Each year, the World Health Organization spearheads World Hearing Day on March 3. The annual event aims to increase awareness about ways to prevent deafness and hearing loss, as well as to promote ear and hearing care. Eden Prairie’s Starkey Hearing Technologies is at the forefront of addressing these important topics, and owner Bill Austin, and his wife, Tani Austin, share some insight.
Southwest Metro Magazine: Starkey has been a fixture in the Twin Cities for decades. What was your inspiration behind launching your company?
Bill Austin: When I was a young man … I decided to go to medical school. To earn money for college, I was working in an ear mold lab for hearing aids. For the first time, I watched a man [who] was fit with hearing aids hear the world around him.
The look in his eyes as he was able to hear … guided me with an intense desire to help people hear. That look, when someone hears for the first time, is life changing. I decided that I could help more people in the hearing world than I could being a community doctor … If you watch a patient’s face and eyes, if you really look at them, you can find out what they need and how to help them. I instilled this desire to serve each patient in my business.
The Starkey Hearing Foundation began in 1984 and has helped 1.5 million people around the world. What inspired its creation?
Bill Austin: I believe hearing is the human connection to life, and when you give someone the gift of hearing, you’re giving them the tools to reconnect back to their life, loved ones and purpose. We’ve been able to work together with hundreds of donors, sponsors and partners around the globe. In every community, the foundation visits and works in, we set up aftercare programs. Through these programs, individuals, who receive hearing aids from our team, can get help troubleshooting their hearing aids from volunteers, who are able to answer questions, fix hearing aids and provide batteries. The foundation provides tens of thousands of hearing aids every year, and we want to be sure everyone, who receives a pair of hearing aids from the foundation, has access to the long-term care and support they need for their hearing loss.
Tani Austin: The global need is immense with 466 million people living with disabling hearing loss. The foundation strives to serve as many patients as we can. My husband always says, “If we can give a hand up, we will.” We educate volunteers at missions. We opened the Starkey Hearing Institute to train hearing healthcare professionals in Africa, where they are desperately needed, and we also partner with universities across the world to teach our community-based hearing healthcare approach. Our global advocacy is unmatched.
In regard to World Hearing Day, why is it so important to raise awareness about hearing loss?
Tani Austin: World Hearing Day promotes awareness about hearing loss and deafness and promotes good care of our hearing. It’s a great opportunity for the foundation to highlight the importance of hearing healthcare as a whole … We hope that everyone will take time, especially on World Hearing Day, to make a change in their lives and those around them. Be aware, and make a difference in the hearing life of someone else. I imagine if everyone were to donate $1 to the Starkey Hearing Foundation, we could serve millions and millions of people.
The Starkey Hearing Foundation offers the Listen Carefully app, which is free in the App Store and on Google Play. Users can evaluate their hearing through the hearing screener. A sound meter measures noise levels, wherever users are, to determine if something is too loud and could cause hearing damage.