Ear Defenders

by Marie Morgan, CA H&V Member

Living here in Southern California, we can go long stretches–even months at a time–without rain. My daughter, Kacey, is very active all year round and involved in many outdoor activities such as run club, swimming, soccer, and softball. Through the newborn hearing screening process, Kacey was identified with a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and has worn hearing aids all nine years of her life. Being active in outdoor activities and going long stretches without rain has been great for Kacey.

Then, last fall in a playoff soccer match, it was raining hard enough and steady enough to cause Kacey to take her hearing aids out in order to play (hearing aids are not waterproof). Kacey played well, and so did her team, but it wasn’t until after the game that we found out what that experience was like for her. She enjoyed the match, but felt defeated and not included in not being able to hear her teammates or her coach. She felt as if the playing field was not level for someone like her.  It is the first time in her life that she had expressed something like this to us. She has been her own champion, advocating for whatever she needs to be equal with others. Because of this sense of self, she excels in the classroom, socially, and athletically. Not being on a level playing field with all the other kids was a big deal.

From that rain came sunshine. Not long after the soccer match, Kacey’s school was promoting an Invention Convention. When invited to participate, Kacey said yes. In brainstorming ideas for inventions, Kacey rather quickly came around to suggesting “hearing aid raincoats” so people of any age participating in outdoor activities can keep them in if desired. That would, “level the playing field, she said!  What a cool idea, and what a cool kid to recognize a real problem and want to do something about it.

The process of creating rain coats for hearing aids began with research on similar products that may exist, as well as figuring out what materials and construction would result in a solution in time to participate in the Invention Convention. She tried various materials and processes such as sewing, gluing, and velcroing, leading her to prototypes for testing to meet key criteria. The criteria included: easy on and off, comfort, not blocking sound, and of course, protecting the hearing aids from being damaged. The prototype for the Invention Convention was vinyl material, with sewing on one side, and Velcro on the other. The final prototype met the criteria Kacey decided upon before buying any materials and trying out different solutions. She enjoyed the trial and error leading to the final prototype…a big part of the overall fun in the process.

At the Invention Convention, Kacey presented what she named the Ear Defenders, with the tagline, Leveling the Playing Field.  This event afforded Kacy the opportunity to use her experience to describe to judges, parents, and classmates how she came up with the idea, and created a cool product design while being easy to use and solving a real problem.

There were many great inventions presented, and even though the Ear Defenders did not win the top spot, Kacey was invited to present her invention at the regional Southern California Invention Convention. On the car ride home from the event, Kacey simply said, “I don’t mind that I didn’t win. I’m proud of having worked on solving a problem that I and others like me have.” That pride in her growing leadership is shared by my husband and me, our extended family members, and friends.