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I was very attracted to the variety of colorful, unique products imprinted with the hearingimpaired.net logo on display at this exhibit – bracelets, pins, desk and car decals, t-shirts, doorknob hangers, hospital packs, combo packs, and athlete’s safety vests. I was also drawn to the gorgeous, white German shepherd dog named Snow, sitting patiently behind the exhibit table, ears perked sharply upwards, wisely appearing as if he could answer questions about the display of service dog supplies such as coats, leashes, collars, and auto decals. He even looked smart enough to read the Law Card – a plastic coated copy of the Federal law permitting a service dog entrance to public places.
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Anne Wicklund, who co-owns this international company with her husband, Wayne, noticed how I was straining to understand her in the din of the exhibit area, so she suggested we move to a seat in the quieter hallway. I was very touched by her immediate and genuine concern for my struggle to listen. And it is this genuine concern for the frustrations of all people with hearing loss that inspired them to launch their company in 2001 when Wayne suddenly lost most of his hearing. The Wicklunds, who hail from Fountain Hills, Arizona, had previously owned other businesses, including a mobile check-cashing company, a real estate business, and a security dog company. In search of others who had hearing loss, they discovered the Sun Lakes chapter of what was then SHHH. They made “hearingimpaired” pins to take to the meeting to give away, and everyone wanted one! That was the first hearingimpaired.net product. It generated such a successful response that the Wicklunds created their website, and the idea took off from there.
When Wayne realized he hadn’t heard traffic honking at him from behind, he and Anne developed their second product, the hearingimpaired.net automobile window decal. Suggestions and requests for products poured in through their website. For instance, a marathon runner who is hard of hearing asked if Anne and Wayne could design a vest for her to wear in meets and trainings, and the bright orange hearingimpaired.net athletic vest was created and added to the product line. Anne told me they enjoy hearing from their website visitors, especially if they have an idea for a hearingimpaired.net product that should be created.
Not long after Wayne lost his hearing, Snow came into the Wicklund’s lives, and Wayne focused his training so Snow would alert him to sounds, dangers, people and situations. Having Snow with him all the time introduced Wayne to the challenges of access to public places with a dog, so the line of service dog products was created and added to the hearingimpaired.net catalogue.