Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Solar-Powered Hearing Aids Are Music to the Ears of Kids Around the World

Business
Solar-Powered Hearing Aids Are Music to the Ears of Kids Around the World

Grace O’Brien’s motto has always been, “I don’t know what I want to be, but I want to be something great. Meaning, I want to make sure that whatever I choose to do, it’s making a positive impact.”

So far, the 18-year old Stanford freshman is off to a pretty good start. At 14, she founded the nonprofit Ears for Years, which has supplied hundreds of low-cost, solar-powered hearing aids to children in developing countries. And O’Brien has already received national attention as one of the 2015 winners of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes.

Founder of Ears for Years Grace O'Brien, center. Photo credit: Earsforyears.org

When she was growing up, O’Brien says, her family was very service-minded. She often spent Sunday mornings serving food at a local homeless shelter or making blankets for hospitals with her sisters. But the issue of hearing loss really hit home when her father developed a brain tumor and suffered some hearing loss, making communication difficult. Later, while looking for a summer volunteer position, she discovered a theater camp for deaf children.

“I knew it was the perfect place for me to integrate my love for theater and volunteering,” O’Brien says. “As I worked with the kids over the summer, I realized how important hearing aids were to many of the children's ability to learn and communicate. I became more involved in the deaf community that summer, and I discovered that there are roughly 30 million hard-of-hearing children in developing countries who could benefit from a hearing aid but don’t have access to one.”

According to the World Health Organization, of the 360 million people around the world who suffer from hearing loss, 32 million are children, and the majority are in developing countries.

“I wanted to find a sustainable and affordable solution, so when I came across Solar Ear, I knew I had to work with them,” O’Brien says. “I reached out to the founder of Solar Ear, Howard Weinstein, and we realized many of our goals were aligned, so it seemed like a perfect fit to work together. My friends and family served as pillars of support, helping me arrange fund-raisers and get the word out. I also created a club at my high school.”

Founded in 2003, Solar Ear seeks to address not only the high cost of hearing aids in developing countries, but also the difficulty and high cost of keeping them charged. Standard hearing aids can cost as much as $1,000, require constant battery changes and don’t have a long life span. The Solar Ear device is $100, has a three-year life span and includes rechargeable batteries that use a solar-powered charger. The charger can also be plugged into a light socket to recharge.

“In the developing world, people lucky enough to own a hearing aid either can’t get hold of or can’t afford the batteries which, by the way, they have to replace once a week,” Weinstein told the World Health Organization. “So the devices end up on a shelf somewhere or in the kitchen drawer.”

Weinstein shares O’Brien’s desire to make a positive impact.

“We could have patented the Solar Ear charger in a heartbeat, but we wanted people to copy us,” Weinstein said. “In fact, if somebody ends up producing a cheaper, better version of the Solar Ear and uses their distribution channel to get more products to more children with hearing loss, we will have attained our objective—even if that puts us out of business.”

So far, Solar Ear has gone into production in Brazil, China, Mexico, Russia and Singapore, with one condition from Weinstein: that deaf people be involved in making them.

“Hearing aids can be an essential tool for communication for someone who is hard of hearing,” says O’Brien, “so I think it’s important for children who need them to have them, to retain information, get a valid education and have a chance at building a better life for themselves.”

The Solar Ear rechargeable battery and solar charger. Photo credit: YouTube

O’Brien explains that many developing countries don’t have special schools or accommodations for deaf children, so it can be difficult for them to learn and interact with their peers.

“I believe every child should be given the tools they need to get a valid education,” she says, “and for hard-of-hearing children, that tool set might be a little different.”

O’Brien has already traveled to Mexico, Sri Lanka, Honduras, Nicaragua and South Korea, fitting hundreds of children with Solar Ear hearing aids and educating communities about deafness.

“Many people don’t know what causes deafness,” she says, “so explaining it can help to prevent and eradicate prejudices.” Among children, chronic otitis media, meaning a long-standing ear infection, is the leading cause of hearing impairment.

While O’Brien hopes to continue providing deaf and hard-of-hearing children around the world with hearing aids, she’s casting a much wider net for her future.

“By spreading the word and fighting for people with disabilities, I hope I can find ways to convince countries that don’t already have accommodations to implement programs and accommodations for children with disabilities,” she says. “I’m still young, and my life has the potential to take many different paths, but wherever I go, I want to make sure I’m making a positive difference.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

7 Kids Demand Judge Uphold Their Rights to a Healthy Environment in Landmark Case

4 Solar Powered Homes Designed by Students That Will Blow You Away

Koch Brothers Continue War on Solar in Sunshine State

20 Celebrities That Have Gone Solar

Climate Group

Every September for the past 11 years, non-profit the Climate Group has hosted Climate Week NYC, a chance for business, government, activist and community leaders to come together and discuss solutions to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A field of sunflowers near the Mehrum coal-fired power station, wind turbines and high-voltage lines in the Peine district of Germany on Aug. 3, 2020. Julian Stratenschulte / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

The coronavirus pandemic has altered economic priorities for governments around the world. But as wildfires tear up the west coast of the United States and Europe reels after one of its hottest summers on record, tackling climate change remains at the forefront of economic policy.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Monarch butterflies in Mexico's Oyamel forest in Michoacan, Mexico after migrating from Canada. Luis Acosta / AFP / Getty Images

By D. André Green II

One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.

Read More Show Less
The 30th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony on Sept. 17 introduced ten new Ig Nobel Prize winners, each intended to make people "laugh then think." Improbable Research / YouTube

The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.

Read More Show Less
Solar geoengineering would involve injecting reflective aerosols from high-altitude planes into the layer of the upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere to reduce the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases. namoliang / Pixabay

By Betsy Mason

For decades, climate scientist David Keith of Harvard University has been trying to get people to take his research seriously. He's a pioneer in the field of geoengineering, which aims to combat climate change through a range of technological fixes. Over the years, ideas have included sprinkling iron in the ocean to stimulate plankton to suck up more carbon from the atmosphere or capturing carbon straight out of the air.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch