The inspiration for creating a hat for cochlear implants started with Meghan Carey’s now 7-year-old son Percy. He is profoundly deaf and received bilateral cochlear implants when he was 11 months old.
“To achieve our goals for Percy’s speech development, our intervention team had advised keeping his processors on for every waking moment,” Carey says. “But we live in Maine, and winter is cold here.”
When Carey reached out to the cochlear implant (CI) parenting community, she was surprised to discover there wasn’t a better solution.
It’s hard enough to keep hats on little squirmy kids, but CI magnets for babies are intentionally weak to prevent injury. So it’s very easy to knock the equipment off. This meant that the family often chose not to venture out into the Maine winter. If Percy was warm, he didn’t have hearing. If he had hearing, he wasn’t warm.
Carey, a designer by trade, worked to develop a hat that was easy to put on and keep Percy’s bionic ears securely in place. Desperate for a solution, she enlisted her mother, who she describes as a creative and resourceful problem solver. She also had more bandwidth at the time to devote to the project.
In the meantime, Carey and her husband kept finding solutions to problems they hadn’t anticipated. This led her to think of creating a company. In the spring of 2018, Carey applied to a 12-week entrepreneurial accelerator program to see if she could take her idea anywhere. By the early summer, she was committed to a Kickstarter campaign.
It was at this point that Carey worked with a local maker to refine and streamline the pattern to accommodate various CI configuration models. The initial design was a little rough around the edges. The ultimate design resulted in the Safe & Snug Winter Bomber Hat. The goal was to come up with a hat that would stay on Percy’s head with ear flaps for extra warmth, and a soft tie under the chin for a secure fit. Each side has a snug pocket lined with thin material for the equipment to slide into.
The volume of pre-sales through the Kickstarter campaign were enough to allow them to donate enough hats to Massachusetts Eye and Ear. All children who received CIs in 2019 and 2020 went home with a Safe & Snug Hat.
Read more: 5 steps to early infant cochlear implantation
Carey had been relying on social media posts and word of mouth to make sales. A recent partnership with Advanced Bionics will hopefully expand their reach and connect with new customers. It all started with a decision to go with Advanced Bionics.
“One of the reasons we chose Advanced Bionics as Percy’s cochlear implant manufacturer was their commitment to leading the field in innovation,” Carey says.
Last summer, some friends connected Carey and her husband with an influential CI surgeon who graciously offered to facilitate an introduction with Advanced Bionics (AB). They asked the company about extending the reach of their products.
“Just like AB, it was clear from the beginning that they care so much about not just their kid, but the entire cochlear implant community,” says Rebecca Herbig, AB Product Marketing Manager.
“Just like AB, it was clear from the beginning that they care so much about not just their kid, but the entire cochlear implant community.”
AB started out as a small company, Herbig says, so it was easy to relate to and understand what CoAmplify — the company Carey and her husband officially created — was trying to do.
“It was a natural fit,” Herbig adds.
In the partnership between AB and CoAmplify, AB has helped raise awareness of CoAmplify through its communication channels. In AB’s webstore, the Safe & Snug Winter Hat is listed under Toys-Clothing-Other. Instead of the ability to add to cart, a link is provided to CoAmplify’s website.
“At AB, we believe everyone can live without the limitations of hearing loss, and we can make that happen through patient-centric innovations,” Herbig says. “We found this vision and aspiration echoed in CoAmplify and their products. It may just be cute hats, but they allow kids to explore their world without sacrificing hearing or comfort. We’re thrilled to be a part of their story and their success.”
The hat – which retails for $35 — is also available for purchase on CoAmplify.com and in a dedicated shop on Etsy.
Carey also designs luxury wedding invitations and bespoke stationery. Her husband Sean Wilkinson owns Might & Main, a boutique branding and design agency in Portland, Maine.
“We’re trained to solve functional problems aesthetically and conceptually, and we recognize that other parents and providers may not have that skill set,” Carey says.
Hence, CoAmplify. As its website states, the company creates “products that give deaf kids with cochlear implants the freedom to just be kids.” The couple struggled with a name. They wanted one that spoke to both the augmentation of sound and the enhancement of comfort and convenience that their products would provide. They kept coming back to amplify. The “Co” is a nod to cochlear implants. It also reflects the togetherness they feel with this community of parents and providers.
All products are designed and manufactured in Maine, supporting other local artisans and their families.
The second product the couple designed was the Ling 6 Sounds Wooden Animal Playset. As the website explains, a teacher of the deaf who was a great resource for them didn’t have the best resources at her disposal. The Ling Sounds were instrumental in teaching Percy to speak. The teacher was left to scrounge for teaching toys at the dollar store.
“Part of the success of teaching these young kids is the ability to make lessons into games, so we designed the set to have an awake side and an asleep side,” the website states. “The animals represent one each of five of the sounds. Putting the ‘into bed’ and sliding the colorful quilt cover over them encourages the kids to say ‘SHH,’ the sixth sound.”
Other products include device friendly face masks for kids and adults, and an ear saver headband.
Read more: Tips for keeping baby’s hearing aids on
Percy’s age and the timing of his surgery positioned CoAmplify to be the first to market in this space. There’s a patent pending on their proprietary headwear.
“Decades of progressive research have demonstrated that deaf children can develop speech and language at typical rates if they receive cochlear implants very early in life,” Carey says. “The target age for intervention has gotten rapidly younger. The support mechanisms for this particular demographic just don’t exist.”
CoAmplify recognizes that these are niche products for a small subset of the population. With earlier implants occurring, awareness is increasing. Knowing someone with cochlear implants is also more likely.
As for the hat for cochlear implants, yes, there are plans to make it in other sizes. The hope is to have this available by next winter. Carey has also been working with a professional milliner to develop a sun hat. It’s in the sampling phase right now. The offering of Language Learning Tools is also being expanded.
Another idea in the works has to do with sports helmets.
“One of the most dangerous and shocking gaps for parents of children with CIs is the lack of a protective sports helmet solution,” Carey says. “Hearing aid wearers can also attest to their physical discomfort and anxiety when wearing traditional, ill-fitting sports helmets. No one in the product development arena has addressed a curated helmet solution for hearing aid or CI wearers of any age.”
Every purchase to CoAmplify facilitates further product development and donations to parents and providers of deaf and hard of hearing children who use auditory assistive technology.