3D-printed Hex hearing aids by Elen Parry double as earphones
3D-printed hearing aid doubles as earphones to reduce stigma against disabilities

3D-printed Hex hearing aids double as earphones to reduce stigma of hearing loss

These 3D-printed hearing aids could help people who are partially deaf to tune out unwanted background noise, but they also function as regular earphones.

Manchester Metropolitan University student Elen Parry designed the hexagonal-shaped earbuds, called Hex, to resemble normal earphones.

Aiming to "reduce the stigma" of wearing an aid, her aim is to create a product that can be used by everyone, so that those with hearing loss don't have to feel self-conscious.

"People with disabilities often feel excluded and conspicuous because of their medical devices," said Parry, who studied on the Industrial Digitalisation MSc programme.

"I want to transform hearing aids into a wearable technology product that gives people better hearing, style and confidence – something that anyone might want to wear," she explained.

3D-printed hearing aid doubles as earphones to reduce stigma against disabilities
The earpiece enables users to increase or decrease the volume of background noise

The earbuds use a processing chip that differentiates between background noise and active noise, such as music or a voice on a phone call.

The earpiece enables users to increase or decrease the volume of background noise themselves, allowing those with hearing difficulties to more easily tune out surrounding noise.

As well as immediately improving the quality of hearing, Parry's aids also prevent the user's hearing from deteriorating further.

3D-printed hearing aid doubles as earphones to reduce stigma against disabilities
Regular silicone earbuds can be attached to the hearing aids to transform them into headphones

Regular silicone earbuds can be attached to the hearing aids to transform them into headphones. The device can then be connected to Bluetooth to listen to music or receive phone calls.

"I looked into designing something that could create an improved situation for everyone, rather than a niche for people who are seen as less abled," said Parry.

She came up with the idea for the product after noticing her cousin feeling self-conscious wearing a standard, over-the-ear hearing aid.

"It has been an interest of mine for a while to try to remove stigma through desirable design," she said. "Medical devices tend to stay the same over time – they are designed by engineers, who don't necessarily think about user experience."

3D-printed hearing aid doubles as earphones to reduce stigma against disabilities
A rechargeable graphene battery is inserted into the product

She mocked up the design on computer-aided design (CAD) software and 3D-printed the pieces using medical grade titanium. A rechargeable graphene battery is inserted into the product, with dual connectivity strips for faster charging.

"The idea behind creating Hex earbuds was to create a hearing device for everyone, whether you live with hearing loss or perfect hearing," she explained.

Other recent projects aimed at those with physical impairments include tableware featuring coloured accents, designed to help visually impaired people dish up the correct amount of food and drink, and a hearing aid that takes inspiration from precious gemstones.