Universal Ear for The Rockefeller Foundation
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Bringing communication to all
Experts estimate that 400 million people worldwide suffer from mild, moderate or severe hearing loss. Despite the staggering numbers of people whose lives could significantly improve with a suitable hearing aid, expensive technology and complex distribution practices make it difficult to attain these devices, particularly in the developing world.
Recognizing the need and opportunity to evolve the hearing aid industry, startup company Conversion Sound, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, wanted to give those in need the opportunity to flourish by disrupting the market with a low cost hearing aid, a more accessible distribution strategy, and a tiered pricing model to make the devices affordable for everyone. As such, Conversion Sound approached IDEO to address the hearing aid fitting protocol, specifically to develop a distribution practice that leverages a group of minimally trained hearing aid technicians. While audiologists with many years of training traditionally fit hearing aids, Conversion Sound realized that an automated fitting protocol run on a simple PDA or cell phone in a non-medical setting could achieve powerful results.
To immerse in the complexities of the issue, IDEO traveled to India, uncovering a tremendous number of insights around what is necessary to design an effective hearing aid system for users in emerging nations. After researching the broad experience, the team focused on the fitting protocol, testing proposed solutions in India through small-scale pilot studies with potential technicians and customers. IDEO delivered a set of reference designs for the client to use as the system is rolled out in various countries.
The project resulted in a systemic solution, including detailed steps for the fitting protocol (with allowance for modifications given local cultures), a literacy-agnostic interface for a digital handheld that tests hearing and fits a hearing aid, an easy-to-carry complete field toolkit for the technicians to support the fitting process, and a service guide to train the technicians in the protocol, technology, and customer service aspects of the business. In addition to the tools, IDEO wove together footage from India into a five-minute inspirational video about Conversion Sound’s vision.
Project date: 2009