctant to do so."

The charity is calling for a revolution in people's thinking about hearing products and says that there is insufficient investment in the customer appeal of hearing aids.

"There has been an incredible revolution is the design of glasses, why not in hearing aids," wonders Dr Low.

Although the European market for hearing aids is worth 2.9bn, the concern is that millions of people who could benefit from them are reluctant to do so.

Design journalist and Blueprint deputy editor, Henrietta Thompson, has a hearing impairment and refused to wear hearing aids until she was 14.

"Too many people prefer to struggle to hear rather than wearing one," she said.

"It's ridiculous, today, when we're surrounded by good design in all areas of our lives, that hearing aids have been forgotten in this way."

"With Hearwear we asked the designers how we might break out of this pattern and create stylish and useful products that people might actually want to wear, whether they are deaf or not."

Hearwear is at the Victoria & Albert Museum from 26 July to 5 March 2006

See examples of hearing aids old and new

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