The processors were clipped to an arm band, but Cole, who has autism, wasn’t comfortable when the band slipped down or the cords got tangled, and would sometimes try to take it off.
“The processors cost several thousand dollars each and as a parent you’re afraid they’ll get lost or damaged,” Eric says. "So you’re always weighing whether or not to let your child participate, whether or not to let them wear them.”
Looking for a way to better fit the processors to Cole, Eric began experimenting by sewing pockets on swim shirt sleeves. Earlier this year he launched CI Wear in Los Angeles, a company that makes swim compression shirts with specially-designed sleeve pockets that keep cochlear implant processors secure.
Inside each of the pockets is a retaining band that you clip the processor to. A small opening on the back side of the pockets allows the sound cords to be threaded through the inside of the shirt, then through loops in the collar, keeping the cords at the back of the head and minimizing the chance that a child’s hand will snag them, pulling the headpiece off.
The first time Cole wore one of Eric's prototypes “It was as if he never had them on," Eric recalls. “He didn't notice them.”
Eric then hired a person who does costume design and rigging for stunt men to develop a second prototype with an especially durable pocket.
When the family showed the shirt to their audiologist, “her jaw dropped and she said 'You have to make these. I have families that would die for these.'”
Eric partnered with Victory KoreDry, a water sports gear maker, to make additional prototypes and had audiologists share them with families. “Within a week families were calling back and asking if they could buy them,” he says.
In addition to swimming, the shirts are perfect for playing other sports like soccer or skiing, where there’s a concern that the processors will get broken or lost. If the child’s headpiece is knocked off, it’s easy to grab and put back on because the threaded cords prevent it from falling off the body.
In the future, CI Wear plans to market its shirt to people who enjoy running or working out while using an MP3 player, but don't want to carry the device in their hand.
The shirts come in different colours and range from US $45 to $49.