Thursday, December 31, 2009

Swim-Proof Hearing Aids from Lyric

At my audiologist's office, in his small "store" of hearing aid-related accessories and gadgets, he's set up a constant movie playing extoling the virtues of Lyric hearing aids. The "extended-wear" aids sit only 4 millimeters from the wearer's eardrum and are replaced as the battery dies, after about 120 days. You pay a yearly subscription fee for the devices.

Lyric is marketed towards older people. Heck, most hearing aids are, but Lyric is for those people who don't want anybody to know they've got a hearing loss but don't want to be the grumpy old guy in the corner saying "What? What?!" all the time. I'm not going to lie, Lyric is definitely not for me. I am not an old person, yet, and the idea of something jammed so far up my ear is pretty ooky to me. Not to mention, I personally wouldn't want to risk the battery dying at an inopportune time and having to schedule an appointment just to be able to hear again.

Anyway, there's an article on MSNBC today about how Lyric is developing a waterproof hearing aid. I'll admit my first thought was: What? They don't do that already? How do they expect people with Lyric aids to shower? But I figure the aid must already be pretty tough on moisture to handle being so far in the ear, with sweat and gunk accumulating around it, and I am sure they do not want wearers to go three months between showers. MSNBC says they are doing "stronger" coatings so that wearers could swim three times a week.

I love swimming, or just relaxing in the pool, but one of the frustrating things is that I can't hear what's going on. I can't follow a conversation, unless the other person is speaking directly to me, nor am I aware of any dangers or if people are trying to get my attention. So a swim-proof aid would be pretty cool, though I know I would be initially reluctant to get in. I won't be using Lyric for the purpose, but maybe it being available will help other manufacturers become aware of how cool swim-proof aids in general would be.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Using Music to Cure Tinnitus

Tinnitus, ringing in the ears, is a relatively common problem. I suffer from it occasionally - not often, and thankfully, not for very long, but tinnitus has that unique ability to be extremely annoying no matter the severity. Yesterday RedOrbit posted an interesting article about a German scientific experiment in reducing tinnitus using music.

According to the article, the researchers took music that the patients like and "stripp[ed] out the sound frequencies that matched the individual's tinnitus frequency." The patients then listened to this music for a year, and "reported a distinct decrease in the loudness of the ringing."

Wikipedia has an interesting list of the causes of subjective tinnitus. I can see this being a pretty neat new therapy for people who suffer from the problem.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A University of Arizona Class to Help People Cope

Today I was excited to read (through Deafness) about a five-week class at the University of Arizona with a goal to "help adults with hearing loss learn coping skills."

One of the things that concerns me is adults - not just the elderly but anyone - who shows signs of hearing loss but blames other people or won't get the help they need. As someone who has dealt with hearing loss for decades I can't help but feel concern, particularly if they are showing signs of having trouble coping with things I deal with every day.

Of course, to take this class, the adult in question needs to recognize the hearing loss and not be beat down by it. They need to be empowered by it enough to recognize that it is something for which changes need to be made - but those changes needn't be difficult, time-consuming or emotionally draining. The class covers self-advocacy along with information about devices and hearing aids that can help.

I live in Arizona and I'm so glad of the new information this article has given me - I may be far away from Tucson but the knowledge can shine on here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hopes for Happy Holidays

I hope everyone had an excellent Christmas this year, or whichever holiday you celebrate! I always love the flurry of excitement, the twinkling lights, and being close to everyone I love at this time of the year.

The picture to the left is my family's tree this year, lit up on Christmas morning with presents underneath.

The holiday craziness may be over (except in the form of after-holiday sales) but it's hard to let Christmas go every year.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Dante's Inferno - Subtitles & Excitement

Is anyone else excited about Dante's Inferno, the video game coming to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in February? The demo is available on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live right now. I played it a few days ago and actually really enjoyed it. There's a lot of hacking and slashing - like Devil May Cry or God of War - but it's done in a fun way and it's easy to get lost in the game.

One thing I noticed about the game, which I hope they rectify when it actually comes out, was an issue with the subtitles. They seemed slightly behind the actual dialogue - just enough to be annoying. It seemed as though the dialogue was too quick for the subtitles to keep up. Of course it's just a demo and I'm sure that will be fixed, but it's the first time I've noticed something like that in a video game. I've seen a few DVDs like that and of course closed captioning on TV is often behind or ahead.

Here's hoping Dante's Inferno is as cool as the demo!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Looking Back at 2009

As I sit here on Christmas Eve, looking forward to a holiday spent with family tomorrow, I have been thinking over the past year and how much change and growth in terms of my hearing loss I've experienced.

Prior to this year, I had used the same hearing aids for around a decade. They were digital, but the brand had long since faded, rubbed away from days of constant use. I got them when I was around twelve years old, to replace an analog set. I still remember my audiologist - the same one I have today - telling my dad all about new digital hearing aids.

Of course, no technology is meant to last, and particularly not tiny technology that is situated precariously behind the ear. I had been noticing issues with my aids for about two years, I think. I had to have things repeated to me often, and it seemed as though I was never quite catching all of a conversation. On top of that, my right hearing aid had begun to break down, and would refuse to work sporadically. So, a few months ago, I went in to talk to my audiologist. He did a hearing exam and determined that I had lost a bit more of my hearing and that new hearing aids would benefit me.

I already knew all about the model I wanted to get, the Oticon Epoq. I had heard about "Bluetooth hearing aids" before, and thought they were awesome. In thinking about new aids, Oticon's web site was one of the first that came up, and I liked the Bluetooth functionality right away. I was so happy when I found out that my audiologist recommended them for me. I picked out purple and white as the colors for the aid, and got silicone earmolds. I also picked out a cellphone that had a lot of features I wanted to work with my aids.

Around this time, I also started looking more into actual causes of hearing impairment, technology and the way people cope with their difficulties. I learned so much that I had never even imagined before. My knowledge of hearing impairments prior to this year was limited to what I learned in my ASL classes in high school and what my audiologist told me. Researching online opened up a whole new world for me, as I learned about genetic causes of deafness, my particular type of deafness and ways to cope with the hearing world.

I decided to start this blog in October as a way to share information and learn more. I'm really happy with the way things are going so far. 2009 has been a wonderful year for me in terms of learning about my loss, coping with it, and meeting wonderful new people.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hotel Accommodations for Travelers

Hm. I always misspell travelers as travellers.

Things are a little different around here today. I chose a new template for my blog (links to the source are at the bottom of this page). I hope you like it.

Speak Up Librarian has a useful post up today about the accommodations that hotels are required to provide for hard of hearing travelers. It is very useful to know your rights and know how to complain if those rights are violated.

I've never asked for these accommodations in a hotel mainly because I expect most TVs to have closed captioning (I know this is silly; hotels can have a universal remote that doesn't have a CC button or may use HDMI cables that can't transmit CC signal, but I assume it anyway) and don't use the other devices (TTY, visual alarms, etc) at home. Then again, I haven't stayed in that many hotels. If I were a more frequent traveler this would be something I would be thinking of.

It reminds me of my freshman year at Arizona State University. I asked for and received a room set up for disability accommodation - not just hearing impairments but for people in wheelchairs, etc. The two bedroom/living room setup was huge to accommodate wheelchair use, and it was awesome living there.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Hear Through Your Jawbone

Today one of my favorite blogs, io9, has an article about a tooth-mounted hearing aid that will be submitted for FDA approval early next year. The article they link to in New Scientist is very interesting and worth a look.

The device is wrapped around the teeth and there's also a microphone in the deaf ear. According to the article:
It picks up the sounds detected from a tiny microphone in the deaf ear and transforms them into vibrations. These then travel through the teeth and down the jawbone to the cochlea in the working ear, where they are transmitted to the brain providing stereo sound.
 How cool is that?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Music & Me

I'll admit music has never been a huge part of my life. I don't think I am unique in that amongst people with hearing impairments. I enjoy music but I don't have it constantly playing. I am as comfortable in a silent room as I am with music going and typically I just tune the music out anyway. Since getting my Streamer, though, I've found I can enjoy music a little more.

Before, I always had to worry about either annoying people with my music or overly loud music. I had to worry about wearing uncomfortably huge headphones that would fit over my aids - on top of being huge and heavy they needed to sit back slightly from the usual position so that the sound would be over the hearing aid. Forget about telling the differences in sound quality or picking out individual instruments in a performance. Psh. About the only time music was really enjoyable was alone in the car when I could have the volume at a comfortable setting for me and just listen.

The Streamer allows me to hear the music directly in my hearing aids. I can have it up pretty darn loud, louder than I'm comfortable with, before anyone else can hear anything. I don't have to wear headphones at all because my hearing aids become my headphones. It reminds me of a time I was with family years ago and the topic of my aids came up. Someone - can't remember who - started going on about all of the things that my hearing aids should be able to do besides amplify sound. They should be able to transmit my thoughts! Capture radio signals! Play a soundtrack in my head all day long. Well, now they can do at least the last part. I expect thought transmissions to come along any day now.

So far I have used my Streamer in the car and on the computer. Using it with the computer is super simple. I have two options: I can either plug it into a headphone jack on the computer or speakers, or I can use the little Bluetooth dongle I bought and connect to the PC wirelessly. I have that set up in Ubuntu but not yet in Windows, mainly because I never boot into Windows on my computer and have little use for it right now. Once it's plugged in I just tell it "hey, I'm ready to listen to some music" by pressing the little silver button on my Streamer and any sound the computer emits is sent through the Streamer to my aids. I use it to watch Youtube all the time - all those annoying music videos and stuff other people in the room would rather not be subjected to. I also use it with Hulu to watch Glee and other stuff.

In the car I usually connect the Streamer to my cellphone. I put the SD card that has all of my music in the phone, turn the Bluetooth on, and then tell the phone to play. I've tried it both as a passenger, and driving. As a passenger is interesting. Since with the Streamer you can hear both the music and anything else around you, listening to your own music and hearing the radio going for the driver is pretty... well, weird, actually. Especially since the driver has no idea what's going on. I guess you could come up with your own mashups to amuse yourself that way.

Driving is also interesting endeavor. Of course you should never be distracted while driving. But the Streamer allows you to hear surrounding sounds just as well as the music, so it's basically like listening to the radio. (I've had some comments on my blog that other people using the Streamer can't hear any outside sounds when they have it going. I don't know if this is a setting or something else, but I'm able to hear outside sounds and music equally well.)

The difference is the sound is right there with the Streamer and diffused around the car with the radio. And if the Streamer turns off or something like that, there will be a few seconds where your hearing aids reset themselves - a few seconds of silence on the road, which can be dangerous. I don't typically use the Streamer while driving myself.

Yesterday I used the Streamer at work as headphones to listen to, which is a customized online radio station. I forgot the Bluetooth dongle at home, and anyway I don't know how to set it up in Windows, so I tethered myself to the computer with the Streamer's cable and listened that way. I've actually never listened to music at work before. I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it. Since music has hardly ever been a big deal to me, I wasn't expecting to like it so much, but it's awesome.

I really need to remember to bring the Streamer with me! It's great to have around.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Entrainment Issues

I first learned about entrainment last month from my audiologist. I mentioned to him that at work, when the security gates sound, the sound continues in my ear for a second or two after the actual sound is gone. He explained that the term for that is entrainment, when the sound is on the same frequency as feedback and the hearing aid kind of gets stuck in a loop. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to have stopped just at the security gates.

It took me awhile to figure out, but music in the car seems to be doing the same thing. I noticed with a few songs (of course, I can't remember any titles off the top of my head) that I'd start to feel kind of irritated during the song as though it were louder than it needed to be, no matter how the volume was set. Then after the song ended I'd hear a bit of ringing in my ears. I don't know why I didn't put two and two together, that it's entrainment and my hearing aid is probably giving me feedback throughout the entire song, just drowned out by the music. If it's really something that can't be fixed this is going to be annoying! I have to keep the volume of music very low in the car to avoid the problem, which means I may as well just not listen to anything. And once the hearing aid starts giving me feedback it doesn't seem to want to stop.

I'm definitely going to mention this at my next appointment with the audiologist. I hope it can be fixed!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Walk-in Hearing Tests, Music Players, and Loss

The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting article today called "MP3-hammered hearing put to the test." In it, Joshua Jennings visits a Bay Audio store, one of several in Australia that have walk-in hearing tests. As he explains in the article, "You can check your hearing at its stores free; you don't need to make an appointment and there are branches in shopping centres (Forest Hill Chase, Frankston's Bayside and Southland), so you can tie your visit in with whatever other business you have next time you're there."

The interface for the hearing test looks pretty slick, with a flat-screen touchscreen monitor and onscreen instructions. At the end of the test the results are printed out for you and you have the option to come in for further diagnosis by Bay Audio.

I really like the idea of an audiology company having a set-up like this, and wish there were something like it in the United States (there may well be; I'm not sure). It seems like it would be much easier to convince someone you're concerned about to just pop in to the location, while you're on a trip to the mall. It would also be pretty neat to show other people what a basic hearing test is like, if they've never experienced one, and to allay any fears they may have.

One interesting mention in the article is of fears of hearing loss due to loud mp3 players and headphones. There's been a lot of stuff lately about the European Union planning to limit the decibel level of music players. On the one hand, it's anybody's right to listen to music as they please. On the other, nobody needs to listen to music over 85 DB - the noise level of a busy street - and prolonged exposure to that decibel level can and does affect hearing.

I know it's because I have a personal connection to hearing loss (though mine wasn't caused by noise exposure), but to be honest: earbuds and other types of headphones that fit right in the ear freak me out. A lot. I may listen to my radio relatively loud in the car, but that noise isn't jammed up right against my eardrum. Those people that have earbuds in their ears, blasting sound in their ear canal 24/7? I hope they enjoy a $6,000 pair of hearing aids in a few years.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Target Field and the Minnesota Twins set standards for accommodation

I was excited to read about the Minnesota Twins' new Target Field and all of the accessibility accommodations the stadium is making. When so many people say that accommodations are too expensive, impractical or wouldn't get used, it is refreshing to see people who have put genuine thought into the design of a stadium that will be used by hundreds of thousands of people.

The official website goes into some detail about the accommodations, but mainly just seat accessibility. This article from Finance & Commerce goes into more detail. In addition to wider aisles for wheelchairs, Braille and large-print menus at the counter and an open concourse that allows for full view of the field, the stadium will also feature outfield captioning boards, and devices at ticket windows that will help hearing impaired fans communicate with the ticket sellers.

Going to a ball game is always a challenge for somebody with any disability. With my hearing impairment I have quite a few difficulties each time. The loudness of the croud alternately hurts my ears and prevents me from communicating with the people I came with. The sheer amount of people just talking in the stadium leads to so much noise I can't talk to anyone selling anything or keep track of the game. So, I am very excited to see these advances, even if I never go to Target Field. It takes one example for everyone else to see the advantages.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Four Helping Hands for Visual Disabilities

Digital libraries and e-books present special challenges to people with visual difficulties. Today I was happy to read about four initiatives going on which will help them gain better or full access to this technology.

China Digital Library for Visual Impairment, which began in October of 2008, is an online library with e-books, music and lectures. The library has incorporated screen-reading software, and is rapidly increasing its number of books available to its patrons. According to the article, "it is likely to set up similar libraries for the hearing impaired and for other people with disabilities in the future." 83 million people in China are disabled.

The team behind Kindle, Amazon's popular e-reader, are working on an "audible menuing system so blind and vision-impaired readers can easily navigate to books unassisted, in addition to listening to books as they can already do today with Read To Me." Larger font options will also be available. They project these features to be available in summer 2010.

Comments from the American Library Association to the Library of Congress' Copyright Office were filed on December 4th. The comments "called for a multilateral treaty to resolve issues of accessibility for the blind and visually impaired." They are offering "a framework that accommodates a range of ... solutions that will enable the world’s blind and visually impaired persons to read and access culture on an equal basis with other members of society."

Ebrary, an information disseminator for libraries, has shipped new features to assist people with physical disabilities. The upgrades will allow screen readers better access to the information, allow colors and font sizes to be changed, and the ability for users to incorporate their own accessibility help.

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    Mass Effect

    Last month I wrote about the game Dragon Age: Origins, how much I liked it and how I was handling playing it with my hearing loss. Well, Dragon Age is still awesome, but I got just a bit too emotionally invested in the ending, so I'm on a break. Unfortunately I've been sucked into another Bioware game, Mass Effect. Scotty played this game quite awhile ago and I enjoyed watching him every once in awhile, but I never played myself until just recently.

    The thing I love about Bioware games, both Dragon Age and Mass Effect, is the story behind them. Mass Effect has just as good a story as Dragon Age with familiar elements like conversing with characters, romance plotlines and the fun, engaging side quests. It is almost as accessible as Dragon Age, too. There is the option for subtitles and, again, almost, but not quite, everything is subtitled. All of the conversations are, but occasionally in the middle of missions the people you have on your team will come out with something. A few times I haven't caught it and that's been frustrating. For the most part, though, Mass Effect handles sound well. I really like the use of quality voice acting. The better a voice actor is, the easier they will be to understand, and the more clear their voice sounds.

    The sequel to Mass Effect comes out in January, and now that I am into the game and the plotline, I can't wait to see what the next installment brings to the table.

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    Michael DiMartino: Music Videos, Interpreted in ASL

    A friend of mine posted about Michael DiMartino in her blog. He captures the essence of songs with ASL and in original music videos. Here's his Youtube channel - definitely worth a look (but be forewarned his music videos are not always suitable for children).

    In this (uncaptioned but signed) video Michael talks a little bit about his ambitions and his goal of raising $5,000 to fund two original music videos. You can read about the project here for more details. Michael's videos definitely are cool and worth a look!

    Wednesday, December 2, 2009

    ASL and Communication: My (Strange) Experiences

    In high school I took two years of American Sign Language in place of the choices available for my foreign language requirement, which were either Spanish or French. Considering the typical setup of an American classroom already makes it difficult for me to hear the teacher, trying to hear the teacher in a foreign language was just not working out for me. (I still remember attempting to learn some Spanish in middle school and how utterly frustrated I was. What I thought I was hearing was not what I should be saying, if I could even figure out what the teacher was saying behind a meaningless jumble of vowels and consonants.)

    Anyway, I adored my American Sign Language classes. I loved the ability to communicate in a way that did not necessitate me staring at a person's lips and struggling to hear their voice. I could put my already evolved knowledge of body language and expression to use in a way that told me so much more than it does in a typical conversation. Learning about Deaf culture opened new worlds to me, and flexing the muscles of my fingers and hands made me feel skilled and special at a particular task.

    That said, I unfortunately haven't had the chance to use ASL much since 2004. Like any other language, my knowledge has slowly degraded from disuse. I do of course still know my alphabet, though my motions moving through A through Z are no longer smooth and practiced. I remember a few simple words and signs I've taught Scotty so that we can communicate easily when I have my aids out or in a loud situation. I want to learn more - I just haven't had the chance, and don't know the right people to keep the knowledge fresh in my mind.

    Occasionally I meet people who do sign. Not Deaf people but hearing people who know ASL. At least... that's the positive side. I meet people who see my aids, and start fingerspelling names or adding small signs in as they speak words. It's nice that they are acknowledging my hearing loss in this subtle way. However, most of the time it serves to distract me from what I really need to pay attention to, the sounds they are making. Signing one word out of a sentence is not going to help. I do appreciate the consideration, though.

    And then I've met the people who just... honestly, I have no idea what runs through their heads. I have had people come up to me, ask me if I am hearing impaired and then begin to flail their hands and arms around aimlessly. Even though I haven't used ASL in almost six years I can easily tell this is not ASL. Nor is it any kind of actual signing. It's just utterly random movements with no predictability and no flow to them.

    So I've been trying lately to figure out why they are doing it. Are they simply a little bit crazy? Do they misunderstand what ASL really is and honestly think it's just flailing about? Do they feel self-conscious, like they have to sign to me, so they put up this silly stereotype of sign that does nothing but just be embarassing? Or is there a perfectly logical reason behind their flailing? It always makes me feel uncomfortable and a little bad for them. The last person who did this to me refused to speak to me and just flailed his hands around. I thought he himself might be hearing impaired until I heard him speaking perfectly well and calmly to another person. I won't lie. That made me angry and feel pretty helpless.

    If someone refuses to communicate meaningfully with you, what do you do...?

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    Britain's Missing Top Model

    This is a completely fascinating article from the New York Times about a new reality show in Britain called "Britain's Missing Top Model." Like "America's Next Top Model," the show centers around competing fashion models, but the difference in the new show is that the models all have disabilities.

    The article is really worth a read for the problems and controversy it explores as well as the interesting problem it points out - the deaf models featured in the show have no visible disability on camera, whereas models in wheelchairs or with other visual deformities obviously do. As another model says of the deaf model, "it's the same as just picking a girl that speaks French."

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    NPR Article: "Job Crunch Even Harder on People with Disabilities"

    NPR had a story yesterday titled "Job Crunch Even Harder on People with Disabilities." The article discusses the unemployment rate amongst people with disabilities (17.5 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed) and profiles Lenny Kepil, a software engineer who is deaf.

    I think the article does a good job of pointing out some of the unfounded fears that employers have in hiring disabled people and the fact that accommodations cost so little they're barely worth keeping track of. I'm fortunate that I'm not looking for a job right now, but the article is a sobering read.

    Wednesday, November 25, 2009

    "My Football Game" Adds Accessibility to Football Video Games

    "My Football Game" is the result of a collaboration between EA Games, a notable publisher and developer of many video games, and VTree, a developer of software for the disabled. It's a PC game that can be played by those with developmental and physical disabilities.

    The game takes the elements of what makes football-based video games so popular and transforms the way it's played to make anyone a football star. It uses the familiar EA Sports game engine with modifications based on input from disabled gamers, rehabilitation experts and wounded veterans.
    According to this article at AbleGamers, My Football Game has a lot of really neat and useful features. You can turn the speed of the game way down to allow you to process what's going on on the field and make decisions, you can play entirely with the keyboard, and you can progress through the game gradually, developing necessary skills before moving on to the actual play.

    I think My Football Game is an excellent idea, and, more importantly, an excellent implementation of the concept. Hopefully, the game will reach beyond rehabilitation centers and reach the wide variety of gamers with disabilities who want to play a good game of football.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    Disney Rectifies "Up" Rental Issues

    According to this post on Consumerist, Disney is attempting to rectify the captioning problem on rentals of Up. According to Disney, "the captions were inadvertently left off of the rental DVD" and they want to make it right. They ask that you send your receipt or shipping confirmation and contact information to the following address to be contacted by Disney:
    WDSHE Consumer Relations
    Attn: "UP Rental"
    PO Box 3100
    Neenah, WI 54957

    Monday, November 23, 2009

    Your Vocabulary Word of the Day is "Entrainment"

    Today, I had another appointment with my audiologist. He took a look at my aids, cleaned them up, looked in my ears and then had me fill out a survey about my hearing aids. I was able to answer positively for all of the questions - I've had such a big help from these hearing aids since I got them, and situations I formerly found difficult to hear in are now much easier for me.

    I also learned a new word today - entrainment. I mentioned one kind of odd thing I've been experiencing - something I'm not used to. When a loud, high-pitched sound goes off, it almost sounds like it's echoing or continuing in my ear even after the actual sound stops. For example, at the library I work at, our security gates do it to me every time. When someone sets off the gates the alarm sounds for longer in my ears than it does for everyone else. The same goes for something like a pan clattering on the floor - I can hear it for longer than it actually makes sounds. My audiologist referred to this as "entrainment", when the hearing aid gets confused because the sound's frequency is the same frequency as feedback, so it just gets into a loop.

    He mentioned that my aids might buzz in my ears when I pass through a set of security gates. My old aids did this all the time, but my current ones haven't yet. I got so I didn't notice the buzzing all that often - I don't think it will be annoying if my current aids do it.

    He did a feedback test and found that my molds are a good fit for my ears and I shouldn't get much actual feedback. It's lucky the entrainment doesn't annoy me too much, because there isn't much that can be done about it.

    Hopefully this will be the last time I have to go in for an appointment for another six months. I have my fingers crossed!

    Sunday, November 22, 2009

    My Favorite Things 11-15 to 11-22

    Here's some fun and interesting stuff I've read in my blogs through Google Reader this week. Check out my Google Reader shared items here.

    Thursday, November 19, 2009

    YouTube Gets Automated Captions

    I was really excited to see on my news feed today that YouTube will begin automatic captioning for videos. The captioning will be using voice recognition (like Google Voice does) to caption videos. The link: Official Google Blog: Automatic captions in YouTube

    I love YouTube, but mostly only for music, where I can pull up the lyrics as I go - I've always been wary of watching anything involving people talking. Automatic captioning, while being rolled out for a few select sponsors right now, will eventually help me and others to be more confident in watching any kind of YouTube videos.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    Use Bluetooth to Ensure You Don't Miss a Call

    One of the things I have a lot of difficulty with is hearing when my cellphone is going off and making sure I can answer the phone in a timely manner. Most people I know assume I won't be answering the phone when they call. I so rarely hear it, not to mention I'm flakey about turning it off silent/vibrate when I get off work.

    Right now I have the Streamer, which pairs with both my hearing aids and my phone to alert me when a call comes in. Of course, I still have to be wearing the Streamer. There are a couple of neat options I've seen which will work with any phone that has Bluetooth enabled. Both are available on ThinkGeek, one of my very favorite online stores.

    The first option is one I actually own, the BluAlert Bluetooth Bracelet. Scotty got this for me last Christmas. After pairing the bracelet with your phone, as long as the bracelet is within range of the phone it will vibrate when your phone rings. The only downsides I found to the bracelet were that it is quite a bit too big for my wrist, and the range is small. Basically I need to wear my phone on a holster or keep my purse nearby if I want to use the bracelet, and if my phone is on a holster I can simply put it on vibrate and be assured of being aware of a call.

    The other cool option is this Bluetooth Watch with Caller ID Display. The watch vibrates on a call, and has the bonus features of showing you who is calling and potentially muting the ringer. Plus the leather band is adjustable so the problem with the bracelet would not be an issue here.

    I'm sure there are other interesting products, and as I see them I'll blog about them. These two options are certainly nice!

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    The Magi and the Sleeping Star: On Disabilities in Video Games

    I read an article on Kotaku today about The Magi and the Sleeping Star, a video game created by Adam Grantham. The game, whose website is here, follows the adventures of a young warrior/mage boy named Oz. Oz has big things to do with his life, namely rescuing his relatives from robot monsters, but he's just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The game is still in the prototype stage. Adam himself has Type 1 diabetes, and according to this NewsOK article, he's trying to "sneak-teach" people "the fundamentals of diabetes."

    According to the article, in the game, players need to help Oz maintain a healthy blood-sugar level by taking insulin, eating and drinking, then waiting a required time for the doses to take effect, in order to fight the monsters. The company Adam founded, called Game Equals Life, is hoping that nonprofit organizations and pharmaceutical companies will help them take the game beyond the prototype stage.

    Reading about The Magi and the Sleeping Star made me think about how people with various difficulties are shown in video games - namely characters with hearing impairments. There really just is not much out there in the same vein as The Magi and the Sleeping Star. I haven't yet played a game in which the main character has any significant handicap. Wait, I can't think of a video game I have played in which a character has any handicap whatsoever. The standard teen boy protagonist trope of RPGs features a skilled and strong main protagonist whose only failing is usually just a bit of adorable blockheadedness, like Lloyd from Tales of Symphonia. In action games the protagonist is usually strong and powerful, like Conan, Kratos, or Dante. Any weakness they have is a failing of moral character, not physical difficulty.

    There is slated to be a deaf character in Half-Life 3, the third and final installment of the Half-Life trilogy of video games. He is yet to be identified but is supposed to be a minor character from the past of one of the other characters, and the game might feature sign language. It's the only game I've heard about with anything like that.

    I think it would be absolutely fascinating to play a hearing-impaired character in a video game. Think of how the impairment would affect game mechanics. How would the character communicate with other people? How would players be affected playing the game?

    If I were going to create a game with a hearing-impaired protagonist, I would probably have the character deafened at some point in the game, after players have gotten used to the music and certain audio cues. The music would cut out or become very quiet and the other character's voices would become silent or muffled (maybe the player would need to be very close to another character to make out what they're saying). I would of course have subtitles but I would mimic the effect by having faded subtitles that increase in opacity depending on the player's proximity to the object or person making sound. The point is to illustrate the difficulty and also how hearing loss feels.

    I think it would add an entirely new dimension to game play and force players to think "outside the box," finding ways to communicate with other characters and ways to navigate the world without sound. Like The Magi and the Sleeping Star, it would add a new consideration to the game and force players to integrate the difficulty into their playing, demonstrating how hearing impaired people integrate their real-life difficulty every day.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    A Peek In My Purse

    I thought it would be fun today to talk about the things I carry around with me in my purse that help me with hearing, and hearing aid maintenance. The photo above is everything I bring with me on a daily basis.
    Cleaning Cloth - At least I think this is a cleaning cloth. It was in my spiffy, well-organized "welcome" box from Oticon when I got my aids. It's in my purse because I stuffed it in there with everything else from the box. I guess it would be nice to use to handle the aid without getting oils from your fingers on it. Or maybe to buff your earmold to a perfect shine and blind everyone you walk past.

    Batteries - The ones in the picture are Energizer 312s, but I am using the Ray-O-Vac Proline now. Energizer gives me 3 days of use out of a battery. The Prolines give me 7. I think we know who wins there.

    Oticon carrying case thingie - I do not know what this is actually for, but I stuff the cloth and the magnet pen thing (see below) into it. It's a nice little white leather thing. Not for the hearing aids themselves. Oticon gave me a cool, hard magnetic case for them.

    Magnetic pen poky thing - One side of that thing is magnetic (for handling your batteries without those pesky finger oils) and one side is a poky thing. The poky thing is for getting the teensy tiny "wax guard" out of your earmold and replacing it without having to fumble around with your huge, clumsy fingers. I have not used it yet. I'm terrible on my batteries and touch them all the time. Edit: Scotty just pointed out that it also opens up to reveal a tiny, tiny little brush. This thing is awesome. Also, the poky part is probably not for the wax guards, because they have their own applicator. That leaves it a mystery, I suppose.

    LG Versa cell phone - I enumerated in this post why I selected the LG Versa as my new cell phone shortly after picking out my hearing aids.

    Streamer - Some days I use my Streamer, some days I don't. I keep it with me, though, because it's an incredibly useful little device and I can't get over how nice music and phone calls sound through it.

    Sunday, November 15, 2009

    My Favorite Things 11-8 to 11-14

    Here's some fun and interesting stuff I've read in my blogs through Google Reader this week. Check out my Google Reader shared items here.

    Saturday, November 14, 2009

    Hack Your Library, Hearing-Impaired or Not

    As I mentioned in my first post to this blog, I work in a public library. Nothing makes me more sad than a patron who has been coming to the library for years, yet doesn't know about some key features of the library that can really help them. These hints I'm sharing pretty much go for anyone, regardless of ability, but there are also a few hints here that can help those with disabilities.

    So what are a few things you can do to get the most out of your local public library?

    Interlibrary loan
    Many, many people I know fall into the trap of looking up a book on their local library's catalog, not being able to find it and then thinking they have to buy it. Not only can you request that the library buy it (if you want to read it, chances are other people do too), you can ask about what's called "interlibrary loan." An ILL puts out a request from your library to other libraries in the country, who can then send the book to your library for you to pick up. Sometimes it can be slow - dependent on the speed of processing and shipping your request - but it saves you money in the end. You will probably need to ask your library staff in person or over the phone to place the request for you.

    Overdrive - and other media sites
    My particular library belongs to the Greater Phoenix Digital Library, powered by Overdrive. If your library is one of the many who use Overdrive you have access to movies, audiobooks, ebooks and music through their system. All you need is your library card. Overdrive's media console, the software you download to your computer to access the files from Overdrive, does have accessibility options. Unfortunately I have yet to find an "eFlick" that says it has subtitles. I haven't tried to watch any, so I don't know if it is an option.

    The databases a library subscribes to can fluctuate over time, depending on their funding and other issues, so it's always good to take a look at what your library has on offer. I especially love the databases like MasterFILE. If you are looking for that particular article from Time or National Geographic from July 2004, you can find it - without rooting in a dusty pile of magazines, and in convenient digital form. If you need to fix your car and don't have your Hanes manual you can check out repair databases like the Auto Repair Reference Center. If you need a legal document, the text of an obscure law, some 1910 census records or where to get your flu shot, it is all here - not just for academic papers at all.

    Talk to the staff
    The staff of libraries can't know what their patrons want, beyond educated guesses, unless their patrons talk to them. Communication that conveys what patrons want takes many forms in libraries - drive-by complaints at the desk, the number of holds on a certain book, the wait line for the computers, the number of people signed up for a particular program. But by far the most effective communication is simply finding a staff member and letting them know what you want. If your library is showing movies, you can ask that they have a showing with subtitles on. If your library is having a program you can ask if they have looked into having their conference room looped. By making yourself a representative of what you want from your community you are helping to shape it.

    Ask about programs
    Sometimes library programs are inadequately advertised or communicated to the public. It depends on the library's resources and their own marketing strategies. If you've heard about a series of programs or that your friend's library has computer classes, don't assume that since you haven't heard about it, your library must not have anything like it. I like to tell people about upcoming programs and if I'm hearing from multiple people that they'd like a certain type of program, I will pass it on to those who make those decisions.

    Instead of simply being disappointed when you find out your library isn't having, say, a NaNoWriMo group or a book club right now, ask how you can get involved or pass your thoughts along. Write your name and phone number or e-mail address down along with what you want to see and give it to the person at the desk, or ask if the person in charge of your library's programming has a card you can take with you. Sometimes all it takes is the right person willing to move a project along to get things started.

    Check out the book sale
    My particular library has an ongoing booksale, selling weeded books, donations we don't have a use for and other items. It is extremely popular. Some libraries have booksales every season or even just every year, but the savings on the books in these sales are simply crazy. If you are homeschooling, researching, collecting or interested in any subject, the book sale is likely to have something for you and it will probably be dirt cheap. Keep an eye out for upcoming library booksales or check out your library's book store if they have one.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Learning Experiences and NaNoWriMo

    I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year in order to get a very rough first draft of a post-apocalyptic novel that has been brewing in my head for several years. (Here's my profile.) I am doing pretty poorly so far, with only 5,719 words so far, but I am having fun writing, getting my thoughts down on paper without worrying about an editor. My novel is young adult, as is my protagonist, a 16-year-old junior in high school. I decided pretty early on that she would be hearing impaired, in the same way I am. All writing guides tell you to write what you know, and my particular hearing impairment is something I know very intimately. Looking back, I don't think I've ever read a young adult novel with a protagonist with a disability - I've read a few where the main character is autistic, but nothing physical, so I thought it might be interesting to get into that world.

    In a post-apocalyptic world, hearing aid batteries would become scarce, and of course maintenance would be almost impossible to do beyond the very basic. While I'm sure a very dedicated person could scrounge batteries, and find various implements to help her repair her aids, in a world such as this food and survival come first. She would probably lose her aids within the first year or so, I would think, later if she finds a stash of batteries or earlier if the hearing aids are damaged somehow. (I don't yet know exactly what will happen, which is part of the fun of NaNoWriMo!)

    So, to help me prepare, I want to go out and experience the world as she would experience it without her aids. Of course her world will be different. Depending on the scenarios I set up for what created the apocalypse, there would be no electricity, very few people, no cars... but to get an idea of it I need to take out my aids and go take a walk around without them.

    I've never done this before, so I'm a little nervous.

    I never go anywhere without my aids; the most I've done is go without my right aid when it's acting up, or go in the pool. I don't think I've ever been to a shopping mall, a grocery store, or anywhere else without at least one of my aids. So, this is going to be pretty strange, and weird, and maybe scary. I'll go with somebody so that I don't get run over in the parking lot or anything like that. But I think doing it is going to be a great learning experience. I will be reporting back. Hopefully I can do this before December so I can incorporate my feelings into my novel.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2009

    AbleGamers: A Resource for Accessibility in Video Games

    One of the news bits circling around gaming blogs lately is the story of Alexander Stern, a visually impaired gamer who has sued Sony for what he says is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act in their games. Whether or not te suit is valid is, of course, up to the courts to decide. Of course I am a proponent of making games as accessible as possible, whether for the hearing, sight, or mobility impaired. There are so many small, cheap, or even free things games can do to make their games accessible for everyone. Recently I was happy to see that Dragon Age has full, vibrant subtitles, for example, as does Tekken 6.

    While reading about this news (and boy, did I read about it - the same article, over and over, repeated on all of the gaming blogs I read), one blog linked back to AbleGamers. I think that blog wasn't actually a gaming blog but was this post on AbledBody; I don't think many of the game blogs I read did much research other than post the story online. Anyway, I took a look at AbleGamers and so far I am liking their site. With informaiton about accessibility in specific games so difficult to find online, I think AbleGamers is going to be a useful source for me; I'm passing it on to anyone reading this blog as a resource.

    Monday, November 9, 2009

    I'm Fond of Quick Appointments

    I just got back from my appointment with my audiologist to let him know about the pain I've been having in my right ear. It was a very quick appointment - he took a look at my ear and saw a scratch but also went ahead and filed down the mold itself in case it was too big. He gave me some lubricant to put on for a few days and set me up with an appointment in 2 weeks.

    He also gave me four packs of batteries, which is awesome. I am getting batteries for free from them for 3 years, and I like having a lot of the little guys laying around, so a stash is great for me. I'm getting just 3 days out of the Energizer brand, but 7 days out of the Ray-O-Vac Proline batteries I've been getting lately.

    So far I've not been having any of the same pain. He was also worried about feedback, and while I have heard some, it's nothing extreme and not frequent. I'm feeling optimistic!

    Sunday, November 8, 2009

    My Favorite Things 11-1 to 11-7

    Here's some fun and interesting stuff I've read in my blogs through Google Reader this week. Check out my Google Reader shared items here.

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    I Love My Mabari War Hound - Dragon Age: Origins

    Scotty and I picked up the new game Dragon Age: Origins this past week. It was developed by BioWare, who also developed the fun game Mass Effect. While Mass Effect is a science fiction game set in space, Dragon Age is a fantasy game set in a fully developed medieval-era world.

    I really wasn't expecting to love the game as much as I do! I started playing a few days ago as a human rogue with a Mabari war hound (or, as I call him, "my puppy"). I had heard the game was hard so I set the difficulty to Easy (I tend to be kind of a wimp about difficulty in games) and I've had no trouble so far, especially after the recent patch that made Easy even easier.

    The game is subtitled. You have the option of no subtitles, subtitles only during the game's cinematics, or subtitles for everything. The subtitles appear at the top of the screen, with a slightly shaded bar stretching across the top of the screen as a background for much easier readability (though the text size is a bit small). They don't intrude on the action, but having subtitles at the top is kind of weird and I keep catching myself looking at the bottom trying to figure out where the subtitles went. It is necessary, though - during conversations you can choose your character's response, and the options are along the bottom, so that would crowd out the subtitles.

    There are two caveats to the subtitles: dialogue during battles (which is very short, not that frequent, and not necessary to the game) is not subtitled at all, and occasionally characters will engage in random banter or conversation without the standard subtitling. Instead the game puts their words in a paragraph above their heads - very annoying if you happen to be turning at the time and miss what they said, or if a conversation is occurring behind you.

    Despite those two drawbacks, I'm really impressed with the way the game's developers drew everything together and created a flowing, unique world where everything just "makes sense." Even the subtitles are unobtrusive and subtle, not infringing on the graphics at all. Can't wait to get home to play some more!

    Friday, November 6, 2009

    Arizona Resources for the Hearing Impaired

    I have come up with this list of Arizona resources for the hearing impaired. It's certainly not comprehensive, but I hope it might be helpful - and I certainly haven't used all of these resources; I'm just making the list!

    I'm hoping to add to it (and a similar resource I've compiled for the library) as I learn more about local and national resources for the hard of hearing and everyone with disabilities.

    Let me know if you know of an Arizona resource I missed, in the comments!

    Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
    1400 W. Washington St. Rm 126, Phoenix, AZ 852007

    Arizona Relay Service

    Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind
    1200 W. Speedway Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85745

    Desert Voices Oral Listening Center
    3426 E. Shea Blvd., Phoenix, AZ 85028

    EAR Foundation of Arizona, The
    668 N. 44th St. Ste. 300, Phoenix, AZ 85008

    Miracle Ear Children’s Foundation
    2222 W. Pinnacle Peak Rd., Ste 170, Phoenix, AZ 85027

    Valley Center for the Deaf
    3130 E. Roosevelt St., Phoenix, AZ 85008

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    Back to the Audiologist

    I have an appointment at 10am on Monday with my audiologist. Hopefully he can figure out why my earmold is hurting my right ear. I hope the earmold was simply made incorrectly - although that would mean another two weeks' wait while another mold is made.

    Right now I'm going without my right aid, which feels strange and lopsided. I can get away with it because my left ear is my "good" ear (relatively speaking) and already compensates for my right ear, which is profoundly deaf. I just lose a bit of dimension and whatever miniscule ability I already had to tell where sounds are coming from. Some sounds seem very strange but for the most part I'm getting along. Fun stuff!

    Wednesday, November 4, 2009

    Oticon Goes On Safari - Just for Kids

    Another thing I would have loved when I was a kid, along with Siemens' pediatric kit - Oticon has introduced a new group of hearing aids for babies up through teens called the Safari.

    The Safari uses Bluetooth technology like my Epoqs, can use the Streamer and has a cool LED light on the top of the aid that lets you know if it's working properly. Which I think would be an advantage over the happy little "Welcome to the world of hearing!"-style chime that plays when my Epoqs start up.

    What is really cool, I think, is that it uses the Streamer. Kids always want the latest technology, and what could be cooler for the user of one of these devices than to have an awesome Bluetooth attachment that nobody else can have? Not to mention the added incentive to wear the aids, if they're the way the kid listens to music and answers their cell phone.

    And the aid apparently comes with stickers, a range of color choices and cool design patterns. I wonder if you can mix and match daily? Coordinating your aid to your outfit would be awesome. Especially for a style-conscious teenager.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Stupid Pain!

    I am pretty tired of my ears hurting all the time. Since I got my new aids with the right mold, I thought the pain (from the wrong type of mold) would be gone, but it's not. I can't figure out if it's the hearing aid causing the irritation, or possibly a scratch or injury inside my ear that the hearing aid mold is aggravating. It doesn't hurt while the mold is not in, but as soon as I put it back in, it feels like it's gotten irritated again. But my ear itself looks fine.

    I'm going to try taking the right aid out this weekend and seeing if 2 days will do anything - allowing a scratch to heal, or something like that. If not I'll be heading back to my audiologist. At least he's got good magazines and has Planet Earth playing in the waiting room!

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Video Games, Subtitles, and Tekken 6

    Yesterday I finally got the chance to sit down with Scotty and play our new copy of Tekken 6. I had never actually played any of the other Tekken games, since I tend to like fighting games that use weapons (like the Soul Calibur series) more, but I found I really enjoyed Tekken for its beautiful graphics, smooth gameplay and controls that actually make sense for controlling a fighter on screen.

    It also has an interesting way of doing subtitles that I like - not all of the characters speak English, so the game has a few options for subtitling. The player can either have all subtitles off, have subtitles on only when the dialogue is not in English or have all subtitles on. The latter is, of course, what I've left on, but originally playing we didn't realize it was an option. It's a good way of handling subtitling in the game, and staying true to the game's characters at the same time. However, it does highlight one fact about the game industry right now - there's simply no standard for subtitles, not between developers nor even between games.

    Most games do have subtitles. In some games like Katamari Damacy, they're the only way the player is given any information. Other games subtitle at least the game's cinematics, but not the actual in-game action. Some games subtitle every tiny bit of dialogue but none of the other sounds in the game. And some are very, very meticulous. It basically all boils down to the philosophy of those developing the game, the amount of time they have to spend on it and the amount of money they have to devote to it. When, according to this article on Gamasutra, an extremely conservative number of video game players who are deaf would be around 4 million. That's not an audience developers will be able to afford ignoring for much longer.

    Ideally, I think, subtitles would be handled in the same way that you'll see the CC symbol on the back of DVD cases, or the subtitling information. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all devote the back of their game cases to important information like the number of players, the game's rating, required hard disk space and other information. All of that information could potentially lose them customers, but it's providing valuable facts to possible consumers. Why not add in some information about the subtitles? Heck, for retail situations where you can read the manual, as you can at Gamestop, why not put that information on a page in the manual? I can tell you I absolutely hate buying a game and finding out I basically cannot play it because of the lack of subtitles.

    For example, I will not buy Assassin's Creed because I was lucky enough to learn before buying that it doesn't have subtitles and even for hearing people the gameplay is severely hindered. Too bad, because that's a game I really was interested in. (While poking around for more information on Assassin's Creed and Ubisoft's justification for dropping subtitles, I did find this press release from 2008 detailing Ubisoft's plans to include subtitles on all their currently in-house games at that time. That led to the awesome subtitles I really loved in Prince of Persia. It's nice to see a company take that initiative.) Of course, the problem is that all too often customers buy the game and get home only to realize it is unplayable.

    Subtitles on games should be a standard, and the information about subtitles should be right there on the box.

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    My Favorite Things 10-25 to 10-31

    Here's some fun and interesting stuff I've read in my blogs through Google Reader this week. Check out my Google Reader shared items here.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    Happy Halloween!

    Happy Halloween, everyone! I celebrated yesterday at work. My costume was a demon. About half the patrons guessed that, and the other half guessed a bat, so I amended it at the end of the day to be "a demon that can turn into a bat." Ha! I had Bob the talking skull too.

    Hope you have a good Halloween!

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    Disney and Siemens' New Pediatric Kit

    Seriously, how cute is this? Disney and Siemens have created this kit to be given to kids when they're fitted with a Siemens hearing aid. The kit comes with a Mickey doll, a storybook and tools to help the child and parents care for the hearing aids. Everything is packaged inside a Mickey box that can become a lunchbox.

    I've never had a Siemens instrument but if I had gotten a kit like this as a kid I would have been thrilled. Not only did I love books (still do), but that Mickey would have become my best friend. I hope a lot of kids get enjoyment and comfort from their new pal.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    Sound Localization and Me

    Yesterday while at work, I was sitting at the front desk when I started hearing a strange thumping sound. I could have sworn it was coming from behind me - where our public computers and fiction books are - but when I looked, there was nothing that could be making the sound. It continued for several minutes while I looked around, until I realized that the sound was actually coming from in front of me. It was the sound of a volunteer stacking empty boxes and lids on top of each other in our book sale area.

    To any hearing person, this experience would be very foreign and unsettling. Hearing people have the ability, as do other animals, to localize sound and quickly determine where it is coming from. Most deaf and hard of hearing people, like me, find it difficult to localize sounds, a problem which can be annoying or even life-threatening. For example, when I am in a parking lot, I have to be very aware of my surroundings in a visual sense, because while I may be able to hear a car backing up or driving by, I can't tell where the danger is.

    In school, I would often be walking across campus and hear what could have been my name (or perhaps not - I find I often mix the sound of my own name up with other sounds), but I absolutely could not tell where that person was coming from. I could either stop, look around, and move in a circle to attempt to identify the source, or I could assume it was a mistake, that I heard wrong, and continue on. This has continued - in a store, or at work, if I hear my name I have to stop whatever I am doing to localize the sound as best I can and then respond appropriately.

    Last night I gave it a try. I closed my eyes and had Scotty (my husband) snap his fingers in a random location around my head. I had a lot of trouble with sounds in front of me and behind me, often answering the exact opposite. Sounds to the left and right were much easier, which makes sense, because my right ear has an extremely profound loss while my left ear is a little better, so I can tell the difference easier. Then I did the same thing to Scotty, who has normal hearing. His ability to reach out and immediately grab my hand upon the first sound he heard was startling. Like a superpower! This ability really is one of the cool things about our bodies we never think about.

    So what can help a lack of sound localization? I couldn't find much. My own hearing aids, with Bluetooth connectivity to each other, are supposed to help by sending signals to each other over the course of the day, but I wonder if my right ear is so far gone that I can't use that feature to its fullest. Practice would probably help, if only to get me used to the varying ways that sounds can change dependent on their location. There's an interesting article on sound localization here, from PhysOrg.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Paying the Bills

    My first bill for my new hearing aids arrived yesterday. It's now right up there alongside my student loan payment as something I'll be paying off for several years - but I only have five for my hearing aids. I'm so happy we were able to do Care Credit, or I would never have been able to afford them.

    It's funny - while discussing my upcoming purchase a few months ago, no one I spoke to could believe that insurance wouldn't cover hearing aids. And I don't understand it, either. They are relatively cheap devices (compared to some lab tests, hospital stays and other medical devices that insurance covers) that last awhile (again, compared to other medical expenses) and can provide extremely improved quality of life for people. If someone is hearing impaired, wants to do something about it and can't, it projects into every other area of their life, and I know that stress can cause other medical conditions.

    Just some heavy thinking early this morning, I guess.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Tips for Playing Tabletop RPGs with a Hearing Loss

    Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a pretty big tabletop roleplaying geek. I generally play Dungeons & Dragons or GURPS twice a week in the evenings or afternoons with my friends. I'm currently the DM of a game loosely based on Castlevania (which is definitely one of my top favorite video game series). I like roleplaying (and board) games as a different kind of entertainment, apart from video games, movies, and television; if you're the game master, you have control over the way the story goes, and you get to play with as many friends as you want.

    That being said, there are quite a few difficulties faced by a hearing impaired person who wants to play a roleplaying game. For one thing, there's no chance of subtitles - conversations can be fast and the action hectic, making it difficult to "rewind" and try to figure out what you missed. Depending on the group, if you miss one joke or bit of information, you may well be lost for the next half-hour or so. I know how that goes! As one of a half-dozen people, more or less, you can sometimes feel lost in the crowd, trying to ensure you are following along and able to participate. So, what can you do to ensure you have the best experience possible?

    Explain your situation
    Absolutely, don't allow things to go more than a few sessions before you reveal your hearing loss, unless you're totally comfortable. Remember that other people more than likely just want to help - if they don't, they're jerks! Your fellow gamers can ensure they address you clearly and to your front, and also keep an eye out if you look lost. A few times in my sessions I've had people ask if I've caught something, or if I need something repeated. Others keeping an "ear" out for you can be a huge help.

    See if you can do without a screen or laptops
    A dungeon/game master screen (example here) is sometimes used by the game master to block the players' view of his books, notes, die rolls and other secret information. Unfortunately it can also block something very important to you: their mouth. If this proves to be difficult for you, ask if they can raise their head when they speak, or simply do without a screen. Most people I know don't worry about one.

    Laptops are also another interesting challenge to consider. Not only can they block mouths just as well, but sometimes laptop users will remain intent on their screen, not raising their head or taking their attention away from the machine to answer. (I'm guilty of this too.) Again, if it proves to be a problem, the best thing to do is self-advocate. It's either that or get a headache from straining to hear them.

    Consider your location
    If you're having a lot of trouble hearing the game master or the in-game conversation, consider where you are playing. The two game stores I typically play at are loud, with several competing games going on at once. Shouting, clapping, singing, music, video games and even normal conversation can make it difficult to separate the environment from your group. I've found that playing in peoples' homes is the best route, since you won't be able to shut up the people playing around you anytime soon.

    But if a particular group is being especially loud or rowdy, you can talk to them, or to the staff at the store. The staff at a game store are interested in having repeat customers, and they know people won't come back or stay long if they're irritated by another group. Chances are other people around you are annoyed at the same thing.

    Pick your seat carefully
    The round-table type of seating seems natural for most groups. That's nice because it makes it easy to see everyone's face, if they're not buried in a rulebook. But even in that kind of situation your personal seating choice can be important. Sitting next to the game master or the talkative person in the group can ensure that you won't miss much. I prefer sitting near the game master because then I can quickly nudge him or her for a verification of what he or she just said. You can also choose to sit away from a radio or the television so you can concentrate on the conversation.

    Notes - in the game and after
    Sometimes, if a lot is going on, and the group is joking around or engrossed in a difficult or high-tension game, it can be easier to use notes instead of adding your voice to the fray. Scribble your question on paper, or type it on your laptop screen or cellphone and pass it to the person you want to ask. This is also a neat way to communicate just between characters if the plot calls for it. You can prank your fellow players and make sure you and your buddy are on the same page.

    If someone is taking notes on the plot as the game progresses, you can ask to peruse their notes after the session and see what you missed, if anything. Or take notes on the session yourself - have someone else who was there look them over and see what was missed. That would be a good way to see what you are consistently missing (jokes that lead to plot branches in the middle of a loud battle, etc.) and let others see how to help you.

    Read the book
    This isn't something that needs to be said to most RPG players, but reading the book for reference is invaluable. Sure, you shouldn't look up a mysterious creature in the middle of an encounter, but if the game master describes a setting or another relevant piece of info from the books, you can look them up later to make sure you followed. If you suspect something is coming up in a future session from the books, you could also reread that information before the game. There's the chance of being spoiled for the particular game you're playing, of course, but with a good story and your interest in the game little would be lost.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    My Favorite Things 10-17 to 10-24

     Here's some fun and interesting stuff I've read in my blogs through Google Reader this week. Check out my Google Reader shared items here.

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    The FDA's New Guide to Hearing Aids

    The FDA has a new web site with information about hearing aids, which can be found here. Looking through the site, it looks like there's a lot of information, laid out in easy-to-understand chunks. I think it is generally more useful to someone pondering getting hearing aids or who has just been fitted with them, but as someone who enjoys learning about, well, everything, I found it a pretty cool place to spend some time.

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Employees With Hearing Loss

    In this article in Human Resource Executive Online*, Marlene Prost tackles the potential issues arising from hearing impaired individuals in the workforce, particularly older employees who may be resistant to or ignorant of their loss. Generally I dislike the common assumption that the only individuals with hearing loss are the elderly, but the fact is that the portion of the population represented by older people is growing dramatically all over the world. There are a lot of old people around, and, as the article states, people are staying at their jobs longer or coming out of retirement. And older people do tend to have some hearing loss.

    I think anything that helps employers help their employees in feeling secure and confident in their job is a step in the right direction. If it means recognizing the onset of a hearing loss, I'm all for it, since it can be potentially detrimental to a person's livelihood, sense of security and their emotional state. I know, for example, that when I couldn't use my right hearing aid earlier this year, I was more irritable and snappy. I couldn't hear what was going on around me, and that in turn affected me emotionally. If an employer can attribute this not to declining job performance but to a hearing issue, I think that could save somebody's job. As the article says, "untreated hearing loss translates as incompetence."

    One more interesting statistic from the article, courtesy of the Better Hearing Institute in Virginia: "In a 2005 nationwide survey of 40,000 households, BHI found that hearing loss can cost household income up to $12,000, depending on the degree of hearing loss. But hearing aids cut the economic impact by 50 percent." I found that pretty interesting and sobering. What factors contribute to the loss of income as related to hearing loss? Lack of confidence, employer discrimination, perceived incompetence? Something to think about.

    * I don't generally make a habit of reading human resource-oriented web sites, but this article showed up on a newsfeed in my Google Reader.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    The Heiligenstadt Testament - Poignant and Sad

    Letters of Note is one of my more recent additions to my Google Reader. The blog shares interesting communications - letters, faxes, postcards, etc. Recently a letter, called the "Heiligenstadt Testament," was posted from Ludwig van Beethoven, the accomplished composer. Beethoven began to lose his hearing in his late twenties, though he continued to compose. The letter, written to his brothers Carl and Johann Beethoven, poignantly depicts the isolation and depression the composer felt as a result of his loss.

    I remember learning about Beethoven in school - never very in-depth, but as a historical figure and leader of a fascinating life. I vaguely remember a teacher - was it third or fourth grade? - mentioning that Beethoven was deaf. She repeated the anecdote in Wikipedia, where Beethoven had to be turned around to see the applause of the audience for his Ninth Symphony. Though she didn't single me out, I recall the strange feeling I had, as though I was the only person in the room. I suddenly felt a deep connection with a man I would have otherwise studied only for the requirements of a quiz and then forgotten about.

    My thoughts were jumbled as the class moved on to another time period or historical figure. I thought about all of the implications Beethoven's deafness had on his life. I thought about feeling the vibrations of a symphony through the floorboards, and the difficulty of composing music dependent only on the memory of sounds. (In the letter, Beethoven says poignantly, "Oh, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession enjoy or ever have enjoyed.") I thought about the sympathy his audience would feel for him if they knew. What I didn't think about was that he might not have family around to support him. I have always had a very supportive family, and as a child I couldn't imagine that someone like Beethoven might not be able to draw support from his siblings or his parents.

    The letter is poignant and sad. Since it was found after he died, Beethoven never knew how his brothers and other family would react to his open and honest sharing of feelings about his loss.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Adventures in the Movie Theater

    This weekend, I went to see Zombieland. It was my first time seeing a movie in the theater with my new hearing aids, and I was curious to compare my previous experiences.

    In the past, I've always had to be careful when picking out a movie to see. Movies with characters who have accents have always been difficult for me, and movies that have a lot of background noise or people shouting over explosions are just as difficult. Sometimes, a movie I thought would be okay turned out to be difficult. In Push, for example, I understood probably about 45% of the dialogue, almost, but not quite, enough to follow the story. (I still need to see that on DVD with subtitles.)

    Open-captioned movies are just fine, but the movie theaters around here rarely show films that way and they're not often movies I'm interested in seeing.

    I was very happy with my experience at Zombieland. Not only was it a great, funny movie, but I could understand almost all of it. Whereas before I'd understand around 75% of the dialogue of any given film, in Zombieland I caught about 90%. Some of it was the film itself - it's pretty quiet without a lot of noise, and a good chunk of it is the main character narrating - but I could tell a difference in my understanding of the dialogue beyond that. Even the whispers! I was very excited.

    Thank you, Zombieland, for being so funny, and for being my first introduction into truly understanding movies at the theater.

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    My Favorite Things 10-11 to 10-17

     Here's some fun and interesting stuff I've read in my blogs through Google Reader this week. Check out my Google Reader shared items here.

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    Google and Accessibility

    Google has launched a new website aimed towards condensing all of their accessibility-related resources and news in one place. Right now the hearing-related accessibility is mainly in captions on Google Video and YouTube, but accessibility is a constantly evolving thing, and what's there now could be greatly enhanced in the future, plus it looks as though they have some great resources and features for those with other disabilities, especially visual.

    In their blog post about the new site, they also mention an open-source framework called AxsJAX, which can help developers bring everyone up to the same experience, regardless of the adaptive technology they may be using. I had never heard of AxsJAX and I think it's pretty cool.

    Google is asking for feedback - might be a good way to get your ideas about accessibility out there and implemented.