Ruzzelle Gasmen is selling custom-made hearing aid accessories inspired by Filipino culture to help raise money for people who can't afford hearing aids in B.C.
The Vancouver speech pathologist lives with hearing loss herself and knows first-hand what living without them is like.
"It can be very isolating," she said. "I hear words, but sometimes they don't make sense because some of the sounds are missing."
Gasmen's designs are inspired by her Filipino heritage. One of her most popular styles is modelled after an ear cuff worn by Catriona Gray, the Filipino winner of the Miss Universe pageant in 2018.
"I … really wanted it but I knew it wouldn't work well with the hearing aid, because the metal would clink and it would impact my hearing," said Gasmen.
"So I just decided to make one for myself, for my hearing aid."
Another design she has received orders for is based on the wing of an aswang, a vampire-like creature from Filipino folklore.
The price of hearing aids can be costly in B.C. and the devices are not covered under the province's Medical Services Plan (MSP).
"There is certain coverage within the government for different individuals, depending on your life circumstances," said Christopher Sutton, CEO of the Wavefront Centre, which provides support programs and services for the deaf and hard of hearing.
"There's also coverage for assistive devices … there's some coverage for cochlear implants. So it's all over the map. And to be very frank, it's very confusing for most people."
Sutton said approximately one in five Canadians from the ages of 20 to 79 have hearing loss, which roughly equates to 688,000 adults in B.C.
"They're quite costly, so I just waited until I could afford them after starting my career," said Gasmen, adding that she went nearly six years without hearing aids.
So I just want to give back and help others who are in a similar situation.
Gasmen is planning on donating some of her sales proceeds to a program run by the Wavefront Centre that provides refurbished hearing aids to people who can't afford them.
She says it's her way of trying to give back.
"It's very therapeutic for me," she said. "It allows me to embrace my heritage and culture in a way that I never really did before growing up."
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