Student develops helmet for people with cochlear implant
Remy Eichner is aware that life can feel limiting for people with severe hearing loss. So when she discovered a product that provided more freedom, she took hold of the opportunity.
Eichner, a junior at Park City High School, recently came up with a helmet design that would fit around a cochlear implant, a surgically implanted device that functions as an inner ear for those with severe or profound hearing loss. The helmets would allow people with the implants to ride a bike, ride a horse or ski while protecting their heads with a helmet, Eichner said. She entered her idea into the Utah High School Entrepreneur Challenge put on by the University of Utah’s Lassonde Institute and won third place. Eichner calls her invention Enable Helmets. For her prototype, she cut out some foam from the interior of a bike helmet to create a pocket that fits over the cochlear implant. She hopes to keep developing the product to make helmets that are safe and comfortable to use.
She came up with the idea because her friend, who has a cochlear implant, said she could not ride horses because no helmet would fit over the device. Given the options of riding without a helmet or riding but not being able to hear, her friend determined it would be impossible for her to ride safely. She also was not able to wear a helmet while riding a bike or skiing. Eichner enjoys riding horses, and she was upset to know her friend could not do the activity because the equipment did not accommodate her needs.
Eichner became obsessed with trying to find some helmet that would work, but she came to the same conclusion her friend did. There was nothing on the market. It was not long before Eichner thought, “Why don’t I make one?”
She shied away from the idea at first, unsure where she would even begin.
“To start up a product and be a young entrepreneur is scary,” she said.
Eichner does not consider herself an entrepreneurially minded student. Ever since she took an American Sign Language class her freshman year, she has planned on pursuing a career where she can work with people who are deaf. She said she fell in love with sign language, and she imagined she would be an interpreter or teacher one day.
But a couple days after she came up with her helmet idea, a representative from the Lassonde Institute came to her class and told the students about the entrepreneur challenge. Eichner decided to enter the contest with about 300 other students to see if her product was viable.
She spent the next couple months researching helmet safety and cochlear implants so she could make a safe product for users. She chipped away at the prototype while juggling school and two different sports.
In mid-March, she learned that hers was one of 20 student projects around the state selected as finalists. She said she was proud to see three other Park City High School teams in the finals with her. She finished the project the night before she presented her helmet on March 30.
Eichner and the other 19 student finalists presented their ideas to a panel of judges at the University of Utah and then waited. Eichner said she was shocked when her name was read for third place.
“It was the most insane feeling going up on stage,” she said. “Out of 300 applicants, for my idea to be third, it was so cool.”
The Lassonde Institute awarded her $2,000 to be used for the business. She said she hopes to get a patent on the idea and create a product that can help people. She hopes to use the feedback she got from the competition to improve the product.
Now that the competition is over, Eichner said she is less scared of entrepreneurship, and she thinks there is a way to tie it into her passion for sign language. She said she was motivated by some of the other student ideas in the competition aimed at solving big problems, but being able to have proper equipment to do activities is important, too.
“This is a product that you wouldn’t think about until someone brought it up,” she said. “It’s an important product, because little kids want to ride their scooters and their bikes. It feels so good to be considering every person with this product.”
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Amendment G seems straighforward, but behind the language about supporting people with disabilities are legislative compromises decades in the making.