Tuesday, October 26, 2010

8 Heroic and Helpful Hearing Dogs

Service dogs and other animals often prove invaluable for the people they help. Here are eight hearing dogs I have read about, in alphabetical order by the animal's name. Do you know of a heroic hearing dog? Share your story in the comments.

1. Cinders
Cinders was a Border Collie originally trained as a hearing dog for Debs (last name unknown). When she came down with Meniere's Disease, however, the dog began to help her with her symptoms. "Cinders had been a great comfort to me, as I knew she would be there by my side when I had attacks of vertigo spells and helped me to bathroom in time to be sick. She learned to help me as she went along." Cinders passed away in 2007.

(Rosie's Diary)

2. Darian
Shelly Stokes is a mother of three and a Gulf War veteran. She has conductive hearing loss, and rather than deal with hearing aids that had been causing her problems, she looked into getting a hearing dog. Darian is a mixed breed who helps Stokes in and out of the home. She says, "I was not going out much [...] [t]hat's the area where he helps me out the most. I can't tell you how many times I've almost been run over in a parking lot because I don't hear the car coming behind me."

(NEADS Press)

3. Gem
After seven-year-old Evie Crook was fitted with a pair of hearing aids, "[s]he was troubled by everyday noises and would cry and try to rip her hearing aids out. Even the sound of birds singing and the wind blowing in the trees distressed her," according to her mother. Her parents enrolled her in a new program, and she became the youngest participant. She received Gem, a yellow Labrador retriever, as part of the program, and, according to her mother, "[f]or the first time in seven years Evie sleeps all night, every night [...] she's happier, doing better at school, has more friends and her behaviour's improved as a result."

(Daily Mail)

4. Goblin
Goblin was rescued from the streets of Puerto Rico and given by the National Education for Assistance Dog Service to Ray Dobson. Dobson had been experiencing more anti-social feelings as a result of continuing hearing loss. According to the article, Goblin and other hearing dogs serve as a way to make "observers aware of the handler's situation," which can often be invisible to people. Dobson's wife says he's now back in the "mainstream" socially thanks to Goblin.

(The Augusta Chronicle)

 5. Lye
Lye was named Heroic Hearing Dog of the Year for 2010. Lye, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, alerted her owner, Nicola Willis, that Willis' 15-year-old daughter was choking upstairs. The girl choked on water and made noises and signs to alert the dog, who bounded down the stairs despite three slipped discs in her back. An ambulance arrived and Willis' daughter is fine.

(Hearing Dogs for Deaf People)

6. Nellie
In 2008, Nellie, a black Labrador, alerted her owner of an intruder in their hotel room. Her owner, Gill Houghton, says, "It was the middle of the night and Nellie woke me. I thought she had made a mistake so I told her to get off the bed. But she jumped up again, alerted me and dropped to the floor in the emergency position. I then sat up and put my glasses on and saw that the door to the room was open and a man was standing in the doorway looking at us. I put my hearing aids in, and as I did this Nellie jumped on the bed again and placed herself between him and the children. I told the man to leave and eventually he did. During the whole episode, Nellie did not flinch but sat and protected the children with her body."

Nellie had been trained by Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, which awarded her with the title Heroic Hearing Dog of the Year.

(Medical News Today)

7. Radar
Radar is a poodle mix who lives with Rusty Ellis, a high school science teacher. He was almost passed up in the pound, but proved he had what it takes to work as a hearing dog. He has been trained especially to help Ellis at school, alerting him when bells ring and when students want his attention.

(The Press-Enterprise)

8. Roddy
Roddy is a unique hearing dog: he performs the services of both a hearing and a guide dog. He's the first of his kind in Scotland. Angela Hassall at first had solely hearing dogs, but began to lose her sight in 1999. Two charities worked closely together to train Roddy to perform both duties. It was tricky; according to the article, guide dogs need to be calm and nonreactive, while hearing dogs need to be responsive to sound. Roddy was chosen as the perfect mix of the two. Angela says, "I know how much Roddy means to me - he is a very special dog."

(Hearing Loss Web)

Monday, October 25, 2010

How Does Sound Influence the Taste of Food?

Eating yogurt
Have you ever thought about how background noise can influence what you're eating? I definitely haven't. For me, in a restaurant, background noise is essentially white noise. There's no way I can pick up individual conversations or identify what music is playing. Now scientists are discovering that the way we feel about background noise can influence how what we're eating tastes.

According to this Telegraph article, white noise in the background makes food taste worse and made it sound as though it crunched louder. Conversely, listening to pleasant sounds can help people enjoy meals more.

It does make sense to me. Being in an unpleasantly noisy place (like right next to a fast-food playground) makes me enjoy my food less. But for the most part, all background noise is "white noise" to me.

(via Discoblog)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Congratulations to Matt Hamill!

I watched the fight last night at R.T. O'Sullivan's, which was crowded, but fun. I was really excited to see the Hamill-Ortiz fight. My husband and I were right up next to four different screens and, unfortunately, near the really loud speakers. It wasn't too bad though and the food was, as always, good.

For a breakdown of the fight, check out UFC's website here. You can also see the post-fight press conference (uncaptioned) here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

UFC 121: Anyone Else Going to See Matt Hamill?

I haven't seen deaf MMA artist Matt Hamill fight yet so I am excited to see him tonight in UFC 121. Matt is going up against Tito Ortiz, who has caught some (well-deserved, in my opinion) flack over the past few days after his remarks about Matt: "He's been babied his whole life coming from being deaf of course and he's going to be babied after when I knock him out. [...] I've noticed he's deaf, so he has a soft head, you hit him with more and more shots."

Today I read Matt's response to Tito's ignorant comments, which were a lot nicer than if it had been me: "He likes to talk trash, it’s just what he does."

Good luck, Matt!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Zippy the Deaf Boston Terrier Succeeds Where Others Fail

It made me really happy to read about this story from the Daily Mail today. Zippy is a deaf Boston Terrier who has been trained with signs. He's gone from being a nippy, grumpy puppy to a well-trained dog who has earned the Kennel Club's highest obedience award, beating out other hearing dogs who struggled with the test.
Zippy knows over 20 signs. The article has some pictures of his owner, Vicky Tate, demonstrating the signs and explaining how she uses them. Zippy also relies on Vicky's expressions when she's talking.

I like the idea of using signs for dogs, even hearing dogs. My in-laws' dog Cheyenne knows several signs and they really seem to help with training. Good job, Zippy!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

AudioScope Zooms In On Sound

This is really cool, and not just because they used a Phoenix Suns game to demonstrate it. (Transcript below. Note: I did the transcript myself with Scotty's help, so it may not be perfect.)

TRANSCRIPT: You can now use a new system to zoom in on sound at a specific location. It uses 300 microphones and a video camera positioned on the ceiling. Now the system is turned on and zooms in on the players' reactions.  (Shouts) (Whistle) "Ah, come on!" (Buzzer) Here's what it sounds like near the referee. "That's an inadvertent whistle. It's gonna be a jump ball." Or close to the coach. "That's a bad call!" (Popping sound) Did you notice the bubblegum? (Popping sound)

This is a new technology called AudioScope. It was designed by two physicists, who were experimenting with sonar before they came up with this new technology. It's demonstrated above at a Suns-Lakers basketball game. 300 microphones and a video camera are suspended above the court. The software is used to calculate the time it will take for sound to reach each microphone.

I really love the idea of being able to hear things like this in crowded sports stadiums, lecture halls, etc. It seems like it would be more effective than a typical microphone and could be used during large Q&A sessions, for example. Very neat.

The two physicists have started a company called Squarehead Technology to market the new tech.

Read more at New Scientist and Boing Boing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

One Year of Blogging

I just realized that the one-year anniversary of my blog has come and gone: it was October 7, 2009 that I began Hearing Sparks, with this blog post.

I honestly had no idea that Hearing Sparks was going to reach the audience it has. I can't tell you how much I've learned in the past year, about Deaf culture, technology, science, and people. It's taught me a lot. And I hope the next year will be just as enlightening.

Over the course of the year, I've gotten a few emails that buoy me up and keep me going. A 19-year-old, nervous about going to college, interested in the Esteem implant; a young woman who has dealt with her hearing loss since childhood and how has a Master's Degree in Physiotherapy; the woman who runs The Kitty City Gazette, who lost all of her hearing two years ago. Not to mention the daily comments and conversations that keep me learning and present all points of view.

Thanks so much for reading. I can't wait for another year.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Animal Hearing Series: Bats

This post is part of a series I began with Lizards.

We're getting near Halloween and it seems everywhere you turn is something creepy and spooky. Bats are a common symbol of Halloween, so it seemed appropriate to cover them in the Animal Hearing Series.

Most people have heard of bats' ability of echolocation. It's a natural type of sonar. Bats use it to navigate, hunt and find spots to roost. To perform echolocation, a bat makes a loud sound, and then measures the time it takes for the sound to bounce back to determine how far away things are. They can also tell what they're near to by the sound quality of the echo they hear.

Because they use echolocation to get around and can't use their eyesight much while hunting, you'd think bats would need to have very good hearing. And they certainly do. They can hear between 20 to 120,000 Hz.  They are very sensitive to high-frequency sounds, way beyond what humans can hear. Even the shape of bats' ears contribute to being able to hear better.

Sites Referenced 
Animal echolocation on Wikipedia
The Secret Life of Bats

Previous Posts in the Animal Hearing Series

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Concept Design: Vibrating Alarm Pillow

I have a Sonic Alert vibrating alarm clock at home and I think I have occasionally seen pillows with the vibrating device built in, but I like this concept design from Seung Jun Jeong at Yanko Design.

Essentially, you pull out the tab to tell the pillow when to vibrate. It seems to count down the hours and then begins vibrating at the time you want to wake up.

It's a cool design. I don't know if I'd like the vibrating right under my head, though. My current alarm clock's vibrating device is under the mattress on the other side of the bed. It's still strong enough to wake me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Deafness Can Enhance Your Vision

It's common to assume that when one sense is lost, others "fill in" the void left - now there's scientific evidence to back it up, and provide some clues to how it happens.

A new study done on deaf cats (whose brains are much like ours) revealed that brain regions that would normally be used for processing hearing were rerouted to instead enhance vision. They're essentially a natural upgrade to the brain's visual system, acting as an enhancement to the sense.

Cat with yarn
It's not an overall upgrade, but rather it enhances two specific visual processing areas: detecting slow motion and seeing objects in far peripheral vision. These two areas are also beneficial for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

See more at Wired.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What's Your Experience in the Workplace?

This article discusses the reception that many people with all kinds of disabilities are getting at work, as a result of lackluster company policies. 411 executives and HR managers were surveyed as part of the study.

Some of their findings:
  • 2/3 of companies that have diversity programs (70% of those who responded) include disability as one of the diverse components.
  • 7% of companies that do have disability programs have a group that promotes disability awareness.
  • On average, 2% of companies' new hires in the past 3 years had disabilities.
The National Organization on Disability's president is quoted as saying,
America's success in the global economy depends on how well we put to use the productive capacity of every person's talent, skill and ability. This new survey reveals that most employers are not aware of the unique contribution that workers with disabilities can make and do little to recruit them.
I'm wondering what your experience in the workplace has been and if it seems similar to these findings.

I am lucky to work for a city that is really aware of everyone's unique challenges and difficulties. I've never experienced any problems related to my deafness at work, except for normal challenges like trying to hear people talking or having conversations. I really want to be treated like any other coworker most of the time.

I think the approach that a company takes towards people with disabilities is really important. It can either empower people or it can just embarrass them. A "diversity group" might well do more to make people uncomfortable than actually help them.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What's Coming Thanks to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act?

You've probably heard about the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act passing in the Senate, which means it will soon become law. But what does that really mean for us?

Check out the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology's page for a great breakdown of the benefits we can expect from the passage of this law.

Here are a few points that I'm pretty excited about.
  • All telephones used with the Internet will need to be hearing aid compatible.
  • $10 billion million (thanks, BigBenFactor) per year will be allocated for the deaf-blind from the Interstate Relay Service Fund (which Internet-based voice communication service providers will be required to pay into).
  • Television programs that are captioned will now be required to contain captions when streaming over the Internet.
  • Any devices that have a picture screen and can display video programming now need to be able to display closed captions. 
  • Devices like DVRs that record playback must now be able to display captions.
Original web programming is still not required to be closed captioned. I do wish more creators of web programming would take the initiative and caption their videos without having to make a law. Otherwise, though, I'm pretty excited about this act.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Animal Hearing Series: Sharks

This post is part of a series I began with Lizards. I'm really interested in how well animals can hear.

Sharks. I think they're awesome and so do other people, judging from just how much information is out there on them. But how well do they hear? Is their hearing another sense to add to a deadly arsenal, or is it a liability for them?

Well, don't worry too much about sharks' hearing. They've got it covered. They can hear up to 800 feet away, and are especially sensitive to low-frequency sounds. (They can hear lower than humans, but we can hear higher than them.)

They hear through tiny holes on either side of their head. The circular canals inside their heads help them stay balanced, and also contain sensory areas for sound. They can hear from 10-800 Hz.

Sites Referenced 
NOVA Online
How Stuff Works

Previous Posts in the Animal Hearing Series

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hearing Aids as Therapy for Tinnitus

Can hearing aids be used to help people who suffer from tinnitus?

This article from the American Academy of Audiology discusses just that. At first I was surprised, but it does make sense. I tend to have tinnitus when I don't have my aids in, but when I am wearing them the amplified sound muffles the tinnitus. According to the article, "Sound therapy via hearing aid amplification may be beneficial as amplified sounds may increase neuronal activity, amplified sounds may reduce tinnitus audibility and awareness."

A study was done on 29 people with sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus. They were given hearing aids and counseling (including relaxation techniques and ways to reduce stress). According to the article, "The authors concluded that counseling combined with hearing aids results in twice the reduction in tinnitus handicap as would be expected using counseling alone."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sunshine Award!

Just something fun for Friday.

Many thanks to Kym who gave me and 11 other bloggers this Sunshine Award. I love Kym's blog, the cuteness of curiosity., which is always full of new and interesting things.

Here are the rules:
1. Save the image above and post it to your own blog
2. Pass the award on to 12 fellow bloggers
3. Link the nominees
4. Let nominees know they have won this award by commenting on their blog
5. Share the love and link to the person you received this award from

And here are my 12 choices in no particular order. Not all of them have to do with deafness but they are some of my favorite blogs to read:

1. simply complicated
2. Cacophony to Symphony
3. smacksy
4. The tech geek dad
5. Eh? What? Huh?
6. Baby in Broad
7. Deafinitely Girly
8. Confessions of an Untenured Teacher
9. What Would Jen Do
10. Speak Up Librarian
11. Life with a Hearing Dog
12. Backstage at the Theatre Illuminata