Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tinnitus May Be Related to "Phantom Limbs"

I've written about tinnitus before; it's one of those fascinating conditions (to me) that I enjoy learning more about. I suffer from tinnitus only intermittently. It tends to happen to me when I am not wearing my hearing aids or when my hearing aids are malfunctioning. However, for some people, tinnitus never goes away. These sufferers have to deal with "phantom" ringing, buzzing, and other annoying sounds in their ears all day, every day.

Now a doctor, Josef P. Rauschecker, has introduced a new way of thinking about tinnitus. According to this article, the doctor says "tinnitus should be thought of as a disorder akin to the 'phantom pain' felt in an amputated limb." When someone loses a limb, sometimes they continue to feel pain signals sent by malfunctioning neurons. It's similar in tinnitus - sufferers who have lost hair cells in their cochlea experience signals from neurons trying to compensate for a loss of signal. Now the doctor and the co-authors of his study, published June 24th in Neuron, are trying to figure out how to correct the problem.

Interestingly, while it may seem to make sense that simply fixing the damaged hair cells would eliminate the problem, the article explains that tinnitus "becomes a problem in the brain's central auditory pathways, which reorganizes itself in response to that damage." As the brain tries to compensate for missing input, it overreaches, leading to the sensation of tinnitus.

Rauschecker seems confident that one day a pill will be developed to eliminate tinnitus. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

College Students Create Open Source Video Chat for ASL

College students at the University of Rochester have created an open source, free video chat program. The program, designed specifically for the One Laptop Per Child program, allows the caller to see both themselves and the person they have called. It was officially presented at the NTID Technology Symposium on June 22, 2010. The students eventually hope to port the program to other operating systems. What a cool project!

(via Boing Boing)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Your New Rights on Ships and Boats

Passenger ship, from Wikimedia Commons.
According to the National Association of the Deaf, last week the Department of Transportation extended the ADA for passengers on ships and boats. Check out the linked article to find out what your new rights are while you are sailing the seven seas.

One of the cool things about the new rules is that televisions aboard ship must be equipped with closed captions. That's one of the things that can be hard to find information on when you are booking a trip. In addition, passengers can't be charged for any accessibility accommodations made for them.

According to the comments, cruise ships that pick up or discharge passengers in the USA are subject to these new rules.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The New York Times on Web Captioning

Before today's post, I just wanted to say "thank you" to everyone who commented on my post An Unfortunate Interaction on Wednesday. Through here, Facebook and my family I am feeling a lot better about the interaction. Those who commented certainly gave me some food for thought and some good suggestions. Now, I've had this experience, and I can learn from it.

In the past decade, watching television has become a very different experience. Not only do we now have digital, high-definition channels, we can watch our favorite shows anytime on DVD or even online. But, as many of us know, watching television online can be a frustrating experience without captions.
Family watching television 1958, from Wikimedia Commons.
The New York Times has a new article today titled "On Web Video, Captions are Coming Slowly." It's an excellent article and worth a read even if you are already up to speed on the issues surrounding online captioning. For example, I did not know that Hulu considers captions to be an important part of their business: " 'Users send us feedback about closed captions more often than almost any other feature, so what started as a small side project has turned into a very important part of our user experience,'" according to Eric Feng, Hulu's chief technical officer.

I have my fingers crossed for the current bill in Congress that would require much of the web's video content that has been shown on television to be captioned.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Google Voice Now Open to Anyone in the U.S.

Last month I wrote about Google Voice and how it can help deaf people. At the time that I wrote, Google Voice was still open to invites only. I was lucky enough to snag one thanks to a friend of mine to try it out and found out that it does have some great options for deaf people that can be hard to find anywhere else.

Well, according to the Google Voice blog, Google Voice is now open to anyone in the United States. You no longer need to beg for an invite to try it out. Now there's no excuse - give this awesome service a try!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An Unfortunate Interaction

At work this past week I had a pretty unfortunate experience. A customer at work refused my help because I am deaf*.

I ended up switching places with a coworker who was doing something in the back because I was kind of upset. It upset me that this random person was calling my job skills into question and refusing to allow me to help him, even though I could easily have done so if he was only willing to speak in a normal tone of voice (he insisted on mumbling because he is "soft-spoken.") It also upset me that one of the few times I chose to advocate for myself ended so badly.

Luckily I did not have to deal with this person again that day. Later that afternoon three Deaf people came in and I was able to help them, which made me happy. Though my ASL is rusty, I was able to assist the three of them, and they were willing to be patient and help me out a little... something this previous individual was not willing to do.

Unfortunately I do not think there is much I can learn from this. It can't stop me from telling people I am deaf because I'm not going to stop advocating for myself. It only serves to wear me out on the world a little bit.

However, as I wrote elsewhere, "What I have to remember is that nothing about myself has changed from this interaction. I am good at what I do. While I can continue being the best person I am, this person has to deal with their apparent emotional difficulties and difficulty dealing with other people every day of their life. It is their problem, not mine."

* Correction: originally said hearing impaired. Old habits die hard.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Way I Hear (My Audiogram)

Last month E from Eh? What? Huh? posted her audiogram and ever since then I have been planning to post mine. I stopped in to visit my audiologist today for some more hearing aid batteries and some Dry-Briks for my Dry and Store, so I asked for a copy of it.

dB stands for decibel (how loud a sound is)
Hz stands for Hertz (the pitch or frequency of a given sound)
O is my right ear
X is my left ear

So as you can see from the graph, my left ear starts picking up sounds that are louder than 60 dB. That would be something like a dog barking or maybe a piano playing. My right ear picks up only sounds that are louder than 90 dB - sounds like jet engines, a shotgun firing, etc.

I have a progressive loss, but it has mainly leveled off since I became a teenager. My audiologist said my hearing has only gotten slightly worse since my previous test which was something like 4 years ago.

Also on the piece of paper I was given were the results of my Speech Audiometry test. This test examines a person's ability to pick out the words and sounds of speech. I was given this test with my hearing aids out. According to the test my right ear had 44% speech discrimination and my left ear had 92%. As suspected, I primarily use my left ear to listen to sounds and that's the one I prefer people to whisper into, etc.

I think it's really cool to see other people's hearing tests. E posted hers here, Melissa posted hers on her blog, and Leah posted her son Nolan's here. Feel free to share yours, too!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (Deaf Accessibility)

The latest game I have been enjoying is an older one: Castlevania: Curse of Darkness, a Playstation 2/Xbox game released in 2005 as a sequel to the now-twenty-year-old game Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. The game has an action/adventure style of gameplay, and can actually end up being very complex, if you want to find everything, forge the correct weapons and armor, and create powerful "Innocent Devils" to assist you in your fighting.

I am almost done with this game, with just one boss battle to go. I've been playing it for quite a while on my Playstation 3. It's a fun game, really kind of addicting as you collect things to make new swords and level up your "devils." As far as accessibility goes, the game is subtitled during the cutscenes, and there is no dialogue other than the cutscenes. I did find the voices difficult to understand at times since they seemed to meld with the background sounds (and the voice acting isn't that great), but the subtitles helped.

At one point in the game you can get an item that alerts you visually when an enemy is nearby, even if they are off-screen, which really helps if you can't differentiate the enemy's sounds from the background noise.

All in all, Curse of Darkness is a solid game, easy to get the hang of and very immersive.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day

Happy Father's Day to all dads out there. I hope you're having a relaxing Sunday. And to my dad especially, I love you!

Friday, June 18, 2010

New Harmony Listening Check for Cochlear Implants

"It sounds funny" is often the only way a small child knows to communicate that their hearing aid or cochlear implant is malfunctioning, but Advanced Bionics has introduced a new device that will allow adults to diagnose problems with their child's cochlear implant. The Harmony Listening Check is battery operated and portable, allowing kids to take it with them wherever they go, and it can check if the sound processor is working and if it's receiving proper input. It will come with Advanced Bionic's Pediatric Harmony Processor Kit and can also be purchased separately.

(via I look so I can hear... and Lily's Dad)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summertime, and Hearing Aids

Flip flops, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
One of my readers wrote to me last month asking about taking care of hearing aids in the summer. Since then I have read a lot of great advice from blogs like Speak Up Librarian and Jeff's Bionic World and thought I would throw my own two cents in there - especially since the start of summer is in just a few days, on the 21st.

Here in Arizona it already feels like summer, and it has for a month now. The "dry heat" will soon give way to humidity as our summer monsoon season brings water to the desert, along with flash floods and slick roads. Living in a hot environment like this can lead to trickiness when it comes to hearing aid care - keeping them dry and cool. Here is some of my advice:

Keep your hearing aid in a dehumidifier when you are not wearing it.
If you do not wear your hearing aid all day, stick it in a dehumidifier when you are not wearing it, and run the machine overnight. Simply placing the aids in a cool dry spot even if you do not run the dehumidifier will cut down on the amount of moisture the hearing aids experience, and running the dehumidifier overnight will ensure they are dry. I use a Dry and Store, which I bought from my audiologist.

Do not bring your aids with you when you take a shower, or go to the pool.
I leave my aids in the bedroom when I am going to take a shower. Leaving them on the sink means they are subject to moisture from the shower. I usually take them with me to the pool but leave them in a special, heavy Oticon case. I used to use baggies, but they can collect moisture and can be moved every which way by the wind.

Remember the batteries!
When you are making trips, seeing relatives and seeing the sights this summer, don't forget your batteries. An extra moment to stow a package away in your purse or pocket can mean you can enjoy your vacations even longer.

Make regular trips to your audiologist to maintain your hearing aid.
My audiologist recommends that I take my aids in every three months for them to run through their dehumidifier and take care of any additional issues. I often forget, but summer is a great time to catch up on your hearing aid maintenance schedule.

If you have problems with moisture, try a Sweatband or other product.
I think I have a pair of Sweatbands laying around here somewhere. They are fabric sleeves that slide over the aid to protect it from sweat on your skin. If you are active, or going to be outside a lot, these are a great option, and there are other similar products too.

Anybody else have input on summer care for your aids?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hearing Loss from Vuvuzelas

Vuvuzela, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Vuvuzelas are popular in South Africa to cheer on World Cup teams, but people are reporting hearing loss and sickness from the instruments.

Apparently, vuvuzelas sound like "elephants in distress or the buzzing of a bee swarm" and are associated with both permanent and temporary hearing loss. They can also hurt your lips and if you share them, there's the risk of spreading germs.

According to this article, retail stores are ordering 7,500 earplugs in preparation. And if you're watching the World Cup online (or have an equalizer on your TV), here's an article from Lifehacker about how to silence the sound.

Something to keep in mind as you cheer on your team for the World Cup!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Towards an Accessible Future SciFi Story Contest

I love it when my geeky side and my deaf side combine into interesting stuff. Case in point: the "Towards an Accessible Future" contest mentioned in io9.

Artist's Conception of Space Station Freedom, from the Wikimedia Commons
This essay by Sarah Einstein discusses the use of disability in science fiction. She writes that disability in science fiction is almost always used as a metaphor, symbolic of something about the character or their circumstances. As she writes, "This is not the sort of future disability advocates envision [...] We envision a future in which disability—like race, gender, ethnicity, and other identity axes—may inform, but certainly not define, who a person is."

She asks, " What would a world look like that accommodated all kinds of bodies, all ways of communicating, every way of being an embodied human? How will the need to accommodate alien bodies influence how we accommodate our own? How will science help us build fully inclusive communities?"

The contest asks entrants to envision the world that Sarah Einstein is writing about - a world where disability is not a metaphor for something (although in science fiction it often seems that everything is a metaphor for something else) but where it is a fact of life, as it is today, with the future technologies adapting around it.

The details of the contest are here at Redstone Science Fiction. You've got from today, June 15, to August 15 to submit a maximum 5,000 word story that incorporates disability as a simple fact and portrays a world of universal access.

The contest sounds like a lot of fun and I'm already coming up with ideas in my head.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Your Online Presence, Privacy, and Disabilities

Online privacy is a big deal these days. There are growing concerns over privacy on social networking sites like Facebook and concerns about what web browsers and sites do with visitors' information. brought up some interesting points about privacy as they relate to disabilities online, and made me think about my own online presence.

One of the advantages of being online versus face to face or verbal interactions is that nobody has to know more about you than you allow. You need not post a picture of yourself if you don't want people to know your race, you can post in a language other than your native one, and you can even make up facts out of whole cloth. However, once you start being open about yourself, you have to make decisions about how much you want to be "out there." Once you choose to post a photo of yourself online, you've already allowed people to see a lot about you: what you look like, your gender, how you dress, where you live or visit, how old you are and if you have an obvious physical disability. It's up to you to make the decision to make yourself visible.

It's difficult to see my hearing aids in photos of me. I only have a few photos where they are readily visible. Usually my hair or the angle of the photo obscures them. Just take a look at the photo I use as my profile photo for most online services (this blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc):

Although my ear is slightly visible, nobody would give it a second glance or suspect I'm wearing hearing aids. Instead, they see a woman in her twenties who wears glasses and has a poky tooth and blue eyes. I'm showing my visual disability but not the fact that I have a hearing loss.

On most social networking sites I am open about the fact of my hearing loss. I write this blog - I can't avoid the topic even if I wanted to. I enjoy having something that people can connect with me about. Whether they just like the blog or they are looking for advice, or just want to talk to somebody who has gone through the same thing they have, hearing loss acts as a common bond on these sites. I usually approach it in a matter-of-fact manner.

However, as the blog post points out, you may not always want to be open about these things. Opening up about yourself for any reason can lead to people stereotyping you and labeling you. The Web provides a veil of anonymity not just for you but for anyone who wants to make you feel bad. Not only that, but the unfortunate reality is that employers or organizations are filled with human, fallible people who will make their own judgments on you based on the information you present online.

The blog post has some good advice about being online. It's actually good for everybody to keep in mind: be aware of your online presence, don't post photos or videos you wouldn't want showing up in a decade or so, check your privacy settings, and be aware of how you come across online. They further suggest creating professional profiles or even your own web space that will allow you to control entirely how you are seen by the Web.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hearing Screenings at the Library

Hearing exam, courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.
 Oh yes - another library post from me!

On June 8, the Springfield Free Public Library (which is not the library I work for) in New Jersey held a presentation on hearing and had free hearing screenings following the presentation.

I think this is really cool. It's one thing to do a presentation and leave people thinking "yes, it would be a good idea to have my hearing checked, but I'd have to drive someplace and it would just be a hassle," but the library and Total Hearing Care of Springfield allowed people to determine their hearing loss right after learning about hearing. It is just another thing that can demystify learning about your own hearing.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Movie Rental Options for the Deaf

Recently The tech geek dad wrote about how Hollywood Video is going out of business, and he has had to look into other options for movie rentals. He has tried out Netflix, but unfortunately Netflix has yet to caption an adequate number of their "on-demand" movies.

I wanted to write about another option that is often overlooked, but which can be cheaper even than a Redbox rental: your local library. I know what many people think about libraries - that all they have is outdated movies, movies on VHS or just documentaries. I can tell you that is absolutely not true.

I work for a public library. We get movies the same day stores do. Depending on how well they did at the box office, we may get up to 12 copies of each movie when they come out. All day, every day, people check out new releases, blockbusters and popular films. At my library this service is absolutely free with a library card. You get the movie for 7 days, with a $1 per day overdue fee if you keep it longer. So how's that compared to Redbox or a movie rental store where you have to pay for each day you have it or pay a monthly fee? I think it's amazing. Some libraries charge per checkout of a movie - each library is different - but it is worth checking out.

It is very easy to tell from our catalog whether or not a movie is accessible. Awesome library cataloging staff makes sure that all that information is online. For example, here is part of the page for the movie Moulin Rouge. This particular copy is an old VHS tape.

I have highlighted two parts of importance in this screenshot. The first highlighted portion is under the Subject and says "Video recordings for the hearing impaired." This is a link. Clicking on it will take you to a list of all movies the library owns that are "for the hearing impaired" (i.e. captioned). You can then narrow it down by VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, or other video formats your library has.

The other highlighted area is "Closed-captioned." Of course most VHS and DVDs are captioned, but we all know the annoyance of finding one that is not. You can check if the copy of the movie you want to see is captioned from home, before you even come to the library.

Of course, each library is different. Your catalog may well look different from mine. But any library staff member will be able to give you a rundown of how the catalog works and how to find what you're looking for. As an addition to your movie collection, Redbox or Blockbuster rentals and Netflix arrivals, the library is wonderful.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

24 Years

Today is my 24th birthday. It has been a great ride for these 24 years... I'm looking forward to many more!


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Difficulty of Describing Sounds

This blog post about recognizing the sounds of waves on the beach reminded me of something I have been meaning to talk about lately: the difficulty of verbalizing and describing sounds.

I constantly feel tongue-tied when it comes to describing sounds. I know what I'm hearing, but attempting to explain it to someone else is an entirely different story. It is a relief to me when someone recognizes right away what I'm talking about. For example, the other day Scotty and I were in our truck and we had the back window open. I could hear something, though I couldn't tell where it was coming from. Logically I knew it was likely a sound that always occurs but that I was just hearing because the window was open. That meant it was probably behind me coming through the open window. But how to convey that? I tried for a few minutes to think of how to describe the sound to Scotty. Finally I gave up and said "What is that sound?" Luckily (this is why he is my "hearing-ear person") he knew what I was asking right away and explained it was the sound of the lid of the truck box in the bed of the truck bouncing slightly as we drove.

It is only recently that I have learned, for example, to describe sounds like an air conditioner or a refrigerator as "humming." To me they do not sound like they are humming. Humming to me has a peculiar quality that almost feels ticklish, even when somebody else hums, which is absent from machines like air conditioners. I am listening to something or another "hum" right now and to me it sounds like a constant stream of sound but broken up sort of randomly. It's a sort of vibrating sound that seems a bit jumpy to me. I might even have said a few years ago that it was "beeping." I tend to describe a lot of sounds as "beeping" because it seems like sometimes I hear sounds sporadically even though most people would hear them completely fluid and connected.

Music is another one for me. I usually can't pick out individual instruments in a song except for the drums. Saxophones and pianos are the next easiest, but after that, it's all one fluid jumble to me. I remember watching a documentary on music on PBS a little while ago. To demonstrate the universal qualities behind music, they had people in a remote village somewhere listen to certain music (without words) and then identify the mood of the piece. I played along and got things terribly wrong. If it was supposed to be spooky I thought it was funny. If it was supposed to be somber I thought it was majestic. If it was supposed to be happy I thought it was depressing. Now that's just sad. If it weren't for singers and lyrics I'd be totally lost as to what most songs are about.

So much in life relies on sound and everyone takes it for granted. Even hard of hearing/deaf people can take the sounds they do hear for granted sometimes - I know I do. Even if it requires a little extra work, I am happy for the sounds I have in life, and the opportunity to keep learning how to describe them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Driveway Patrol Provides a Visual Alert of Visitors

Some of those things I just never seem to hear is the doorbell, someone knocking on the door, or a car idling outside of the house. I mostly just rely on other people, or I let the family pets be my "guide animals" by looking up or running to the door when someone arrives.

That's why I was excited to see this post on Unplggd about the "Driveway Patrol," which consists of a sensor placed at the end of your driveway - on a post like your mailbox - and a portable receiver inside which chimes and visually alerts you when someone passes the sensor. So, it would alert you to package deliveries, the mail delivery, surprise visitors, maintenance people, and anyone else entering your driveway. It has a 400 foot range, so depending on the size of your house you can even go into the backyard with it.

The best thing about it? The device is only $20 from Solutions, plus the cost of batteries. This (or a similar product) is one of those things I'll definitely add to the shopping list when we get a place of our own again.

Monday, June 7, 2010

NAD Supports Dual-Language Development

On Sunday, May 30, the National Association for the Deaf released their position on language development for deaf and hard of hearing children. The NAD supports dual language development: American Sign Language and English.

As part of their recommendation, NAD recommends to educators that they provide programs with dual-language education that set clear standards, as well as support for parents, and collaboration with more and less qualified schools to ensure proper education for all students regardless of the school they attend.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Experiences With the Esteem Implantable Hearing Aid

Back in March I wrote about the FDA's approval of the first fully implantable hearing aid. Although the aid does not appear to be useful for my type of hearing loss, which is progressive, I like the idea of a fully implantable aid as an alternative to regular hearing aids and cochlear implants. Since many people seemed interested in the news and my blog post I thought I would share a fascinating blog post you might like to check out: Looking back... from the Livejournal blog Building My Self Esteem. The author of the blog is participating in the clinical study for the Esteem implant. She has some wonderful insights into her hearing and the positive life changes that have come about due to it.

Is anyone else participating in this trial? It's such interesting new technology.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

School Announcements

A recent post from Cochlear Kids touched on the difficulty her kids have hearing certain announcements. It reminded me a lot of my own difficulty hearing announcements over my school's intercom and I thought I would remind parents and educators out there to take a moment to ensure all of your kids are hearing announcements at school.

My middle and high schools relied a lot on announcements, especially between classes. I would often be making my way from one end of campus to another, when the scratchy, staticky intercom would come on to summon kids to the office and direct kids to standardized testing locations. Usually I would be completely lost when it came to these announcements. Outside, with the sound carrying in all directions and kids surrounding me talking and yelling, I had no chance of hearing what was going on. Of course, I know now that I could have either asked kids around me what the announcement was (I was too shy back then) or gone to the office to ask (I was too worried about looking stupid when it turned out the announcement had nothing to do with me). Instead I would end up just hoping I would figure out what it was about later in the day or just forget about it if it didn't apply to me.

Later on in my school years some advocacy from my parents meant that I would get handwritten notes or my teachers would pass on information directly. It certainly got much easier for me to feel a part of school once that happened. It's just important for people to be aware that announcements are not always easy for everyone to understand.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A New Perspective for Roger Ebert

Sometimes all it takes is another way of looking at things to change your mind.

Roger Ebert, the film critic, recently shared a letter from a fan encouraging him to learn American Sign Language, which he has resisted doing in the past. I think the letter is wonderful, and the miles of comments below the letter insightful and interesting. It seems as though dozens of people have shared their stories with Robert and the rest of his readers. Take a look.

From the original letter: "in my opinion, beyond film itself, sign language is the MOST CINEMATIC forms of communication. It is dramatic, funny, tragic, illuminating, nuanced, and, yes, at times even embarrassing. If sign language could have a filmic format it would be 70mm Technicolor and viewed at the Cinerama Dome!"

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My 23 and Me Genetic Testing Results and Overview

Back in April, I signed up for genetic testing through They were running a special in honor of DNA Day, which included both types of their testing (see below) for $99 versus the current price of $499. Naturally, with that price, this is a great deal, and although I seemed to have gotten to it too late, I was eventually able to take advantage of the offer thanks to the kindness of the 23 and Me staff.

The genetic testing included Ancestry, which includes information on your paternal (if you are male) and maternal line, possible relatives in the 23 and Me community, and your percentage of European, African and Asian heritage, and Health, which looks at your genetic propensity towards certain diseases and traits. Due to the possibility that my nonsyndromic sensorineural hearing loss is a result of genetics, I was curious especially about my Health results, but Ancestry is interesting, too.

I received my testing kit earlier this month on May 6. Here's my blog post about it. The testing kit consists basically of a testing tube, which you spit in and send back to them (in its own little biohazard bag). Look! It's science!

According to the materials I received, it would take about 6-8 weeks for them to process my sample and have the results on their website. I expected it would take near the maximum amount of time allowed, because I'm sure they got a lot of people taking advantage of their sale price.

While I was waiting, I noticed with interest that 23 and Me's name was popping up a bit in the news. Pathway Genomics - another genetics company - wanted to sell their genetic testing kits in Walgreens stores, prompting concern from the FDA and Congress. 23 and Me has already responded to some of this on their blog.

It was a big surprise when I received an email on May 27 telling me that my information was ready! It only took them 21 days (less if you count the time it took for them to receive the sample from me) to process it.

Naturally as soon as I got that email, I checked out my info. Everything is online and broken down into the Health and Ancestry sections. There's so much information it can be a little imposing at first. However, I was immediately drawn to the obvious yellow wording on the first page: Variant Present for Connexin 26-Related Sensorineural Hearing Loss. I wasn't sure what that meant. Did that mean I did indeed have hearing loss due to the Connexin 26 mutation?

In 23 and Me's words, no, most likely not: "Most likely does not have connexin 26-related nonsyndromic sensorineural hearing loss, but can pass mutation to offspring. May have hearing loss due to other mutations in the GJB2 gene or another gene (not reported here)." So I do have the variant and can pass it on, but it's not that particular mutation that has caused my hearing loss.

It wasn't as cut-and-dry as I hoped (I was hoping for a yes or no answer), but I'm sure a geneticist could give me more information. The rest of my results are absolutely fascinating anyway. I've learned quite a lot about myself.

For example, I've learned my risk for age-related macular degeneration, psoriasis, asthma, and other disorders. I've learned that Plavix is less efficient for me and warfarin is more effective. I metabolize caffeine slowly, I don't flush when I drink alcohol, I have no genetic resistance to malaria, and I can probably sprint really well.

As for the Ancestry results, I'm in the maternal haplogroup H5a1. That means my maternal ancestors were from northern Europe, like Poland, Ireland, and even to France. I've already been contacted by a 4th cousin (completely anonymously) through the site.

All in all, 23 and Me is an awesome service. Well worth the $99, and depending on your curiosity, worth even the $499. It was very eye-opening for me.