Ear Science Institute Australia shares why accessibility is important for businesses

Learn about the benefits of inclusion and accessibility from Ear Science Institute Australia.
· 20 November 2023 · 4 minute read

Ear Science Institute CEO Sandra Bellekom, and John Schaffer AM

Ear Science Institute Australia built their business around advocating for accessibility and is encouraging others to do the same.

As identified on the Ear Science Institute Australia website, one in six Australians live with some form of hearing loss. This is why they’re working to raise awareness and provide innovative treatments to enhance the lives of those living with ear and hearing disorders. Their work and advocacy saw them win the National Championing Health Award at the 2022 Telstra Best of Business Awards.

Smarter Business connected with Sandra Bellekom, CEO of Ear Science Institute Australia. They discussed accessibility awareness and what it means for business strategy, business ideas and business innovation.


Smarter Business interviews Sandra Bellekom

Can you tell us about how Ear Science Institute Australia started and its purpose?

Sandra Bellekom: Our institute was founded about 22 years ago by Professor Marcus Atlas. It was created as an independent not-for-profit research institute, dedicated to improving the lives of people with ear and hearing disorders.

The idea was to create a self-sustaining business model that doesn’t rely on government or university funding. Since then, our business has grown and evolved. Today we have almost 20 hearing clinics, a large private implant programme and continue our philanthropic work through our medical research.

We exist to help people with hearing loss. That's what motivates us. We want to empower them to improve the quality of their life. And we think awareness is critical to that.


Once you start raising awareness about the impacts of hearing loss, you can spark consideration and inclusion. Businesses begin to ask, ‘How do we take care of these people, promote accessibility and make them feel welcome in our organisation?


- Sandra Bellekom, CEO of Ear Science Institute Australia.


How do you think a lack of accessibility in the community impacts your patients? What does accessibility look like for them?

Sandra Bellekom: Nobody can tell by just looking at someone that there might be an issue with their hearing. During the pandemic when masks were introduced, it became even more difficult for the hearing impaired to cope in noisy situations. For example, in restaurants, retail stores, supermarkets, medical appointments etc.  Pretty much everywhere you can imagine, every business interaction became extraordinarily difficult.

If you’re a business owner, being mindful of accessibility and making it a core part of your business can help send a clear message that everyone is welcome.

The way I interpret it is, accessibility helps cast a much wider net and creates opportunities to engage with everybody in the community. We want everyone to feel welcome and make it easy for them to access our services.


As a business, how does Ear Science Institute Australia raise awareness about its offering?

Sandra Bellekom: Social media and social commerce, such as Instagram advertising, are powerful tools that help our business. They have closed captioning and subtitle capabilities that enable an inclusive way of communicating directly with our audience.

I also think getting feedback from our customers and team members who have been personally impacted by hearing loss is extremely valuable. For example, we have an incredible team member who has a cochlear implant herself. Her feelings and experience have an incredible impact on uptake when she talks to patients considering an implant. In terms of our cochlear implant work, we've probably seen the best growth out of any of the organisations across the country. And I put it down to her voice.


How can business owners build a business strategy and incorporate business ideas that help people with hearing impairments?

Sandra Bellekom: There are brilliant technologies that are making life a lot easier for people with hearing loss. For example, for hearing-impaired people who might not feel comfortable speaking over the phone, having a chat capability on a website becomes important.


There’s been an explosion of opportunities to be inclusive. There's no reason that anyone with a hearing impairment should get left behind.


- Sandra Bellekom, CEO of Ear Science Institute Australia.


There are other small steps you can take to improve accessibility in your business. This can include tweaking your website functionalities. Or fine-tuning the way that you create content for social media.

It's also important to understand how your customers and the community think and include them in the decision-making process. You don’t always have to have all the answers.

By being more aware of people with different abilities, you can use that knowledge to help make your business more inclusive and accessible.


Ear Science Institute Australia is a great example of an organisation that brings their business strategy to life through action. Sandra’s team have found success by staying true to their purpose. And championing the benefits of inclusion and accessibility in their work.


This article does not necessarily reflect the views of Telstra or its staff.

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