Many different charities and nonprofit organizations around the world provide free or low-cost hearing aids to people in need, though providing a comprehensive list is somewhat difficult due to the number of groups and the possibility that they will change their terms or shift their focus over time. Historically, however, the biggest names in free hearing aids are the Gift of Hearing Foundation, Hearing for Children, and Hear Now. These three tend to focus most of their attention on children. All are based in the United States, but tend to do a lot of their work in the so-called “developing” world — countries with poor government infrastructures and large populations living in poverty. Rotary International and the Lions Club are two other big names in the hearing aid arena, though these more often work with elderly clients and provide both assistance and counseling for low-income people or people without adequate health coverage. Depending on where a person is, there may also be a number of local charities or governmental programs that can be of assistance.
Qualifications and Broad Parameters
Getting free hearing aids is usually a bit more complicated than simply applying or signing up. Charities usually have a list of parameters that people need to meet to get aid, including things like income bracket, location, and age. A formal medical evaluation might also be required, though many charities also provide screenings along with other services. Some groups enter into poor communities with the goal of providing basic medical care, then isolate people with suspected hearing loss for extra help; others set up free hearing clinics to identify those most in need. It’s usually estimated that about 95% of the people in the world with hearing loss could benefit from a hearing aid, though in most cases only about 30% can afford one. Charitable trusts and organizations can fill this gap.
Gift of Hearing Foundation
The Gift of Hearing Foundation's mission is to provide low-cost cochlear implant surgery to help restore hearing loss. The foundation is based in the United States and many of its patients are located there, but the foundation also sponsors services around the world. This group also provides free screening and hearing-related health services to hearing impaired people without insurance or affordable care. Both children and adults can benefit, though historically most aid goes to people under 20 years of age.
Hearing for Children
Hearing for Children is a similar group that provides cochlear implants for children predominantly, but also some adults in countries around the world. It requires patients to pay what they can, and then distributes low or no interest loans to fulfill the rest of the cost. In most cases free hearing aids are available for patients who are completely unable to pay. The group is closely linked with the Help Me Hear Foundation, which gives hearing aids to impoverished children with hearing difficulties across the world.
Hear Now, a project of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, assists residents of the United States who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and have limited financial resources. United States residents may also benefit from the Sertoma Club, a civic service organization that provides hearing and speech support. The Disabled Children's Relief Fund, which helps children with disabilities obtain medical equipment, including hearing aids, is also active in many communities around the world.
Rotary International is a worldwide service organization made up of 1.2 million business, professional, and community leaders. Together they provide a range of charitable provisions and health services, but free hearing aids are often included if the circumstances warrant. The majority of the beneficiaries of hearing aid programs are located in countries without strong healthcare systems or government programs.
The Lions Club International Foundation does a lot of work with hearing aid refurbishment. It collects used hearing aids, then services and repairs them for re-distribution to people with proven financial need. The majority of the beneficiaries are adults, and most of them elderly, but children may also receive aids based on availability.
Exploring Local Options
There are many more charities that work on a more localized level, or that work within specific communities. Doctors and other health care professionals are often able to direct people in need to both local and international services that provide hearing aids at little or no cost. Schools and government health and rehabilitation services for children or people with disabilities, such as Medicaid in the United States, may also be able to help. Implant centers frequently have information about charitable programs that may be available to patients, as well.