Four decades ago this month, an announcement was made that changed the public perception of hearing aids forever. September 7th, 1983 was the day the White House announced President Ronald Reagan had been fit with a Starkey hearing aid.
President Reagan’s hearing loss began during his film career after a pistol was fired near his right ear. The New York Times reported that President Reagan hoped his own public announcement would encourage others who may be hesitant to wear a hearing aid to get the help they needed. It was the first time a president had publicly announced wearing a hearing aid, and it generated media coverage around the world.
It’s a moment in my career I will never forget. I recall traveling to the White House to meet with President Reagan, who was personable and open to discussing his hearing loss with me. At the time and to this day, we have battled a social stigma around hearing aid technology. It was reported that numerous technological advancements at the time spurred President Reagan’s doctor’s desire for him to formally begin a new hearing health journey and address his hearing loss once and for all.
What happened after his announcement sparked growth in our industry like we hadn’t seen before. In what became known as ‘The Reagan Effect,’ sales in our industry grew 30% in the final months of 1983, and the number of hearing professionals grew fourfold in the decade that followed. The momentum around encouraging hearing health grew in May 1986 when President Reagan officially declared May as Better Hearing and Speech Month, an important awareness effort we still acknowledge and celebrate today.
Four decades later, hearing aid technology has continued to advance in incredible ways. Now, with Genesis AI, Starkey has created a hearing aid that can mimic how a healthy human brain hears. While we continue to work toward ending the stigma around wearing hearing aids once and for all, we’ve had numerous ambassadors since President Reagan who have used their global influence to encourage others to address their hearing health.
To say I still feel proud of this moment in time is an understatement. It’s these pivotal milestones that have continually reminded me why I embarked on this career so long ago. Hearing health is essential to living life to the fullest, and I will be forever grateful for such public encouragement for our industry from the highest level.