Sunday, February 28, 2010

New Closed Caption Complaint Rules

Thanks to new closed caption complaint rules, if you see garbled, missing, too-fast or otherwise difficult-to-read captions you can now complain directly to the FCC. You need to file your complaint within 60 days of noticing the problem.

You can file your complaint using their online form here, or email, fax, or send the FCC a letter. According to their article, the distributor of the content has to respond within 30 days.

What's also nice is that the FCC is now requiring that distributors of video content make their contact info available for how to contact them and get a response regarding caption complaints. They have until March 22, 2010 to give that information to the FCC and after that point the FCC will create a searchable database to allow consumers to search for a specific distributor.

This is a pretty awesome thing and the database of distributors is going to be very useful.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Three Items on Sight Impairment

I may be hearing impaired, but I'm interested in all kinds of disability news and accommodations. We are all connected, no matter our abilities. Today I noticed quite a bit of news relevant to those with sight impairments.
  • Kotaku has news about the visually impaired gamer who sued Sony in October, alleging that the company was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act in regard to the virtual worlds it created. On February 8, the case was dismissed, the judge saying that Sony is not a "place of public accommodation" and therefore the Americans with Disabilities Act does not come into play. This is kind of a tricky thing to talk about. At what point is accommodating a disability basically an impossibility based on the medium? Interesting to think about.
  • Mental Floss talked about Canadian Olympic skier Brian McKeever. He is legally blind and, when he races on Sunday, will become "the first athlete to compete in both the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in the same year."
  • And, finally, the New York Times (article found via Neatorama) discusses the decrease in blind children learning Braille - only 1 in 10 children who are blind learn the language. Many of them instead use computers and electronic media. The article is a fascinating read. The lives of blind people are devoted to sound. An interesting juxtaposition with the lives of deaf people.
Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Volume Leveling Adaptor Ends Loud Commercials

One of the most annoying things about watching television is when a commercial comes on at a volume much higher than the actual show. Blaring commercials can be really annoying, especially if it's some annoying announcer or advertising jingle. Also annoying is flipping through channels and finding the volume different on each one. Who wants to keep messing with the volume control - especially when you're hearing impaired and other people in the house tell you the TV is too loud already?

I know for me, loud sounds are very annoying. My hearing aids seem sensitive to loud sounds and irritate me. Loud commercials can definitely make me jumpy and annoyed. (Yeah, I'm going to ask the audiologist about it, but some of it just seems part of the part and parcel of needing powerful aids.) That's why I was happy to see SRS Labs' new Volume Leveling Adaptor. (That's the analog version - they also have a digital version that uses HDMI for $99, here. HDMI can cause problems with closed captioning on televisions, though.)

According to their product page, the device "connects between your TV and Set-top Box, DVD/BD player, Gaming Console or any other CE device you wish to connect to your television." If your TV is not one of those that already has SRS' TrueVolume system to regulate volume, it might be worth checking into.

Thanks to Unplggd for the info.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tone Deafness, Rhythm, and Pitch - Cool Tests

The other day I came across this series of hearing tests put together by Dr. Jake Mandell. (Click on "Music Tests" on his site to access the tests.) His Flash-based tests judge your degree of tone-deafness, pitch perception, and rhythm. Naturally, I was curious to see how I scored, and I had Scotty take them, so I could compare my scores to somebody with normal hearing. Neither of us have formal music training.

Well, it definitely opened my eyes to areas that I'm lacking in.

I got 55.6% correct on the tone deafness test, which according to the site is on the low/normal end of the scale. That made me feel a little better, since it means I'm not completely tone deaf. Scotty beat my pants off, though, with his score of 86.1%.

On the adaptive pitch test, the test told me that I have a possible pitch perception deficit. At 500 Hz, I can differentiate two tones 24Hz apart. It doesn't sound too bad until you realize that puts me in the 0th percentile. Yes. The 0th. Every other person who has taken this test did better than me. Scotty got a very good score. He was in the 59th percentile. At 500 Hz he can differentiate tones 1.2Hz apart.

My rhythm score was better. I got 68% right, and was in the 31st percentile with a "normal/very good" score. Once again, Scotty was amazing and got 80% right, which the test said was outstanding.

There is one more test on the site, called the AMVI, which according to the site, "...is a logic test that attempts to measure one's ability to correlate musical phrases with abstract shapes and symbols." I had no idea what I was doing during the test and got 50% right, but Scotty got 100%.

So what does it say about my scores, and Scotty's? Well, for one, he seems to be pretty musically inclined. And I was missing a lot of things that seem to come naturally to people. Only rhythm was relatively easy for me, as I expect would be the case for a lot of people with hearing impairments. The beat is easy to discern in music even if you can't hear the rest of it. As for tone and pitch - I'm sure I could work to be better in those areas. As with anything, practice would improve my scores.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Two Paths for Sound

An article in Medical News Today discusses new research from scientists at the University of Oregon's Institute of Neuroscience about the way sounds are processed. There seem to be two pathways, one which processes the beginning of sounds, and the other, which processes the end of sounds. They both come together in the auditory cortex. Research into this could lead to the development of new hearing devices that would address the problem depending on which part of speech a person is having trouble hearing.

According to Dr. Wehr, one of the authors of the study, "'We think that we've discovered brain mechanisms that are important in finding the necessary boundaries between words that help to allow for successful speech recognition and hearing.'" This research could lead to strategies and devices to help people differentiate competing voices or differentiate a voice from background music or noise.

Like many other people with hearing loss, a loud room with a lot of sound going on at once is not an ideal situation for me to hear one particular voice. Not only do sounds run together but I'm not liable to catch when someone starts speaking and miss half the words they're saying. This is a pretty cool study. I hope some concrete help comes out of it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wasabi Alert!

Imagine yourself asleep at home, completely unaware that in your kitchen a fire has started. Maybe you're lucky, and you can hear the fire alarm go off - loud enough to rouse you from sleep. What if you're not lucky enough to be able to hear and respond to the alarm? Well, if you had an alarm like the one being developed by Air Water Safety Service, Inc. in Japan, you would have no worries. The "comforting" smell of wasabi would be sure to wake you up from your sleep.

The Apartment Therapy blog Unplggd has a story about this fire alarm. I had heard of it before but there's much more info in that blog post than I'd been aware of. Apparently it wakes almost everyone up within two and a half minutes! The smell of wasabi was formulated not to irritate the eyes, but just to make the sleeper aware of the smell. The actual chemical it outputs is allyl isothiocyanate, which is also present in horseradish.

The device costs $225 (down from $560). Unplgged has a great suggestion for use - not just for deaf people, it could also be used in loud venues like concerts and at sporting arenas. Though it might just confuse people at first.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

PrintFriendly- A Useful Tool for Bloggers

Today I discovered an awesome new tool called PrintFriendly. If you go to their website, you can enter a web site's URL to make it print friendly or generate a PDF version of it. This is awesome for so many things and you have such better control over the output than you do with a printer.

The even cooler thing is that you can put a link to this on your website or blog. You might notice the "Print/PDF" link at the end of all my blog posts now. I just stuck it in as the directions for Blogger said. If you click on that link for any of my posts you can generate a print friendly version of it with or without images and take out any sections of text you want. You can even tweet or email it, or make a PDF of it.

PrintFriendly is a really nifty tool especially for blogs. It's worth a look.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Would You Wear a Hearing Aid Like This?

Hearing aids just keep getting better designed. Gone are the old beige monstrosities from ten years ago. Now you can order hearing aids in every color of the rainbow, with accessories that look like any old mp3 player. Many people embrace these new options and like the concept. But would you wear a hearing aid like this one?

 

I look so I can hear blog had a link to this concept aid earlier this month. The idea was developed by Design Affairs studio in Germany. According to them, you should "Show what you got, don't make a fuzz about your problem. Be individual, be cool, be yourself."
I have to admit if I saw somebody walking down the street with one or two of these they'd probably get a second glance. Only the wire going into the ear betrays a hint of its true purpose. These may not be for me, but if I saw somebody with one, I'd think they were awesome.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Day on the Farm

An off-topic post for today... Scotty and I spent yesterday morning at Schnepf Farms for their Peach Blossom Festival. We spent a couple hours there relaxing and enjoying the blossoms and the calf in their petting zoo - Buster. It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning. If you're ever in Arizona near Queen Creek - Schnepf Farms is a wonderful place to stop.

 

  

  

  

 

PS - I changed up my blog template a bit. Got tired of the way my logo seemed to get a random border and it had some spacing issues. I went back to one of the Blogger default templates in the meantime. Let me know if I broke anything!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Spoiled, Thanks to My Hearing Loss

It's funny to think that something considered a "disability" can make you spoiled, but there it is. I definitely am spoiled.

You see, like most other hearing aid users I'm sure, I take out my hearing aids at night. They go right into my gray little Dry & Store purchased from my audiologist. I set my alarm, which is a vibrating model, a Valentine's Day gift from my husband a couple years ago. I have that set just to vibrate, though the alarm itself can be loud enough to wake me up - because we share the house with other people and vibrating is quiet and sure to get me up.

The spoiled part, though? With my hearing aids out, I'm sleeping in total silence. I know Scotty appreciates this because he can have music going, which helps him sleep, and doesn't keep me up. With total silence I can fall asleep quickly and stay asleep. Sure, I might sleep through a fire or an earthquake - and I could, I'm a heavy sleeper  - but I don't care.

I have noticed that when I have to sleep with my hearing aids in - I'm thinking of a couple times camping when I didn't have a safe, secure place to leave them, and a couple other similar situations - besides waking up with an earache on whichever side I slept on, I also toss and turn all night. I find it impossible to get to sleep thinking about all of the sounds around me. I think, Does this racket go on every night? Does that fan need to be that loud? What the heck is that bird? Why won't it shut up?

Ah, yes. I am definitely spoiled. Thanks to my "broken ears."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Are You Still Having Problems With Your Hearing?

Today, a person I faintly recognized came up to me. She asked, "Are you still having problems with your hearing?"

I'll admit I was kind of taken aback by her question. I looked at her and replied, "I have been deaf since I was four." (Actually, I'm sure I had some hearing loss before that, but it was diagnosed when I was four.)

She told me she knew me from my American Sign Language courses in high school, but did not give me an explanation of what she'd said. I just said something about it being permanent and she left.

Since having this conversation, I've wondered if there was something in what I told her six years ago that she may have thought meant that my hearing loss was temporary. In my ASL courses I was always pretty open with others about my loss. The nature of the class meant that it typically attracted students interested in the stories of people who deal with hearing loss. I made several presentations using my own type of hearing loss and my own hearing charts as examples for the class.

The way she asked if I was still having "trouble" confused me as well. To me, "trouble with my hearing" means a minor difficulty, maybe minor tinnitus or difficulty hearing in a crowded situation. It doesn't mean the severe/profound loss that I have in both ears.

It made me think about the way people perceive hearing loss. Many people seem to think that either a person with loss was born with it and joins the Deaf community, using ASL, or they suffer hearing loss as a natural part of aging which can be corrected with hearing aids or just asking people to speak up. I don't think that many people are used to meeting a young person with a hearing loss who doesn't use ASL. So, that may have led her to think my loss was temporary.

One thing about hearing aids/cochlear implants: they certainly do help you meet the most interesting people.

Also, a word of note about my ASL classes in high school: My high school offered just Spanish and French as a foreign language. I've always had a tough time with foreign languages. Thankfully, I was able to take two years of college-level ASL classes instead at the local community college. My high school paid the tuition. Though it meant taking night courses a couple times a week, it meant I could fit more interesting classes into my days at school and that I learned a bit of a language most useful to me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Talkin' on the Phone

Deafness and Hearing Aids has a blog post up about the phone setting on hearing aids. It got me thinking about my relationship with telephones. I've always had trouble with standard telephones. Voices sound fuzzy, any noise on the line overrides the person's voice, and the sound sometimes seems to fade in and out. With my old hearing aids I would get feedback, and having the phone up to my ear for long periods of time was painful, because of the size and shape of my old hearing aids. For the most part, I rarely used a telephone. If I absolutely had to use one, I would put it on speaker. Naturally this had its downsides. Everyone could hear my conversations, and sometimes the other person couldn't hear me.

Cell phones, for some reason, work really well for me. I don't know why, but even my very first cell phone, a clunky old thing, allowed me to hear people on the other line much better than any landline phone. I wouldn't even have to set my hearing aid to T, though it did help. Since I was never in the habit of using phones, though, I still find it hard to pick up a phone and call someone. I'd still much rather email them, or text them, unless they're family, or I know their voice well.

My new aids have yet another way for me to talk to people. My Streamer can connect to my cellphone wirelessly (over Bluetooth) and allow me to hear everything through my aids. This has provided me with the best clarity so far. I don't know what it is, but there's something about the quality of the sound over Bluetooth that's just so clear and easy to understand. Not everyone has the same experience as me, but I'm happy with the way things have worked out for me. I can use the phone at work more easily, as well. It's a landline, with no Bluetooth, but I find that I rarely need to pass the phone off to someone else.

I don't think that I even have a phone setting on my hearing aids any more. Unless they automatically switch to a program when I get on the phone - which I doubt, as I've never read anything like that with my particular aids - then the "telephone" program was replaced by my audiologist in favor of a custom program that theoretically will make it easier for me to hear patrons at work. I have yet to try it because I am a chicken. At any rate, I've never touched any telephone settings on my aids. The Bluetooth makes it unnecessary to switch anything around on the aids themselves.

How about you? Do you use a cellphone, or a landline, or make relay calls? (I sometimes make relay calls, especially when I need to contact a business. It's much easier.)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Update: Hear Through Your Jawbone

In December I wrote about a hearing aid worn on the teeth that uses your bones to conduct sound. Now Boing Boing has an article up with some more detailed info about the device, the SoundBite developed by Sonitus Medical. According to the article, "SoundBite detects noise using a microphone placed in the ear connected to a transmitter in a behind-the-ear (BTE) device. The BTE transmits to an in-the-mouth (ITM) device that sends small sound waves through the jaw to the cochlea."

The SoundBite is still being prepared for FDA trials, so you can't buy one yet. But it's nice to have more detail about this fascinating new technology. There are still some details missing - how do you eat while wearing one, and what kinds of hearing loss can they help with? But as a new and emerging technology it is very cool to learn about.

Friday, February 5, 2010

So He's Got Hearing Aids... Who Cares?

I couldn't believe it when I read this article from About.com about Mayor Bloomberg getting news coverage over his hearing aid. The articles that are linked from the blog post are just silly. In the first one, you can see a photo of the mayor's ITE hearing aid, which actually looks more obvious than other in-the-canal aids I've seen before.

I just don't understand why the media would be so fascinated by what should be something as normal as wearing eyeglasses. 36 million American adults (that's just adults) have some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. How many of those people with loss feel encouraged and open about their loss based upon the fact that one man's hearing aid is considered news?

Seriously. I don't blame the mayor at all for his terse response to a question about his aids. He may be a public figure but hearing aids just aren't one of those remarkable things that should make the news. Not to mention that according to one of the articles, he wore the aid "while visiting the construction site of the No. 7 train." If somebody can't wear a hearing aid at a loud construction site without attracting notice, when can they?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bits and Pieces... Thoughts and News

Today a man came up to me and asked for information on "the mines. The Mexican mines." I was all set to do a keyword search when he further clarified, "the mines and their prophecies."

That's when it clicked.

The Mayans and their prophecies.

There we go!

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There is a fascinating article at Kotaku about "Katawa Shoujo, an erotic visual novel set on a private campus for disabled high schoolers." Probably not a good read if you are sensitive or anything like that, but as a look at how media can grow out of the strangest of circumstances it is interesting.

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Requiring registration for relay services is unfortunately not a foolproof way of preventing scam artists from slipping through. About.com's Deafness Blog linked to this story about how people are abusing Utah's relay system. Unfortunately they are nearly impossible to track down.

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Do you guys ever experience the phenomenon of hearing your name when it is not called? Today I could have sworn I heard someone repeating my name over and over in a small hallway. Eventually I realized that if someone were repeating my name they would not say it in the tone I was hearing or so quickly repeat it. That helped me realize it must have been something artificial like a fan or something like that. This happens to me relatively often. I try to be alert to catch my name, which sometimes makes me hyper-alert, and sounds often blend together for me, so they can take on qualities that hearing people do not hear.

I remember as a kid thinking my friend Nathan's name sounded a lot like mine, Megan. My old hearing aids did not help me understand the difference between the sounds enough to differentiate what are pretty different names.