Placido Domingo Lends His Voice to Global Effort to Aid Hearing Impaired

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Placido Domingo's latest project is music to the ears of the hearing-impaired.

The tenor, paired with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, is speaking for a global effort called "Hear the World" to raise awareness about hearing loss and to offer the latest technology to those in need — especially in developing countries.

Hearing aids will be delivered to poor children in the Guatemalan jungle; hearing-challenged youths in Pretoria, South Africa, will be taught how to function alongside classmates who hear; and youngsters in remote parts of the island of Fiji will be tested for the first time.

"Music is my emotional need. I therefore feel sad for anyone who cannot hear music," Domingo told The Associated Press. "Science has made incredible strides in helping people with hearing trouble, but the majority of the world's population is still unaware of this fact."

Domingo and members of the Vienna orchestra were expected at a Carnegie Hall news conference on Tuesday to announce the new, nonprofit Hear the World Foundation, based in Zurich, Switzerland. The effort is sponsored by the Swiss company Phonak, a leading high-tech hearing device manufacturer.

An estimated 1 in 10 Americans are hearing-impaired, according to the American Academy of Audiology, and abroad, the World Health Organization says at least 160 million people in developing countries are affected.

The foundation, whose activities start in January with an initial budget of about $400,000, will focus on educating the public about the social and emotional implications of hearing loss. A key issue is some people's reluctance to use a hearing-enhancing device for fear of appearing elderly or handicapped, or being ridiculed.

"There seems to be a stigma about being hard-of-hearing," Domingo said. "Let's consider the difference between seeing trouble and hearing trouble. No one gives a second thought to wearing glasses in order to improve sight, but too many people would rather ask five times, 'What did you say?' than wear a hearing aid."