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.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Appointment

Today, I had my followup appointment with my audiologist. It's been 18 days since I got my new hearing aids.

I was very happy to finally get my "real" earmolds. They made the wrong molds at first, so I had "power domes" and then, after the domes tore up the inside of my ear, had to make do with the wrong molds for about a week. I am now all set with the molds. They feel comfortable!

Sorry for the lousy picture - I couldn't get one before it got dark.

We also managed to get my Streamer paired with both my hearing aids and my cell phone. I no longer have to use the audiologist's demo version. I like having my own - I'm trying to decide exactly how to use it, though. It would be great if I could find a cellphone holster it would fit properly into so that I could have it next to my phone and then just put it on when the phone goes off, instead of digging for my purse. My pockets are definitely too small to put the Streamer in. So, I'll be looking around for one in the next few days.

The final adjustment - and one I think will definitely be useful - was the addition of a second program to my aids. At work, I spend most of my time in a huge, glassed-in room with a lot of hard surfaces and relatively thin carpet. There's a lot of noise in that room, constantly. So the audiologist set me up with a program that will quiet the noise to my sides and behind me and focus on the sounds right in front of me, like the customers I need to help. I hope to try it out tomorrow, during a relatively quiet time, so I don't feel overwhelmed attending to my aids and work.

It was a good appointment. I'm hoping to not have to go in too much, though I'll have a six-month appointment coming up. We'll see where I'm at when the time comes.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2 Useful Bits of News

A couple of useful bits of information for this morning:
  • If you use IP Relay or Video Relay Services to make calls, make sure you register your 10-digit number with your preferred provider to make sure they can process your calls. 911 calls will still work but you won't be able to make other calls until you get a number. More info here. Thanks to DeafNation for the info.
  • According to Research Shelf, the US Copyright Office wants your comments on "faciliating access to copyrighted works" for those with disabilities. The notice is here (PDF).
Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Oticon Streamer

My hearing aids are Oticon Epoqs, as I've mentioned in previous entries. The Epoqs have an optional accessory called the Streamer, which allows the Epoq user to listen to music, take calls and connect to a computer via Bluetooth. Sounds are transmitted directly to the aid.

When I was doing research on new hearing aids, Oticon was one of the first companies I saw, and one of a few who are incorporating Bluetooth technology into hearing aids. Oticon has the Streamer, while Phonak has a SmartLink system and Starkey has their ELI aids. I was pretty sold on Oticon's system myself, and happy to see that my audiologist recommended it, as well. I asked for the Streamer right away once it was determined I could indeed benefit from new hearing aids, and my (totally awesome) audiologist threw it in for free. He said typically the Streamer is around $250.

Now, currently I am using the audiologist's "demo" Streamer, which I have had in my grubby little hands for around 2 weeks now. I have my Streamer, as well, but there were some difficulties setting it up in the office and my audiologist was rightly more concerned with the sound I was getting from my new aids versus my shiny new toy. I'll be taking the Streamer back to him on Friday and hope to get mine set up properly.

While the "demo" Streamers will behave slightly immorally and connect to any Epoq hearing aids they find, the actual Streamers seem to require some setting up by the audiologist to ensure they know which aids are boss. I have tried every manner of pairing my own Streamer, but it's just something the doctor is going to have to do, so far as I can tell. Documentation on that part is slim on Oticon's web site, probably because audiologists will typically take care of it without concerning the patient.

So, my thoughts are based on a demo Streamer, and not my own. Should anything be drastically different, I'll revisit this topic after my Friday appointment.

The Streamer is slim and small, and looks like an mp3 player to most people. The buttons on front are simple and easy to comprehend. You have a volume control, a button for taking calls/working on your phone, a button for listening to music, a Bluetooth button for pairing, activating and deactivating the Bluetooth functionality, and a battery indicator.

It can be stuffed in a pocket or worn on the lanyard. The included lanyard (actually two, a short and a long) has a wire running through it which allows better connection when you're using it. The few times I've used it without the lanyard, sound has been staticky and fuzzy, so I always use the lanyard. Too bad it looks kind of dorky - and it's very obvious under a shirt, too. Typically my Streamer is in my purse unless I'm expecting a call, or listening to music, so I have to put the lanyard over my head before using it.

So far, I have used my Streamer to call others on my phone, listen to music on my phone (which has become my mp3 player), and listen to music on the computer. The latter is easy to do with an included cable that can be plugged into speakers and the Streamer. I also have a Bluetooth adapter for my computer, but I've had trouble so far activating the Bluetooth audio (not the Streamer's fault), so I use the cable for now.

I love listening to music with the Streamer, either from my phone, or online. I don't have to hunt around for headphones - and deal with the resulting pain of the headphones pressing my hearing aids into my head. Also, I can have the volume up louder than I could with headphones before others in the room can hear it. I don't even particularly need it any louder. The sound goes directly to the hearing aids, so it is much easier to hear things. I vastly prefer my Streamer/hearing aids combo over headphones or even just listening to music straight.

Phone calls have been a little trickier. I don't normally use the phone a whole lot, so I haven't had a lot of experience with that aspect, but the people I have talked to say it sounds as though I've got them on speakerphone. Holding the Streamer closer to my mouth or using the shorter lanyard seems to fix these issues. The voices of others sound clear. While I've had a few problems with words dropping out or garbled sounds, it seems to be only when they're using a Bluetooth device, too.

One con when it comes to the phone - if it's connected to the Streamer while I'm navigating menus (texting, looking for options, or playing a game), the sounds drop in and out, and my hearing aids' sound drops in and out, too. It's very annoying not to be able to text and talk to someone at the same time. I usually don't allow the Streamer to connect to the phone until I'm making a call or listening to music.

The Streamer seems to need charging every night or so. I need to use it more consistently to get a better idea of that, but it's probably a good idea to charge it overnight anyway. The manual warns about ever letting it die, and has managed to make me utterly paranoid on that front. I imagine it would need to re-pair to my phone if the battery did drop dead, which would certainly be a bit of an inconvenience. I know Bluetooth can drain batteries like nobody's business, so I was already expecting to charge any of those devices frequently.

Overall - I love the Streamer, and it's done wonders for my music-listening, and call-making abilities. I hope the audiologist is able to get mine sorted out on Friday!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Tips for Coping with Hearing Loss: My Thoughts

There's a good article over at the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter with some good tips for coping with hearing loss. I thought I'd go through their tips and add my thoughts and personal take on it.

Be prepared: Make sure you have, and know how to use, the best hearing aid and assistive technology you can get.
This is definitely true. It's very easy with anything, from glasses to hearing aids even to computers, to grow used to what we have, and see it as the norm. Whenever I go in for an eye exam, for example, and get new glasses, I'm always surprised that I was living with such "limited" vision before!

I recently got new hearing aids. My previous pair were almost a decade old and technology has advanced in leaps and bounds since then. I can't believe what I was missing!

Don't bluff: Many HOH people try to hide their hearing loss. This is a big mistake. It doesn't fool anyone. Tell people you don't hear well. Most people are happy to help someone with a hearing loss once they are aware of it.
This is definitely something I need to work on. I find it difficult to tell people I am hearing impaired and feel very self-conscious about it. I very rarely tell people, and only if someone is getting very upset with me at the fact that I can't hear (I'll admit it gives me a little satisfaction to tell an upset person that they've been yelling at a disabled person).

Be specific about asking for help...
In the article, the paper gives specific examples of how hearing people can assist those with hearing loss. Once I've told someone of my loss, I always try to give them helpful tips on how to assist me, but again, it's something that currently makes me feel self-conscious. I really need to learn to "self-advocate."

Pick your best location: Arrive at meetings early and sit where you can hear best. Choose a position that's quiet and has good lighting.
I always try to do this - it's something that has become a habit with me.

Anticipate: Plan ahead for what questions are likely to be asked next...
I have become a master at this type of thing. It's probably a combination of my hearing loss and my shyness. I want to be sure I know what is coming up and have a solid expectation for it. Working in a public service role has also made me aware of what questions are typically asked by people and how to anticipate them.

Pay attention...
Yes, definitely. Body language is one way I ensure I am getting the gist of what is being said. At this point I find it difficult to multitask while talking to someone because what I do in a conversation - making sure I heard them, seeing their body language, and other forms of communication - require quite a bit of attention.

Take the pressure off: The person you are speaking with may be afraid of you not understanding them. Let them know that the hearing loss is your problem … not theirs.
I'm torn about this. On one hand yes, my hearing loss is mine and mine alone. I take personal responsibility for understanding what the person said and I certainly don't blame them if I misunderstood something. However... if a person is aware I have a loss I think it is only courteous and respectful to ensure they are hearing everything and take some of the pressure off them.

Advocate: Many public places — like hotels, churches, libraries, museums, stadiums, auditoriums, theaters, etc. — should provide assistive listening technology. When available, use it... 
I absolutely agree that public spaces should provide assistive listening technology, although I myself rarely use it or request it. I typically don't feel as though I need it in certain settings and I often forget to advocate for those like me who may need it. At my workplace I try to keep up on emerging assistive technologies for every type of disability.

Never give up...
Sometimes I do feel like I want to give up. Saturday night I was at a gaming session with my friends and had some trouble following the plot of the game because of the loudness of the store we were at. I did give up despite the fact that my friends made it clear they wanted me to understand and enjoy the game. I'm grateful to them for insisting.

Show your appreciation: Make sure that anyone who goes out of their way to help you understands how much you appreciate their help.
I definitely try to appreciate those who help me and take an interest in seeing how they can help further. Some people are just awesome and even though I'm shy, I try to tell them how much I appreciate it!
Thanks to the Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter and the author Bobbie Monroe for an informative and helpful article. Definitely a bookmark for me and some food for thought.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

My Favorite Things 10-4 to 10-10

 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.
This week didn't have a lot of opportunities for me to catch up on Google Reader. I spent the early part of it in Florence, then had a doctor's visit and hearing issues yesterday. It's only as of yesterday that I've really gotten to sit down and wade through my ever-patient RSS feeds!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Picking the Right Cellphone

I got my new pair of hearing aids around the same time I was eligible for a phone upgrade from Verizon Wireless. I'd been eligible for awhile, but I was happy enough with my previous phone, which was nothing fancy. I've always had difficulty hearing on the phone, so I didn't really think about phone technology or anything like that when it came to picking out my cellphone. I had that and a Bluetooth bracelet from Thinkgeek that would have alerted me to any incoming calls if I actually wore it. Unfortunately I was always too slack about putting it on.

After I got my hearing aids, I won't lie that I was (and still am) enamored with everything they can do. I got the Streamer, which is a device made by Oticon that allows the wearer to take advantage of the hearing aids' Bluetooth to answer calls, listen to music, etc. My old phone could make calls via Bluetooth, and I quickly paired the phone with the Streamer and tested it out. I liked it - but although that phone could play music, too, it couldn't stream the music over the Bluetooth. I decided to use my upgrade and get a phone that would work with me and my hearing aids. I didn't particularly want or need anything fancy... just something that would make day to day life with the aids and Streamer easier and more fun.

I eventually decided on the LG Versa. There were several things that attracted me to the Versa and finalized the decision for me:

It's LG
I've always had LG phones, save for one time when I had a Motorola Razr. I vastly prefer LG over the other manufacturers that Verizon carries. I'm used to the operating system in their phones and the features they typically come with are what I like. LG phones and Canon cameras are my two main brand loyalties.

It Has M4 Compatibility
It was important to me to have a phone that's rated M4. Cellphone companies are mandated to list the rating of their cellphone's compatibility with hearing aids (based on their radio-frequency emissions). M4 is the highest, rated "excellent." Many, many phones these days are M4, which I was happy to see. The Versa is also rated T4 for the telecoil, but I rarely use the telecoil function of my hearing aids, so that wasn't a factor for me.

It Has Bluetooth Streaming Music
I wanted to have Bluetooth streaming music so that I could eliminate my mp3 player from the items I carry in my purse and make my cellphone both my music player and my phone. I simply saved my music to a micro SD card and put it in the phone. With the Streamer connected to my phone wirelessly, I can now hear the music in my hearing aids without headphones or cables.

It's a Candybar Touchscreen
The Versa is a "candybar" phone that doesn't flip open. I didn't want to deal with flipping open the phone to navigate if necessary - the Streamer "beep"ing and "boop"ing in your ear while you navigate menus can sound... strange. And the touchscreen has allowed me to set my music as a shortcut on the main page of the phone, allowing me to simply tap the shortcut and start my music playing. It's efficient and elegant.

So far the Versa is definitely working out for me. I thought it might be difficult to get used to a touchscreen but it's been extremely simple. The quality of the music in my aids is remarkable. Certainly better than listening to the radio. I will definitely be using the above criteria when it comes to a new phone in the next 2 years.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bleedin' Ears

I was fitted for my new hearing aids, a pair of Oticon Epoqs this past Tuesday, September 29th. So far, I'm happy and impressed with the sound, but my analysis of what I can hear now and what's different will go in another entry, soon, because I want to have a personal record of my thoughts about the aids.

Although I was supposed to receive silicone earmolds with the aids, the company molded the wrong type and so I got Oticon's 'power domes' instead. Within just a few days I realized... these things hurt. It was a strange sensation, an ache, like somebody was stabbing the inside of my ear. I decided I would ask my audiologist for the "real molds" at my appointment initially scheduled for tomorrow and went through the week and a half with my ears hurting every day. I would take out my right aid every evening (it's my lower-functioning ear, so I rely on it less) and take ibuprofen for the pain.

Well, this morning I discovered my ears were literally getting torn up by the domes. I realized this when the pain in my left ear was so much I had to pull it out, only to discover the dome covered in blood. I know. That's such a great image, isn't it?

So I went off to the audiologist early and he exclaimed over how he'd never seen anyone's ear get torn up like mine from the domes. He made impressions of my ear for my new molds and pulled out the initial 'wrong' molds for me to use in the meantime. My ear still aches... but after a shower and ibuprofen, I feel better.

Have you ever had impressions taken of your ear for earmolds? Depending on the type of hearing aid, it's not always a requirement. But it's always interesting. You get sticky stuff poured in your ear and have to sit around opening and closing your mouth, like a cow chewing cud, for several minutes to get an accurate impression. I always feel so ridiculous - and it itches! But it's always worth it. Earmolds are so comfortable, especially silicone ones.

In a week I should have my new, proper molds. I'm excited! In the meantime let me treat you to a timeline of my hearing aids since August.

My old (so old I don't know the brand - at least 10 years old) hearing aids, with my almost-as-old purple and pink earmolds:

My old hearing aids with new silicone molds, as of August 31st:

My new hearing aids with the Oticon domes on September 29th:

And as of today, October 8, my new hearing aids with the makeshift molds (with the speaker jammed unhappily inside):

I can't wait for the next iteration... hopefully this one will be permanent!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

My Thoughts On 'Poster Child' by Emily Rapp

The following is a post I made on Goodreads, which is my site of choice for keeping track of what I've read and plan to read. (Here's my profile, if you're curious or want to make friends.) My book for the past few days has been Poster Child, a 2007 memoir by Emily Rapp. Emily was born with a congenital defect that eventually left her without much of a left leg, so she's been getting around with a prosthesis since she was very young. Here's my thoughts:

I initially approached this book the same way I do any other book - the subject sounded interesting, the description or maybe the title caught my eye. I'm a sucker for memoirs - basically any memoir - so I picked it up to read a few days ago with no more thought to it than that. I was about halfway through the book before I realized why, exactly, I was feeling a connection to Emily Rapp and her disability. I was kind of surprised when I came to this realization, though afterwards I thought it should have been obvious all along.

Emily Rapp is missing her left leg. I am missing my sense of hearing. My particular loss is a profound one, rendering my right ear nearly useless, forcing my left ear to compensate with its limited abilities, even with my hearing aids. Emily Rapp is challenged when it comes to walking without her prosthesis; I am challenged when it comes to hearing anything without my hearing aids. Once I realized that I shared this connection with the author, I finished the book with an entirely new outlook.

Why didn't I think of it sooner? I don't particularly think of my hearing loss often. Much like Emily I grew up feeling proud and strong and faithful in my body's ability to cooperate with me, to bend to my wishes, and in the doctors who could help me. I forced my body beyond the loss, quelling it, ignoring it. It was not a part of who I was; it did not define me, except to make me unique. Recent events in my own life have forced me to consider my loss in much the same way as Emily was forced as she began to travel and experience new worlds.

I recently upgraded my hearing aids, but not only that. I upgraded my own sense of self, my outlook on the world encompassing my own body. I did research on the hearing aids, considering carefully how they would work in my own life. Like Emily, I have a rapport with a physician who knows my ears better than I do - in my case he both evaluates and selects the hearing aids for me. I got them about a week ago. They came with a $6,500 price tag (certainly cheaper than a leg apparently is, but hearing aids are rarely covered by insurance), a wider range of sounds, and their own unique challenges that have left me considering my hearing in ways I haven't done before. What can I hear better? What is softer, as it should be? Does her voice really sound like that - does the air conditioning really have to be so loud?

Okay, okay, anyway. This review isn't about me, it's about Emily, and her book. I hope I've explained adequately my own take on the book. Her struggle resonated for me, but she also was able to convey her life in such a way as to be accessible and sympathetic to anyone. She definitely has a gift for explaining both the technology behind her multiple prostheses, and her thought processes as she grew up. She doesn't shy away from the difficulties she had, nor from the positive experiences and any emotions she felt.

I really found her book fascinating and a good read. I'm glad I read it at this point in my life.

What You Say?

The proper thing to do when starting a blog is to introduce yourself, isn't it? In that case, here -
I'm Megan, 23 years old, lifetime resident of Arizona. I'm a library clerk at a public library with the battle scars and stories to prove it. I'm kinda geeky, yeah. I like to play video games and learn about new gadgets and watch some anime.
My love for new gadgetry has come in handy recently - but let me back up just a little. I'm hearing impaired. I have been for most, if not all, of my life - it was diagnosed as a mild loss when I was four. Now, at 23, I have a bilateral, progressive, sensorineural hearing loss. Whew! What a mouthful. Hard to say - sometimes, hard to deal with.
What does it mean?
Bilateral means I have a hearing loss in both ears. That's simple.
Progressive is also simple. It means the loss progresses. Mine has worsened from a mild loss to a loss considered severe to profound.
Sensorineural is trickier. The article on Wikipedia does a pretty good job of explaining it. It's damage to the inner ear or the pathways to the brain. It's interesting because not only does it affect simply the loudness of sounds, but it also impairs clarity and understanding.
So why me? That's not a question I've asked a lot, actually. When I have, the answers are unsatisfactory. Inconclusive. There's no single cause that anyone, doctor or family member, can point to and say "That started the decline; that caused it." Could be a disease, genetics, something during my gestation. It's not a question I expect to ever be answered.
I started out with an analog hearing aid, a "behind the ear" model with a device that hooks behind my ear and an earmold. When I was 12-ish, I got digital hearing aids. They lasted me up until about a month ago, when my right aid began failing, and they sort of gave in to old age. I don't blame them. Almost a decade is a long lifespan for any device, particularly one that is delicate and devoted to such an important task.
So. I looked around. I did my research. I was astounded at the journey that hearing aid tech has taken since I got my fancy-schmancy aids at 12 years old.
They have multiple digital channels, remote controls, features that you'd expect to see more on a cellphone than a disability device. One caught my eye, the Oticon Epoq. Bluetooth! Yes! Bluetooth in my hearing aids, with a company name right out of Metal Gear Solid. How. Cool. Is. That?
I got them last week. It's been a little bumpy. I'll write about them in another post. For now, there's my introduction - that's me. Enjoy the blog.