Lending an Ear

Some dream of inventing the next social network, others dream about creating the next Uber. Ajah and Naomi from Chicago’s Carter School of Excellence dream of using smart technology to help the hard of hearing. Hence “Earit” was born. A smartphone app prototype, Earit provides information about causes and symptoms of hearIMG_0444ing loss and connects people with appropriate resources.

“The solution we created has all of the information you might need in one place,” said Naomi, co-creator of Earit and a 5th grader at Carter.

Before deciding to move forward with this idea, Ajah and Naomi brainstormed through many issues affecting their community such as unemployment, violence and poverty. Scarlet, their Citizen Teacher from Motorola Mobility encouraged them to think more universally. “I wanted to them to think about what issues could affect everyone from newborns to seniors,” she said.

The girls decided to focus their research on disabilities which keep people from leaving home and accessing the help they needed. They soon discovered how close these issues were to their own community.

Ajah, an 8th grader, is a shy young woman, but loves to express herself through music and is known for her beautiful singing voice. As soon as she imagined just how hard it would be to sing on-key without the ability to hear, she knew that she wanted to make a difference in the deaf community.

The more Ajah and Naomi learned about hearing loss, the more they saw how it could possibly affect students in their own classroom! The students at Carter love to lose themselves in the world of their Ipods and MP3 players in between classes, and playing music too loud while wearing headphones just happens to be among the leading causes of hearing loss today.

Maker Challenge

So in addition to helping people who are already deaf gain access to the resources they need, they decided to add features to their app which gave their classmates, and other middle schoolers, the tools they need to prevent hearing loss in the first place.

“Originally the app was designed as a sophisticated menu of causes and symptoms, but I pushed the girls to address solutions to the issue and to think about how people living alone without internet or a smartphone can access these solutions.” said Scarlet.

The team then developed the app further to include a menu in which people can find places near them that sell recycled cochlear implants or nearby clinics to receive a diagnosis.

Erin Liedell, the Carter Elementary Campus Director, believes that beyond giving them an avenue to express their innovation and creativity, designing Earit also allowed them to develop their sense of compassion and empathy, something taught less easily than app design skills.

“These girls are used to being on the have-not end of the equation, and they realized that in this instance, they were the ones with the privilege,” Liedell said.

Because of the creative and innovative approach the team took to solve an age-old problem, the girls were encouraged to enter their app in the Chicago Maker Challenge, a contest sponsored by Motorola Mobility, Scarlet’s company, in which middle schoolers in the Chicago area enter blueprints for designs that solve community problems or help people with disabilities.

The main challenge? How to stand out to the judges among a crowd of creative, innovative, and socially conscious designs. The answer came to Naomi the week before: make the audience experience what it is like to suddenly lose your hearing.

So before presenting the app, Ajah shared her talents with the room and sang a song. The catch? Only half of the room could actually hear her because the other half were asked to hold their hands over their ears.

Though the girls expected the message to resonate with the audience, they were still surprised when Earit was named the grand prize winner of the competition. Erin and Scarlet couldn’t help but chuckle as effervescent Naomi grabbed the microphone and launched into an “Oscar-esque” speech thanking everyone who helped her and Ajah along with the process.

It was Scarlet’s encouragement, though, that truly allowed the design to come to life. She pushed their creativity through constantly challenging the girls expand and go deeper when developing their ideas.

“There’s not a bad idea. Everyone can come up with an idea, and even if they feel it’s not that great, they should explore it.”