Hearing the Need for Fashion Just like glasses, hearing-assistive technology should allow wearers to express their style, says this audiologist. In the Limelight
In the Limelight  |   February 01, 2017
Hearing the Need for Fashion
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   February 01, 2017
Hearing the Need for Fashion
The ASHA Leader, February 2017, Vol. 22, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.22022017.32
The ASHA Leader, February 2017, Vol. 22, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.22022017.32
Name: Stacey Lim, AuD, PhD, CCC-A
Title: Assistant professor of audiology, Central Michigan University, and co-curator of “(dis)ABLED BEAUTY: the evolution of beauty, disability and ability”
Hometown: Mt. Pleasant, Michigan
Stacey Lim had an interest in fashionable hearing aids long before she co-curated an exhibition on them. The Central Michigan University audiology professor was born with profound hearing loss. As long as she can remember, she was determined to find more stylish devices. Her nearly lifelong goal to make wearing a cochlear implant (CI) chic eventually led to a museum exhibition.
Running through March 12 at Kent State University’s museum and then showing at Central Michigan University in early 2018 is “(dis)ABLED BEAUTY: the evolution of beauty, disability and ability,” co-curated by Lim with fashion designer and assistant professor of fashion at Kent State University Tameka Ellington.
The exhibition germinated while Lim was a doctoral student at Kent State, where she became friends with fellow student Ellington. Although they studied seemingly disparate disciplines, the friends—and now colleagues—wanted to work together based on their shared love of style and belief that fashion can improve a person’s self-esteem. They decided to research how teenagers feel about wearing hearing aids or CIs.
“We came up with the idea of looking at hearing aids and the stigma around them,” Lim says, “then figuring out how we can break down the stigma through fashion. I think teenagers especially want to look stylish, so we interviewed teens.”
From research to runway
Lim and Ellington talked to teens about how they felt about wearing devices and what their ideal device would look like. The duo was fascinated by the teens’ responses. Some wanted highly designed hearing devices—more colorful or fashionable—while others specified more hidden and discreet options.
Lim and Ellington presented their findings at a health and fashion symposium, where they also attended a session about fashionable prosthetic limbs. They combined what they learned there with their own research and began curating a collection of assistive devices—ranging from historic examples to current offerings to futuristic designs—showing how style can help break down stigma for wearers.
“We talked to [researcher Martha Hall] at the symposium about fashionable prosthetic limbs and started realizing how much already exists—there’s a lot but not a lot, you know?” says Lim. “No fashion works for everyone and these devices should look good based on what the wearer prefers—they are a part of who we are and they can and should be beautiful.”
The show goes on
What began as a research project grew into a multimedia exhibition encompassing hearing aids, cochlear implants, prosthetics, mobility aids, adaptive apparel and other assistive devices. In addition to current options, the collection includes historic products—such as hearing aid jewelry and intricately carved wooden walking sticks—as well as prototypes and theoretical designs for futuristic products.
A few of the items on display come from Lim’s personal collection. She called the manufacturers of her favorite devices—like a hearing aid cover mimicking a banana and a colorful CI receiver—and asked them to donate similar models for the show. Another item on display is a dragon wheelchair cover made by a nonprofit organization called Magic Wheelchair. The company designs Halloween costumes for kids in wheelchairs.
One of the futuristic prototypes is a dress called “Flutter.” The snug dress—designed for people with hearing loss—features microphones and vibration motors concealed by cloth feathers running from collar to hemline. These high-tech feathers give the wearer vibro-tactile feedback in the direction of a loud sound like an alarm.
One of Lim’s favorite parts of putting this show together was working with Ellington to design a prosthetic limb. They collaborated with Mike Singer, an engineer at Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron. The sleek prosthetic leg features intertwined silver ribbons culminating in a futuristic foot. Lim describes the concept as a “representation of the interconnection of fashion and health and a symbol of partnership between Kent State University and Central Michigan University.”
Lim points out that people with disabilities make up the world’s largest minority group. She hopes the exhibition reduces the stigma this group encounters by making assistive devices cool, stylish and expressive. From personal experience and her research, Lim feels having fashionable hearing assistive devices, adaptive clothing, prosthetics and other accessories helps break down barriers in a positive way.
“Our goal was to dismantle the negative stigmas surrounding disability,” she says, “to spark a discussion about what it means to have a disability and to be beautiful.”
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February 2017
Volume 22, Issue 2