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...?