Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mass Effect 2 is Consuming My Life

No, not really. Not like some other gamers. I can play - and quit. (No, really! I can! After five hours...) But just like the first Mass Effect game, this science fiction game is turning out to be very addictive.

I absolutely love the voice acting in Mass Effect games! All Bioware games, actually. I've mentioned before in my blog how voice acting in video games is so important in regard to accessibility. A good voice actor can make the difference between relying on subtitles exclusively and using them only to assist. As usual, Mass Effect 2 is excellent in this regard. Even accents are subtle and add quality and personality instead of taking away ease of understanding.

I'm playing with a female Shepard, mine from the first game. I've thought about trying either game with a male Shephard, but the voice actress - Jennifer Hale - is too good to pass up.

The game is subtitled. Thus far I don't remember anything that isn't except for occasional squad member comments. Unfortunately those are easy to miss, but they're also repeated often - they never carry important information, really. The body language is also pretty good. It is easy to catch the meaning behind words even if you didn't hear the character speak.

And the story - it has nothing to do with accessibility but it's so enjoyable. The game creators struck an excellent balance between bittersweet events and hope for the galaxy's future.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Think Beyond the Label Encourages Employers to Hire People with Disabilities

I have to thank the Bionic Ear Blog for linking to Think Beyond the Label, a campaign to promote hiring people with disabilities. They take a unique approach to this: that hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense. "Employees with disabilities have unique, competitively relevant knowledge and perspectives about work processes, bringing different perspectives to meeting work requirements and goals successfully," they say. "Hiring someone who 'thinks outside the box' might be thinking too small when there’s an opportunity to hire someone who lives outside the box."

There's a search on their site that allows employees to find resources that will help them get connected with potential employees. There's also a list of tax credits and some myths regarding hiring people with disabilities.

The site reminds me of a blog post I wrote in November about an NPR article how the downturn in the economy is even harder on people who have disabilities. In that NPR article, Richard Horne, who works for the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor, says, "21 million out of 26 million people with disabilities are not even in the labor force." Seriously? Many of these are people who could work, but feel locked out of the jobs they qualify for due to something utterly beyond their control.

Employers can suffer from a lot of misconceptions regarding hiring people with disabilities. They may be afraid of being sued or of the cost of accommodating someone - but most accommodations cost little to nothing and can utilize things the employer already has, like a deaf employee using e-mail instead of the telephone. That's why I'm excited about this new campaign. People with disabilities know they have the skills. Employers just need to know that, too.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

School Days and Thoughts

Lately I've been thinking about what school was like for me. When I was in (a public, mainstream) elementary school, I wore analog hearing aids. My teachers wore an FM system around their necks and I was always seated at the front of the classroom. Two times a year or so, I was called out of class to be taken to an audiologist and do some hearing tests. I don't remember anything about the tests themselves, which is odd because normally things like that stuck with me. In fact, my first memory is of my first audiology test, when I was four years old. I remember a stuffed animal in the top corner of the booth, adorning a speaker, and being held in my mother's lap.

What I liked best about trips to the audiologist was that the woman who drove us kids had a backwards facing seat in her car. It faced the rear window, and riding in it was a trip. I loved seeing how different the world looked "backing away" from it instead of approaching it.

I don't remember much about feeling as though I was disabled as a kid. The thought rarely entered my mind. I was a tomboy, who liked being outside, climbing trees and reading Goosebumps books. I had friends in the neighborhood and we would play in each others' yards and in the park down the street. I don't think most kids really processed that I was any different. A few times I was teased, but not that I can recall for my hearing problem. There was one time in fifth grade when a group of kids discovered I could lip-read - they promptly stopped speaking and only mouthed their words, until I had to get the teacher.

I do know now, looking back on it, that there were things I missed. Instructions in the classroom, and social interactions on the playground. As a child, though, I noticed none of it. It wasn't until I hit middle school that I felt self-conscious or that I was missing out on conversations. At the time, my parents looked into putting me into a charter school that had a program for hearing impaired (maybe Deaf?) kids, but decided that I should go to the public middle school. It was right near the house and my grandmother taught at the high school next door. I very much appreciated having the chance to meet kids in elementary school who would remain my friends throughout high school, but of course, I can't say how my life would be different had I gone to that charter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Visual Sound, Visual Cellphone

Gizmodo had a cool post yesterday about Suhyun Kim's concept for a "visual mobile phone." You can see the information on Yanko Design here. The phone can take text and voice input and converts them to either voice or text, respectively, allowing a person who cannot hear to use the phone.


The other awesome thing about this is - although it's just a concept thus far - it looks awesome. Just take a look at the photo of it in use in either link above. It looks like something one would see in a science fiction movie to really set the mood. Can't you picture a tough detective from the year 2352 pulling one of these out to casually call an informant (who probably also happens to be an android)?

...Anyway, I think this thing is awesome. I can just imagine other people being jealous of my phone if I were able to buy one of these and it looked like that. There is just not enough adaptive technology that looks good, too. So much of it is still beige and blocky. This is cool!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How To Add Captions to Your YouTube Videos

iLibrarian pointed out a useful tutorial at Mashable about how to create your own captions for YouTube videos. Mashable suggests using either CaptionTube (which you can sign in to with your Google account) to add the text you need, or let Google's voice technology do the work within YouTube itself to caption your videos.

Friday, January 22, 2010

More Accommodations at Sports Venues (This Time, Cowboys Stadium)

In October I wrote an entry about the new Target Field in Minnesota and its accommodations for people with disabilities. Just today I read on Deaf News Today about a new captioning system at Cowboys Stadium in Texas. I poked around a bit and found an article on the subject from the Dallas Morning News. The new system, which has captioning, amplified audio, and a play-by-play of the game, can be used anywhere in the stadium, even when you're not at your seat.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the device the stadium uses "connects to the stadium's Wi-Fi network through any of 700 access points and streams data for fans who need help following the games or other events at the stadium."

I think this is very cool and another great way to provide accommodation at sports venues. As I mentioned in my other post, stadiums can be loud, noisy, confusing places for anyone. I hope that stadiums near me, like Chase Field or the University of Phoenix Stadium, adopt useful accommodations such as these.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You Got New Hearing Aids!

Today was a very long day for me. I'm still getting over the cold, or whatever it was, that I had last week, and it was my first full day back at work in ten days, thanks to the way my sick time, holidays and weekends worked out. Of course, since we were closed for the holiday this weekend, it was very busy.

I was helping patrons today when one paused in the middle of checking out books and said, "Oh, you got new hearing aids!"

I was pretty surprised. I looked up at her and said, "Wow! You're the first person who has noticed that. I got them four months ago." She smiled and went on to tell me that she wears hearing aids, and everyone assumes she is trying to hide them because she wears her hair long. She told me how she always noticed mine while she was standing in line. My aids used to be large beige monsters with pink and purple hearing aids - hard to miss if you are the type to notice ears. We had a nice small chat and then we both continued with our days.

Really, no one has noticed the aids except for people who knew I was getting them - friends and family and coworkers. At the very least, if people do notice, they aren't mentioning them to me. Someone striking up a conversation about them made me happy. It also made me realize I don't know enough hearing impaired or Deaf people. Yes, I meet a lot of them. In a city with many, many winter visitors every winter, the majority of whom are elderly, I can't help but not meet many people with some degree of hearing loss. But people like me - younger people who have been dealing with a non-age related loss - I don't know many of them, except online.

Knowing how much I enjoyed our short conversation made me think that it would be nice to have friends, with whom I can talk about this kind of thing. I mean, somebody who actually has lived through it and gets the various frustrations and difficulties that comes with it. Maybe I will eventually have a buddy like that, but for now, I can just enjoy chance meetings like this one.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I Heart Nolan North

So today Kotaku has a blog post about Nolan North and how he's in basically every new game this year. The author is basically sick of Nolan's voice and predicts that by 2011 everyone will be.


I have a confession to make - Nolan is my favorite voice actor for video games. Actually, he's really the only one I recognize. I guess my second favorite would be Steve Valentine, who did the voice of Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins, but that's only because I love Alistair. Anyway, I really enjoyed the prince's voice in the new Prince of Persia game, as well as Nathan Drake's voice in the Uncharted games. And waddaya know, they're the same person, Nolan North.

I really like having a voice I can recognize in games. For some people I am sure it draws them out of the game, but for me, once I know how somebody says something I can understand them so much better. Sure, there are subtitles but it's a much easier experience to recognize what is being heard and use subtitles to reinforce it rather than depend on subtitles exclusively.

So thank you, Nolan North, for having a distinctive voice, and thanks to the game companies who are hiring him for more games. It is in its own way a strange kind of accessibility.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rates of Hearing Loss Decrease

I was happy to read this article in Wired (which is one of my favorite time killing websites) today. According to a recent study, the rate of hearing loss is decreasing with each generation. Wired says, "A key suggestion of the report is that other, positive changes in the last 50 years — reduced noise levels at work and better overall health — are more important than the rise of headphones and other entertainingly noisy new products."

In the past century knowledge about what causes hearing loss, especially in the workplace, has increased so much. It's nice to see that hearing loss is decreasing. I still worry about people with those earbud headphones and the volume turned up so high someone standing near them can hear it, but increased knowledge and awareness is always a good thing.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sickie

I have to apologize for the lack of entries this week. I haven't been feeling well since Monday - some kind of cold or other virus that has me feeling yucky and wanting to sleep or just curl up in bed all day.

I have made a few interesting observations this week, though. For example, when I am sick, I sleep easier with my hearing aids in than out. No, really. Normally I have to have them out to sleep. Besides being better for the aids and giving them some time in the Dry & Store, I need silence to sleep. I guess I've been conditioned like one of Pavlov's dogs on that account. But when I'm sick? I can easily drift off with the television or music playing. I guess it gives me something to focus on.

Secondly, I never realized before just how easy it is to understand old movies. Put a modern movie on the television in front of me without captions or subtitles and I guess I'd catch maybe 60% of the dialogue depending on the movie. But those old black and white films from the thirties and forties? Jeez, every word is crisp and clear. I noticed that this week with one such old movie (no idea which one it was) on in the living room as I dozed off in the bedroom. Even one room apart I could easily hear the dialogue and it wasn't all that loud. It must be thanks to the "mid-Atlantic English" accent actors back then had.

Well, that's it for now. I hope I've beaten this bug for good!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Background Sound

Since getting my new hearing aids I am noticing that background noise annoys me a lot more. I don't know if this is a problem with my aids or simply something I will get used to, since, after all, these aids are more advanced than my previous ones and pick up more sounds altogether.

I notice it particularly when tabletop gaming, probably because it's a situation where I'm trying to focus on just one or a couple of people talking with dozens of simultaneous conversations around me. For example, Saturday night I was playing Dungeons and Dragons at the wonderful game store Empire Games and unfortunately having a difficult time thanks to the people behind me. Of course it's not really their fault. Chatting is an integral part of tabletop gaming and it's impossible to play silently. It's just hard to concentrate when the words all fade into one another, and background sound is impossible to distinguish from what you're trying to focus on.

I did mention this to my audiologist but in a different context. I mentioned how at work I can have trouble hearing patrons in front of me when people behind me (and there's usually a lot of people behind me) are talking. He set a separate program on my hearing aid that will amplify sound in front of me but not sound behind me or to my sides. I have yet to try this out. I'll admit I'm kind of a chicken about it. What if I miss something important? I'm not totally sure if it will help in a gaming situation, either. It would mean needing to look and turn my head to each person speaking.

Hmm. Well, it's worth asking my audiologist about next time I see him. Maybe he will have some suggestions or tips for me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What is Disability? A Postcard Project

VSA Arts, a 35-year-old nonprofit organization created to "create a society where people with disabilities learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts."

They have a new collaborative project up and are asking for submissions of postcards that reflect participants' ideas of disability. There's a template and the address on the web site.

What do you think? Would you make a postcard for a project like this? What would it show?

I'd like to make one - and will have to think of what it would include. The deadline is February 5, 2010, so I better get thinking.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Shopping for Hearing Aids

When I decided I wanted a new pair of hearing aids this year I surprised my audiologist by knowing a bit about the various brands and features I had to choose from. In making my decision I had researched online before going for my hearing exam. I wanted to know that not only would the aids help amplify my hearing but that they would have useful and neat features for me, like Bluetooth.


I was a bit surprised myself when the model he recommended for me was actually my own personal favorite. I already knew they would have Bluetooth and other neat features I wanted. So for me - hearing aid "shopping" was painless and fun.

For many people it can also be scary. Someone may not even know they have a hearing loss until the audiologist tells them so. They may have never considered that they would ever need to know about various types of hearing aids, and they may not have a basic understanding of the underlying technology. In many cases I hope that audiologists would take it slow and educate the person, but even with consideration given to them people can feel rushed and hurried and very unsure.

Deafness and Hearing Aids has an article about buying hearing aids. I agree with many of their points. Generally people shopping for large appliances like televisions or dryers, will do research on them, but I don't know how many people look into hearing aids. Even though my audiologist recommended the aids I liked already, I did have to ask about the Streamer accessory and getting them in different colors. Knowledge is power.

The link has a lot of interesting ideas for how hearing aids could be sold. As a medical device it would be difficult to showcase them like televisions (though my audiologist's office does have a neat display of different models). The idea of looking at the software for each aid - a nice indicator of what's controllable and what settings you have options for. And being able to "shop" for aids puts people in more control, and feeling more comfortable about their loss.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Unselfconsciousness


There was an interesting article posted today at Deaflion. It reminded me of my own childhood (that's me to the right) with big, clunky hearing aids. Whenever I went into the audiologist to get new earmolds, I would ask for bright molds - purple, and pink and swirls. Why did I want bright colors? Well, there was the usual reason any child likes things with bright colors on them. But there was also the fact that bright colors made people more aware of my aids. I did not have to explain to them when they could see what was right in front of their eyes. And I was proud of myself that I had this way of expressing myself that other children did not. No other child could "paint" their ears the way I could.

Of course, children have it easier. Kids have much less self-doubt and self-consciousness that adults have. But I am trying to recapture that happiness I had as a child, that confidence that I was a perfectly fine person no matter what. It is something we should all strive for, I think.

Dragon Age: Origins is the 2009 Accessible Game of the Year

AbleGamers, a website for gamers with disabilities, has named my personal favorite game of the year, Dragon Age: Origins, its 2009 Accessible Game of the Year. They cite subtitle options, in-game colors, difficulty options, control options and more as their reasons for giving the Bioware title its award. According to the Executive Producer for the game, Mark Darrah, "We try to appeal to as broad of an audience as we can and accessibility is certainly part of this effort."

I was happy to read that Dragon Age is being recognized not only for its excellent story, art and gameplay (as it has been by many other gaming blogs and reviewers), but also for its accessibility. I personally enjoy the subtitle options (and the font used for subtitles! Love it - I'm a font geek), but what's even better for me is the voice acting. I love it when games have unique and easily identifiable voices for characters. When they start speaking behind me, I can easily tell who is speaking and move the camera so that I can watch the subtitles over their head. The accents are just enough to make the characters like Leliana and Zevran stand out while not impeding the ease of understanding.

There was supposed to be new Dragon Age downloadable content, Return to Ostagar, today but unfortunately it was delayed. However, Bioware has announced a new expansion, Awakening, coming out soon, and the news has me excited enough to overlook the delay in DLC. I'm really looking forward to having more Dragon Age to enjoy!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Obtaining Unobtainium: Avatar

I went to see Avatar in 3D last night with Scotty. I liked it a lot, though the 3D made my eyes hurt a few times (mostly when something was close to the camera but not actually in focus, or when there was a lot of action).

I did have trouble hearing the dialogue in quite a few parts. It's one of the ones I will have to get on DVD just for the subtitles. Made me wish they had 3D subtitling here!

It was strange - normally I can tell a difference when the volume increases for the actual movie after the previews are finished, but there didn't seem to be an increase this time. The most difficulty I had was at the beginning - trying to get used to both the 3D and the voices of the actors as they sped through some of the exposition was difficult. I was actually grateful when they slipped into the foreign language, because I didn't have to "work" so hard to understand what was going on both visually and acoustically.

I'm still glad I saw it in the theaters though. It's definitely worth it for the big screen and the 3D!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Some People Are Weird

Since getting my new hearing aids I've found less people tend to notice my aids than before. My old ones were tan, but much bigger, and I had pink and purple hearing aids. My current ones are much smaller, white and pink but with clear silicone earmolds. The smaller size seems to mean that less people notice them.

I'll admit to being lazy most of the time and relying on people to notice my hearing loss rather than advocating for myself and telling people I have a loss. Most of the time it never comes up either way, but sometimes it does... and strangely.

One of my recent encounters involved an forty-ish man who wanted my help. He came up from my side and, before asking his question, immediately asked "Are those hearing aids or are you listening to music?" I couldn't stop an immediate giggle. These behind the ear hearing aids would make for very strange looking headphones!

I've also gotten the inevitable angry people who can't hear me when they stand behind me and call for me. I'll tell you this is a big pet peeve of mine. Even if I were hearing - it is incredibly rude to stand behind anyone and shout instead of approaching them from in front of them and ensuring they are hearing them. Most of the time people get angry - but I love it when they ask "What are you, deaf?" It's so satisfying to reply that I am deaf and watch them fall over themselves apologizing!

I have advocated for myself once this past week, only I didn't mention I was hearing impaired. A man came up to me and began speaking with his hand held in front of his mouth (argh!) Naturally I couldn't make out what he was saying, since his lips were hidden. I asked him to move his hand and got a very strange reaction - he stared at me, said "okaaaay," very slowly, and backed away from me. My first thought was that he was contagious - had a cold or something and then was hiding his mouth. But the rest of the conversation it became apparent he thought I was strange for my request! Is politeness so much to ask?

Oh, people are strange! No one quite knows how to act when they are presented with someone different from the "norm," not that I think I am very different at all. I am sure people in wheelchairs, on crutches, with other problems have their own humorous and frustrating stories. It is great to get them out there - to vent a bit.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Free Images to Use From Sprixi

First of all, happy new year, everyone! I hope 2010 is a fantastic year.

Today I wanted to write about where I have been getting the images in my previous posts. I recently discovered (thanks to Lifehacker) an image search engine called Sprixi. It is very simple to use - type in what you want to search for, and a grid of results will come up. When you find one you like, you can download it with a credit already attached, or without credit. The search engine tells you the terms of use for each image below the download link.

Definitely a great resource for image use for blogging, homework, etc. I love it!