This article is reprinted from the march/April 2006 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine.
It’s Time for a Revolution
By Joyce O’Keefe
All this author wants is for people to know she has a hearing loss! Viva la Revolution!
Have you ever seen anyone wearing flesh-colored corrective lens frames? No?
Who, you might ask, would try to imitate their own skin – undoubtedly without
success – when so many beautiful and fashionable glasses frames are readily available on
the open market? Yet such an haute couture selection of glasses frames was not always
When corrective lenses were first developed, they were positioned near the eye by
pieces of heavy wood, lead or copper. Leather was used also, and sometimes two lenses
would be strapped together, then tied with a cord behind the head. More fashionably, one
or two lenses could be held up on a stick (lorgnettes), or a single lens would be squeezed
between the eyebrow and the cheek (a monocle).
A more comfortable mounting on the face was desirable and in 1746 a French
optician invented eyeglass frames to be hung over the ears and nose. An artist twirled the
wire stems a bit and – voilà! – a piece of attractive jewelry was born.
In 1901 the first electric hearing aids were invented. However, easily worn
transistorized ones did not become available until the 1950s. Is it surprising then, with
their popularity arriving 200 years later than our common “nose and ear” glasses frames,
that hearing aids are stylistically still in their infancy? Just now, some behind-the-ear
(BTE) hearing aid models are getting attention as potential “fashion accessories.”
Of course, there are those who need glasses and/or hearing aids who prefer that no
one else become aware of their “secret assistants.” For many of these people, contact
lenses can help correct their vision and tiny flesh-colored in-the-ear-canal hearing aids
may unobtrusively boost sound to the point of acceptable audibility.
But what about the rest of us?
Personally, if I don’t understand what someone says to me, I think I would like
the speaker to see that I am wearing a hearing aid and thus realize that I have a hearing
loss. I don’t want the speaker to assume that I’m stupid or arrogant, just because I didn’t
Further, a BTE hearing aid is the kind that will be most useful for my lifestyle. I
don’t plan to hide it under my hair (although I have long locks, so this would be easy).
I’m not sure I want an off-color attempted “skin-match,” either. I wear earrings that go
well with my clothes; I’ve selected glasses frames that I think look stylish, so why
shouldn’t I be able to choose nice-looking hearing aids as well?
Hearing aid manufacturers package tiny micro processors into BTEs, full shell
and half-shell aids, so it seems to me that it would not be difficult to burn the electronics
onto a more-or-less standardized chip that could be slipped into any number of
fashionable cases, according to the consumer’s preference. Perhaps I would like to color-
coordinate my BTE hearing aid with my glasses frames, or my hearing aid with earrings
or a dress for an evening out.
Some hearing aid manufacturers are now producing BTEs in fairly sophisticated
adult colors (not just those super-bright primary ones for kids). Two-tone cases are
available but, to my knowledge, none are consumer interchangeable. For engineers who
can put six million transistors on a microchip less than three-by-three millimeters in size,
this problem should not be insurmountable.
Who wants flesh-colored glasses frames? The trend toward consumer choice for
hearing aid color is heading in the right direction – let’s encourage it. Vive la révolution!
Eyeglass Retrospective-Where Fashion Meets Science: Schiffer, Nancy. 2000
World of Invention, Second Edition: McGrath and Travers, 1999
Spectacles and Other Vision Aids: Rosenthal, J William. 1996
Spectacles, Lorgnettes and Monocles: Davidson, D.C. 1989
Joyce O’Keefe has been a member of the Hearing Loss Association of America (formerly
SHHH) for a number of years. After working first as a teacher, then a foreign service
officer and a property manager, she enjoys freelance writing from her home in Bellevue,