Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Forward to 2011... and Back at 2010

2010 marks my first full year of blogging here. I have to say, blogging is such a unique challenge, but it's so interesting to be a part of the blogging community.

In 2010 I posted 223 times, which I think is pretty good. Most of the time, I try to post four or five times a week - ideally, Monday through Friday with a break on weekends. I almost never post twice in the same day because I like to space things out. Most blogging sites say the more you post, the better, but for me, I've found I tend to get the most feedback and interesting comments if I leave a post at the top for a day or two.

As I write this, my most popular post is from March of 2010: "The Esteem, A Fully Implantable Hearing Aid, Gets FDA Approval." This post regularly gets hundreds of page views a week or even each day. I often wish I had more information about the Esteem for people who are interested in it. If anyone would like to talk on my blog about their personal experiences with the Esteem, I would gladly post your thoughts as a guest post.

According to the Blogger Stats about my blog, most people searching for keywords come to my blog from Google. Most people who come are searching for Androids apps for the deaf, information about tinnitus and yes, again, information about the Esteem. Interestingly, I can see from the stats that many Googlers are using Google via their Android-powered phones, but Blogger's Stats doesn't tell me the percentage. I'm happy I have a high portion of Linux readers - 13% of you are using a flavor of Linux and an additional 1% some other type of Unix.

Unfortunately I never seem to get any funny or off-the-wall searches for my blog like others do. Darn - it would make for some good end-of-the-year laughs. :) See you in 2011!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

See You in 2011!

Christmas Tree
This blog will be on hiatus until the New Year thanks to busy holidays! I will be returning with regular posts after January 1, 2011.

I've really enjoyed blogging this year - I can't believe Hearing Sparks has been going since October of 2009! Blogging is really such a great way to learn a lot, see things from other viewpoints, and meet interesting people.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and that the new year brings joy to all of you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hands of My Father, by Myron Uhlberg

You know I like a book when I start writing down quotes from it. I'm not a quote person; I don't remember dialogue. I prefer ideas and concepts to the words people choose to express them in. But I gotta say, this book is written beautifully:

"Does sound have rhythm? Does it rise and fall like the ocean? Does sound come and go like wind?"
My father spoke with his hands. He was deaf. His voice was in his hands. And his hands contained his memories.
Sign is a live, contemporaneous, visual-gestural language and consists of hand shapes, hand positioning, facial expressions, and body movements. Simply put, it is for me the most beautiful, immediate, and expressive of languages, because it incorporates the entire human body.

Myron Uhlberg loves his family. The way he writes this memoir of his Brooklyn childhood expresses that in many ways. His childhood was not typical. As a CODA, a Child of Deaf Adults, and sibling to a brother afflicted with epilepsy and drugged into oblivion, Myron has to deal with a lot. He acts as his parents' translator and as a third parent to his brother. The family lives in the middle of a busy block in New York City, which provides immediate access to basic needs but also a surrounding often hostile to people who are different, who cannot approach the world in the same way as others. Myron recollects with candor the ignorant and rude remarks he receives from both children and adults while serving as a go-between for his parents.

He also shares stories from his parents' childhoods, the way they grew up. Both were surrounded by hearing brothers and sisters; they grew up with crudely fashioned homemade signs and never felt as close to their parents as they could have. Their stories are a very personal look at the way deafness was treated in the early part of the 20th century.

There are, of course, humorous moments as well, but they're very grounded in the realities of life. Combining the warm, human moments with the bad times in life, Uhlberg presents a very realistic and human memoir.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is Nonverbal Vocal Communication Learned?

Laughter is easily recognized.
This is an interesting study I just read about today. Scientific American's 60 Second Science from November talks about nonverbal communication. They recorded the nonverbal vocal communication sounds made by people who were born deaf (I'm guessing completely deaf, or else the experiment wouldn't work), and then played the sounds for hearing people.

The hearing people were able to identify some sounds, like laughing and sighing in amusement and relief, but certain sounds were harder. The sounds they could not identify were sounds of triumph.

The link above includes a recording during which you can hear the sounds as they were recorded. I'll warn you though... the recording is a bit difficult to hear. That guy talks fast! Still, it's very interesting.

The scientists are considering the idea that some nonverbal vocal communication is instinctual while others have to be learned. What do you think?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eye Health for the 21st Century

It seems like everywhere we go, we're staring at screens... from work, to home, to mobile devices and even computer screens in the checkout lane at the grocery store. Our eyes are constantly taking in lots of information, and not all of it is presented in a way that's healthy for our vision. For deaf people, vision can be very important. I know it is to me.
This article from Mashable has some good tips for eye health in the digital age. Lighting, screen adjustments, your position while you read and even text size can make a difference when it comes to the strain on your eyes. I know I definitely don't take as many breaks from staring at the screen as I should, plus I read constantly and you can't adjust text size on a book.

Do you find your eyes are straining more often lately? Or, do you have any good tips for keeping eyes healthy nowadays?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Good Presents for a Deaf Baby?

Baby on play mat
Okay, I'll admit it: I don't have a house to decorate or any babies, but I love reading Ohdeedoh. Just call it a weirdness of mine. Today, they posted a question from the aunt of a 6-month-old deaf boy, who's wondering what kind of educational toys she can buy her nephew. Anyone have any suggestions? What do you think are great kid's toys for deaf children?

For me, as a kid, it never mattered whether the toy I had made noise or not. Actually, playing with toys that made noise was one of the indicators of my deafness because I never reacted to the noises, but heck... I didn't feel like I was missing anything. In fact, one of my favorite toys was a stereo with a microphone. I wore out the tape until playing it back made everything sound weird and distorted. It was a great way to freak out the neighborhood kids.

And my other favorite toys as a child weren't necessarily toys... they were books. I attribute a lot of my verbal, writing, and reading skills to the massive amount of books I read as a child. They, too, helped indicate to my parents that I had a hearing loss, when I always wanted to sit to one side of my mother when she read to me, and not the other.

If you have any suggestions I am sure they would love to hear them in the comments at Ohdeedoh.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Study Sheds Light on How the Brain Distinguishes Speech

When I first made the switch from analog hearing aids to digital, when I was twelve years old, I was fascinated by the hearing aids' ability to mute surrounding sound, and help me to focus on what was important: a person talking in front of me, the television, etc. I asked my audiologist how my hearing aids could do something that seemed like magic to me. He replied... the technology has improved, but it's your mind that decides what's important. It's your brain, working with your ears, identifying important signals and discarding others.

A new study is now showing more about how our brains can do this, and how the mechanism works. It's particularly interesting in relation to how the auditory system works when you're speaking. The study was done on hospitalized patients with epilepsy. By having patients speak and repeat words and vowels, they were able to distinguish minute parts of the brain that were active and inactive during speech.

According to Adeen Flinker, the lead author of the study, "We used to think that the human auditory system is mostly suppressed during speech, but we found closely knit patches of cortex with very different sensitivities to our own speech that paint a more complicated picture."

It's suggested in the article that people who have schizophrenia may have trouble distinguishing their own voice from the voices of others, which may lead to auditory hallucinations.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ASL is #4 Most Studied Foreign Language at College, Close to Being #3

According to this USA Today article, a Modern Language Association survey reveals that American Sign Language is well on its way to becoming the 3rd most studied foreign language at colleges and universities. German has only 4,500 more students than ASL, and ASL studies have increased 16% from three years ago.

The 1st most studied language is Spanish, then French. But only 8.6% of students at colleges that offer foreign languages actually take the courses.

I remember ASL being a popular option when I was in college. It was popular in high school to say that you knew sign language, although most of the time that meant simply the signed alphabet. At my high school, only Spanish and French were offered as foreign language courses. I ended up having to take American Sign Language at the local community college, but it worked out well because it counted for both high school and college credit.

You can read the full report here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

AMPS: Are You a Superhero?

Superhero Boston Terrier
Many people with prosthetics and implants jokingly refer to themselves as robots, cybernetics, Borgs or other names that reference the technology that helps them. Heck, whenever I use my Bluetooth accessory for my hearing aids I feel as though I'm in a Star Trek movie. It looks as though there may be an upcoming movie that references these very feelings.

AMP is an unfinished book by Daniel H. Wilson (the author of the upcoming Robopocalypse) that deals with a world where people with disabilities have become superheroes as a result of the technology they use. Alex Proyas has been named as the producer and possibly director, according to

It doesn't look like there's much information about the movie out there and I'm not sure if either the movie or book touches on the topic of deafness, but I think the concept could be interesting. It could also end up really offensive and uninteresting. It just depends on how well those involved deal with the topic.

(via io9)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Memories of School

When I was in elementary school (it was fittingly named after Helen Keller, but it was a typical public school), I and several other children from my school would visit an audiologist twice a year. Looking back at it, I'm not sure if we were all visiting the audiologist, or if there were other therapies or assessments being done of other conditions in the same building. I don't think the other children I went with were deaf.
Me as a child

My favorite part of these school trips was the ride there. The car we rode in was large, at least to my mind, and the back seat faced backwards. Even as a kid I enjoyed other perspectives; I would hang upside down off the jungle gym to see what everything looked like upside down, and purposefully choose other seats on the opposite side of my classroom every once in awhile to see what small things were different over there. So, riding backwards in a car going forwards was absolutely fascinating to me.

It must have been so interesting it blocked out my memories of the actual visit. I remember little except for a table with toys stacked on it in a waiting room filled with children. I do remember my first audiologist visit, which was actually to the audiology department of Arizona State University. I remember a big black and white (well, greenish) computer screen, a stuffed bear, and a stuffed monkey with cymbals that would clash whenever I reacted to a sound during the test.

I've mentioned it before, but I was always enrolled in public school, from kindergarten all the way through high school. As I was entering middle school (grades 6-8), we decided to move, and my parents looked into a local charter school with a program for deaf children, but ultimately decided to send me to the middle school in the town we moved to because the charter school was too far away and not yet accredited.

I never had speech therapy. If I had needed it, I know I would have gotten it. It was pretty entertaining in high school when I was doing a few things with the Vocational Rehabilitation program and they needed to bring in a speech therapist to assess my speech. At this time, I was making almost straight As (except for math) and only a relatively small circle of students at school knew I even had a hearing loss. It felt ridiculous, especially since the speech therapist used assessments that seemed like they were designed more for 8-year-olds than a 17-year-old. I think she felt it was as silly as I did.

I did have some issues in school. Rather than being one building with several stories, my high school was composed of many buildings, spread out over a wide campus. It was very difficult for me to hear announcements over the loudspeaker. I almost missed several important college exams, and I had to stop and listen very closely for announcements each time. By my senior year we had some luck getting the office to send a runner to me with any important announcements, but it was very hit-or-miss. I still remember that feeling of inadeqacy, of being unable to hear something that few others seemed to have trouble with, and I hate it.

I also had problems with substitute teachers a time or two. Once a substitute was taking attendance, and I missed my name being called. I approached her after she was finished and told her I must have missed my name, but I was present. She insisted on marking me as late to class even though the door never opened after the bell rang. In the end, luckily, we got it straightened out. I didn't want any black marks on my record in school.

I had a few moments of bullying in school but learned to deal with it in my own way most of the time. I knew I had a strong support network in my family and teachers. Once a couple of students wanted to see if I could read lips and they followed me around mouthing gibberish. I had to get the teacher to ask them to stop. Most other times, I could simply ignore taunts and pretend I hadn't heard them. Half the time I could only catch a few words anyway. Bullies aren't the best at enunciating what they say, and when they're not given anything in response they often give up and move on.

My high school had a Vocational Rehabilitation program that helped me get my first job. It was for the restaurant in an elderly care facility, and I worked there once a week. We talked pretty often about my goals for the future in Voc Rehab. It was suggested that I could go to Gallaudet, but I didn't want to go so far away from my family. It was also suggested that I might like to work in a library. I made fun of the idea at the time, which is funny, considering I do now work in a library, and I love it.

I think, overall, I had a positive school experience. There were tough moments, and like many teenagers I never felt like I really belonged, but ultimately I can look back at school and say I enjoyed it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

23 and Me Genetic Testing On Sale

My 23 and Me genetic test kit.
Back in May and June of this year I was able to take advantage of a sale at 23 and Me to get my genetic results. Since I thought it was an awesome, informative experience, I wanted to let everyone know that the sale is back. $99 will get you the combined health and ancestry test at 23 and Me through Christmas Day, December 25th. You will also need to purchase the Personal Genome Service, which is $5 a month. (So, a total of $159).

I wrote about my own experience with the genetics testing here. 23 and Me tests for many things, including Connexin 26-related hearing loss, along with other things like psoriasis, asthma, celiac disease, drug responses and even fun things like the consistency of your earwax. They add to your report as time passes and allow you to connect with possible relatives (if you want to).

The Ancestry is also interesting. Bear in mind your results in this area will be slightly limited if you're female. I think the test would be a really good present for a male member of your family (your father, brother, or paternal uncle) because your paternal line will be the same as them and you can learn from their results.