Transforming cat ears to a hearing aid
In 2019 Jennifer noticed that she had issues hearing certain sounds. It turned out that she had a hearing condition called otosclerosis. This means that her ear bones, ossicles, got disconnected from her cochlea. She had lost 60 decibels in low-frequency hearing on one ear and unlike people with most common hearing loss, she could hear high frequency sounds, like birds, but not low sounds such as traffic or jet planes. The fact that she could hear a full range of sounds in one ear and not the other made her feel sick and uncomfortable regularly.
After a lot of research and testing Jennifer realized that hearing devices weren't suitable for her, they simply weren’t made for her particular hearing issue. She needed a hearing device that could be customized. The solution she found was to buy a bone conduction speaker, which transfers sound into vibration. By pressing this conductive speaker to her mastoid, she can bypass her middle ear, where the otosclerosis problem is, and get the sound directly to her perfectly healthy cochlea. She uses a cable to connect the Tympan to this speaker. After mounting the Tympan device to the shoulder of a vest, and running a cable to the speaker on a headband, it soon became apparent that something more ‘wearable’ was essential.
Her first idea was to add the Tympan device and speaker to a baseball hat, but it did not work due to the fact that she does not particularly like wearing baseball hats. She started thinking of other ways; what could she make that would be suitable for her to wear on a daily basis? She decided to try with cat ears and bought the biggest pair that could be found on Etsy, she made an even bigger pair herself to make sure the Tympan device would fit properly. The Tympan model D sound processor was mounted on one ear, and power and volume controls on the other, for an accessible volume control. She had created a working prototype!