Jodi Sasaki-Miraglia: “We also always try to have a good slice of who our audience is”

We also always try to have a good slice of who our audience is. Maybe English isn’t someone’s first language. That person still deserves the same access to technology as anyone else. It’s always important to have a diverse customer base that shapes what you produce. In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. […]

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We also always try to have a good slice of who our audience is. Maybe English isn’t someone’s first language. That person still deserves the same access to technology as anyone else. It’s always important to have a diverse customer base that shapes what you produce.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jodi Sasaki-Miraglia.

Jodi Sasaki-Miraglia completed a double bachelor’s degree in Audiology & Speech Language Pathology at the University of Northern Colorado. Jodi also holds a Master’s degree in Audiology and a Doctorate degree in Audiology from Salus University. She has dedicated the last 17 years of her career working for top global hearing device manufacturers as a Manager of Education & Training, Manager of Audiology Technical support, Sales support, and Practice Management.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I do believe audiology chose me and not the other way around. Growing up in Hawaii, both my grandfathers suffered from hearing loss, so I was always around those with communication challenges. But I also saw firsthand how technology helped them overcome their difficulties. Also, as a minority and a child of immigrants, I know how access to healthcare can vary and that insight has informed me throughout my career. Not everyone may have the same knowledge about how to treat their hearing or how vital it is to social interaction. So that’s been a big motivator as I’ve made my way in the field.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Two people really helped me get to where I am today — a position where I’m able to help people and hopefully positively impact society. The first is my clinical instructor: Dr. Jenny Weber, AuD. She saw the potential in me before I ever did. She was instrumental in connecting me to the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona and it was there that I really changed the way I looked at hearing, communication, rehabilitation and the professional process behind becoming an Audiologist. She also showed me what it means to have access to reliable healthcare and how it helps patients better their hearing and live their lives to the fullest.

The second is Dr. Liz Brassine, AuD. She taught me the different career paths I could take once I became certified as an Audiologist. The audiology field was much larger than a clinical path. I could actually move to the industry side and make an impact at a world-class company like Widex. It’s here that I’ve taken advantage of opportunities in technology, communication and healthcare that have continually helped to elevate the field.

Those are the two people that really shaped my career and gave me the opportunity to help the hearing healthcare community in the capacity that I do now.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Most of my life I’ve tried to not to worry about the little things and keep the big picture in mind. 2020 and the pandemic made us all realize what should and shouldn’t be important in our lives. For so long, we took for granted the importance of being social creatures. Being able to go to a restaurant or concert, hug loved ones or even see people’s faces without a face covering. What it meant to be a professional, parent, friend and sibling all changed in an instant. But it was this philosophy that helped me get through such a difficult time in a more positive way and now appreciate even more how the field of Audiology and hearing healthcare is vital to help bring back social participation in the communities that we serve in.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

One very important trait is understanding why relationships matter. That was a learned skill for me early in my career and it really shaped my character. Cultivating relationships with role models that can coach you along your journey is so vital to one’s success.

The second trait would be learning how to actively listen. I don’t believe that is something that’s often taught. It’s more learned, modeled, crafted and re-learned over and over again over the course of a career, especially in this time when there’s so much digital distraction. How do you remain present in the moment? How do you just sit there and actively listen without having to offer a response or tune out a few seconds in or grab your phone?

Thirdly, it never hurts to be a little scrappy. I think a lot of my scrapiness comes from my upbringing in Hawaii where we really had to make due with what we had. I never tried to use it as a crutch, instead using it as motivation to get where I wanted to go. You can make it in any industry and it doesn’t take a lot of money, it takes a lot of grit and determination to figure out how to get better every day. If you don’t have the money or the resources, it takes creative thinking to get you to where you need to be.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

Hearing care matters tremendously in wellness and I don’t believe that there is enough education around the topic. Hearing issues are not an “old person” thing. A lot of being healthy and happy stems from good communication and good communication starts with good hearing. Yet, despite millions facing challenges with their hearing, the majority are still doing nothing about it. If you have great hearing, you take for granted how easy communication and social engagement is. But if and when the issues start, whether it’s general loss or even tinnitus (ringing in the ear), your communication will be impacted, thus hindering your ability to socially participate and have meaningful professional and personal relationships.

From the Widex perspective, understanding this, our technologies run the gamut of hearing and communication solutions. We have plenty of options for those with hearing loss, but also for tinnitus and those that are hypersensitive to certain sounds. Whatever the problem is, Widex offers a hearing technology to help consumers get back to a healthy and fulfilling social lifestyle.

Specifically on the topic of hearing loss, it is a major problem globally. The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that by 2050 nearly 2.5 billion people will have some degree of hearing loss, and that doesn’t just mean you can’t hear like you used to. When you have hearing loss, your fall risk goes up, your risk for cognitive decline increases. Plus, your overall quality of life could deteriorate, often leading to social isolation and depression. Very few in society today see the link between hearing loss and all the other negative factors associated. There’s a lack of education around why hearing health is vital to our wellbeing. That leads to the question of how we can increase hearing aid usage, amongst those we need them.

We at Widex believe that it comes down to natural sound quality. When you’re treating a condition like hearing loss or any sort of hearing deficit, if the tool is not up to the user’s expectation, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll move forward. The consumer often assumes that whatever their audiologist puts on their ear should sound natural and that is definitely not the norm. There’s a lot of other brands out there that will tout how great their sound is. But, when worn, because of a digital sound delay, it sounds tinny and artificial. Part of what Widex has done really well over the last couple of decades is focus on the time domain to ensure natural sound quality.

That’s so important because taking an analog sound wave, converting it to a digital signal, processing it, then re-converting into a sound wave takes anywhere from 4 to 8 milliseconds. Studies have shown that a processing delay of that length can adversely affect sound quality, especially if processed sound and unprocessed sound mix in the ear canal of a hearing aid user, creating what is called a comb filter effect.

When that happens, the perceived quality of the user’s own voice becomes tinny and artificial. Environmental sounds come out distorted and unusual and, overall, the resulting sound becomes strenuous to listen to.

Widex also addresses the issue of hearing intention. Each activity requires a different way of listening: when dining in a restaurant, you hone in on conversation over background noise. But when walking down a busy street, you’re aware of every sound around you — not just one. For hearing aid wearers, the intention behind hearing has historically been disregarded, delivering no distinction between what you want to hear and what you don’t.

Overall, the reaction has been extremely positive, with users being able to tell that the device is working, but without the negative sound quality impact that they were used to or told by friends that they would experience. With Widex, we’re finally getting users to say they want to wear their hearing aid, not that they have to. It does sound good, it does sound natural and it’s performing the way they want it to perform as they go about their daily life and start socializing again.

How do you think your technology can address this?

All of this is addressed in our flagship Widex MOMENT hearing aids. Our PureSound technology, embedded within the product, features two distinct signal processing pathways — a “classic” version and a new ZeroDelay Accelerator pathway that dramatically changes how hearing aids sound today.

The Widex ZeroDelay Accelerator reduces the processing delay in Widex MOMENT hearing aids to 0.5 milliseconds. That’s a remarkable technological feat considering we already lead the industry with the lowest system delay through our “classic” processing pathway. Our unique, time domain filter bank, 32kHz sampling rate, and 10kHz digital bandwidth creates very high-fidelity sound across our family of hearing aids, with a processing delay under 3 milliseconds.

The two pathways — ZeroDelay and “classic” — exist side-by-side on the Widex Moment platform. Depending on the needs of the wearer, a hearing care professional can program one or the other as the default mode. From there, the PureSound platform is adaptable to each user’s situation and preferred hearing experience.

Widex is also the first hearing aid manufacturer to utilize real-time AI to create a better, more natural and personalized sound experience for hearing aid users. Our third generation of AI is called My Sound — a solution that combines the capacity of artificial intelligence with users’ personal real-world experience to deliver another level of automated listening customization.

This technology automatically adjusts based on the user’s listening intention. For example, if they’re sitting on a bench speaking with a friend, My Sound can support that they want to hear the conversation more so than background noise. But if they’re walking alone and enjoying the park, My Sound can understand that they are pulling in every sound around them — not focusing on just one. My Sound utilizes anonymous cloud-based user data from Widex users in similar situations worldwide to make such sound profile recommendations in seconds.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Most people don’t realize that hearing loss can cause isolation. I saw that at a young age, but didn’t understand why. Why wouldn’t a family member want to go and engage at a party for so long? It’s because even if you have top-quality hearing technology, and thank goodness the tech has involved as much as it has, getting back to social interactions as they once were can be challenging. I’ve seen firsthand what happens when there’s an advancement in hearing technology and how it allows a loved one to trust their hearing again alongside the important role your hearing care professional plays in this process.

How do you think this might change the world?

Hearing technology from Widex, particularly Widex MOMENT, is smarter today than it was yesterday to help people navigate hearing in complex listening situations and social communications. If you’re going to a summer barbecue for example, having good hearing devices that can manage the noise, manage the lawnmower next door, manage different people coming in and out of the conversation, it makes your life so much easier. Users who were once isolated and in the shadows, through Widex, can now have a much easier time with their communication.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

The major drawback, specifically in regards to Artificial Intelligence systems, could be a lack of privacy. However, the protection of user data is of the highest importance with all of our devices. At Widex, we ask not only the hearing care professional, but the consumer if they’d like to “opt-in” to sharing their anonymous user data. Every single person that downloads our app gives consent to data being shared. As discussed previously, this information helps us elevate the hearing technology over time to continually improve the performance in hearing and the consumer’s listening experience. End users always have the option to opt-out of sharing their anonymous user data.

In the end, everybody’s listening preferences and hearing needs are unique, like a thumbprint. From a hearing care perspective, it’s not a “one size fits all” solution. The ears are connected to your brain to support the tasks of hearing and listening for optimal communication and social participation in life. That’s why there’s a focus at Widex to understand how consumers want to hear and listen so we can better personalize the listening experience for each individual, based on the preferences of many who have come before them.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

From where I sit, there are three major factors. The first is ensuring that you always understand what’s going on from a consumer perspective because it’s ever-changing. The pandemic taught us just how much consumer behavior could change, especially in the healthcare industry. Prior to 2020 many consumers, myself included, always preferred to be in-person. Now, the consumer mindset has shifted to where a majority of people are okay with remote work and even healthcare visits. In short, to develop successful technologies, you always have to survey the landscape to get input from a broad range of potential customers. Today’s hearing healthcare supports a hybrid professional model of in-person and telehealth options.

We also always try to have a good slice of who our audience is. Maybe English isn’t someone’s first language. That person still deserves the same access to technology as anyone else. It’s always important to have a diverse customer base that shapes what you produce. As an example, Widex devices can speak to you in your preferred language alerting you of a low battery or a special listening program that you have. All our devices also have options to help with the tinnitus or ringing in the ears that can often be present with hearing difficulties.

Thirdly, it’s critical to know what you need to help consumers today and adapting your skill set around that. Focusing on each of these aspects has helped Widex create technologies that are timely, easy to use, and impactful.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Life is short. You’re on earth for a finite period of time. One little thing that you do could really make a profound impact on people you may never meet. Fortunately, in my field of audiology, I see every day how our technology helps change people’s lives. Being able to wear the product and have your hearing challenges addressed — is truly a new beginning for so many people.

It’s the ripple effect. Everyone has the opportunity to create a positive ripple effect in their life. It may be as small as having someone hold the device in their hand because of a preconceived notion that hearing devices are very heavy. That one tiny aspect can motivate the consumer to tell ten other friends to get their hearing checked and they tell ten more.

Everybody has the opportunity to create a ripple effect, regardless of birthplace, race, gender, or socioeconomic status. We all have a chance to create positivity in this world. I firmly believe that.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to meet Michelle Obama. She’s a strong woman who isn’t scared to show her vulnerability. Regardless of where you fall politically, she’s continued to use her platform to talk about wellness, having a voice, mental health and the importance of physical activity. Those are topics we should all be able to get behind.

I really appreciated how much of a human side she showed, while using her platform for the betterment of others. She’s been an inspiration to me and it would be so great to talk with her.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can learn all about Widex and our family of products at our website here.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

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