Cole Sherman is profoundly deaf, has cochlear implants and loves to swim. “My son, he’s a water baby,” says Cole’s dad, Eric. For many years, water and the processors that implant users wear outside the body just didn’t mix. But in 2012, when Cole was 7, he got his first set of waterproof processors.
The Tarzana family quickly discovered that the processors weren’t convenient to wear in the pool. “The wearing option that they provided was basically an armband,” says Eric, adding that the bands were uncomfortable for Cole, who is also on the autism spectrum. “He didn’t like the thing on his bicep.” The armbands also didn’t keep the processors very secure, leading Cole to take them off and leave them on the side of the pool, where they might get lost. “He swims basically with $10,000 worth of equipment on him,” says Eric, who started looking for other options.
Unable to find a rash guard or swim shirt with pockets, he got out a sewing machine and added pockets to the sleeves of one of Cole’s swim shirts, and Ci Wear was born. The “CI” has a double meaning, standing for both “cochlear implant” and “Cole’s inspiration.” “If it wasn’t for his need of having it, I would never have come up with the idea,” Eric says. Cole’s audiologist asked some of her patients to test the first prototypes, and orders began pouring in. Eric found a manufacturer in Huntington Beach, and was issued a patent – rare for a specialty garment – in February.
The shirts are available to fit toddlers to adults, and the pockets are designed to look discrete. “If you look at the shirt, you can’t necessarily tell it’s a pocket,” Eric says. A band inside each pocket holds the processor securely and comfortably in place. The cords thread through the shirt to keep them from tangling, and collar loops keep them at the back of the head and away from the face. Ci Wear shirts are available in a nylon/lycra fabric and a breathable polyester fabric that is ideal for warm weather and sports play outside the water. They can also be used with smart phones and other devices.
To date, shirts have sold in the U.S. and Singapore, South America, Canada, England and the Netherlands. And Eric has heard from many families grateful that their children can now enjoy swimming, surfing, zip lining and all sorts of other activities without their cochlear processors getting in the way. Cole, who is now 11, uses them for swimming, surfing and boogie boarding. “You have this wonderful technology,” Eric says. “It shouldn’t stop anybody from any activity.”
The shirts sell for $48.95-$54.99, and are available on the Ci Wear website, www.ciwear.com.