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Hear the World Initiative Focuses on Healthy Ears

Can you imagine not hearing the chirping of the birds, voices of your loved ones, or your favorite songs? How would you feel if you could not hear any sounds that connect you to the world and enhance your quality of life?

In the United States alone, an estimated one person in 10, or approximately 30 million people, are hearing impaired. Worldwide, that figure is a staggering 500 million, and, as the population ages, that number is expected to climb to 700 million within the next seven years.

That is why Phonak, a Swiss-based company that designs, develops and manufactures technologically advanced hearing systems, has launched the aptly named Hear the World initiative, promoting the importance of good hearing.

Heres Why You Should Listen:

Healthy hearing is essential in our lives. It protects us from danger, allows us to communicate, to lead fulfilling lives, and be involved in activities we enjoy.

Hearing aids can help rediscover the lifes pleasures. A survey by Better Hearing Institute shows that nine out of 10 Americans who have hearing aids enjoy a higher quality of life because of improved communication, social interaction, mental state, and overall lifestyle.

Another survey, conducted several years ago by the National Council on Aging, showed that hearing-impaired people reported significant improvements in their relationships and their level of self-esteem after they started using hearing aids.

If that evidence alone is not compelling enough, here are even more reasons to protect your hearing or, in case it is already impaired, to be fitted with a hearing aid: safety concerns. Untreated hearing loss, studies have shown, compromises our ability to hear environmental sounds, such as smoke and fire alarms, car horns, sirens, and other auditory signals that alert us to possible dangers.

In a workplace, too, untreated hearing can be potentially hazardous. The U.S. Department of Labors Occupational Safety and Health Administration says that hearing-disabled employees can have difficulty hearing verbal instructions and the sound of machinery, or they may lack the ability to identify the direction of a sound source, exposing themselves to a myriad of accidents.

Spreading the Word

The Hear the World initiative focuses on raising awareness of the importance of hearing and hearing loss as well as the benefits of available treatments all over the world.

Good hearing is the basis of good life, but people generally dont value their hearing, says Vanessa Erhard Blattmann, spokesperson for Phonaks Hear the World initiative, which was launched in October 2006. They take it for granted. They dont protect it. We want everyone, young and old, to take care of their hearing, be it by protecting it better or taking a hearing test.

Phonak has devised some innovative strategies to shed light on the importance of good hearing. For example, its Musician in a Box concept has musicians performing in a soundproof glass cube, which is integrated into a modern music pavilion with roofing. While passers-by can see the musicians, they cannot hear them. Once they are provided with headphones, however, they can hear the music streaming from the box. This method drives home a very important point: that merely seeing the music being played is not as satisfactory as actually hearing it and being able to enjoy its sounds.

Since May 2007, the box" has been installed at major events and in many busy city streets all over the world. The most recent venue was on October 21 in Munich, Germany.

Message Heard Around the World

Here are some examples of how the Hear the World initiative is making, in concrete and tangible ways, a meaningful difference in the lives of hearing impaired people throughout the world.

Earlier this year Phonak announced the opening of a new extension in the Eduplex, a school for children with and without hearing loss in Pretoria, South Africa, as well as the launch of a new program for teachers, entitled Teach for Better Hearing. The aim of the program, financed by the Hear the World Foundation, is to achieve sustainable improvements in the education of the hearing impaired children.

Another success story is Bill Barkeley, a Michigan man who suffers from the Usher Syndrome, a disability that encompasses hearing impairment in conjunctions with an eye disorder that causes the vision to worsen over time.

The Hear the World Foundation equipped Barkeley with a hearing aid and a wireless FM system, which allowed him to achieve, in September 2007, a truly awe-inspiring feat -- the climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro, which, at 19,340 feet, is Africas highest peak.

Famous Voices

The Hear the World initiative has recruited some well-known international celebrities to help promote the cause of good hearing. For example, the renowned opera singer Placido Domingo supports the initiative because, he says, people need to understand how valuable good hearing is. Music is nothing if no one can hear it.

Actor Harry Belafonte agrees. Good hearing is extremely important, he notes. I just think people should be very, very conscious and protective of their hearing."

For singer Bobby McFerrin, best known for his Grammy Award-winning song, Dont Worry, Be Happy, good hearing is a key to worry-free happiness. Most people take their hearing for granted, he says. That is, until they lose it.

And that is precisely what the Hear the World initiative wants to prevent the loss of hearing. Creating awareness of this important topic takes time, Erhard Blattmann says, so we will run this initiative for as long as it takes to reach our goals.

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