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How Tech Can Change the Lives of People with Hearing Loss

KR Liu, Doppler Labs

My career has spanned both large consumer tech companies and early-stage startups. During this time, I’ve held various executive positions leading both marketing and sales strategy. I’ve launched some of the most disruptive hardware lifestyle tech brands on the market and, now, augmented audio devices with Doppler Labs.

And I’ve done all of this in spite of the fact that I’ve had severe hearing loss most of my life. That’s not to say that my career success came easily, though. Working in sales, where you’re spending your day-to-day on the phone or leading meetings, has posed many challenges. Listening, reading lips and trying to keep up with conversations — something we’re quick to take for granted — was physically and emotionally exhausting. Yet, I hid my hearing loss because I didn’t want to be treated differently at work.

Considering how many people have hearing loss, or are at risk, it’s astonishing to see that innovation in this space has been painfully stagnant. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. Consumer technology companies could help change the status quo — in a big way. Consider how their involvement might change the stigma around what it means to have hearing loss, how much faster we could innovate and bring products to market, and how we might be able to offer products at accessible price points for millions of consumers with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

We’re already starting to see the tide turn. The need for regulatory changes to promote innovation in hearing technologies immediately jump-started a national conversation about the issues affecting our community. And in the tech space, some of the major smartwatch players have collaborated to develop a hearing control app that’s compatible with Starkey’s Halo hearing aids. This kind of collaboration is just the tip of the iceberg, but it shows the potential for what’s possible. The consumer technology industry has the resources, the talent and the know-how to innovate hearing technologies — it’s time we handed over the reins.

My mission while speaking at this year’s SXSW is to continue to be a strong advocate for products that enhance the way we hear the world. I never want anyone to struggle the way I grew up, just because of a disability or challenge that they face. There’s no doubt in my mind that technology can help people with hearing issues gain confidence in all of their activities.

Going to Austin for SXSW? Hear KR speak on the “Unlocking Technology for People with Disabilities” panel.