Friday, July 30, 2010

New York City Installs Hearing Loops on its Subways

Empty subway in NYC
I just read on the blog Eh? What? Huh? that New York City is installing hearing loops on its subways. Subway riders who have a telecoil or T-switch on their hearing aids will be able to switch to it and hear announcements directly in their hearing aids.

Here's a story from NPR about this loop; it's an interview with David Myers, who created He says, "Hearing Access Program in New York City has been instrumental in New York City Transit's installing hearing loops in the subway information booths, right underneath you." (Hearing Access Program is a nonprofit dedicated to improving accessibility for people with hearing loss.)

As somebody who is always a little intimidated by places that have a lot of noise and important announcements going on at the same time, I think this is very neat - and a wise investment by New York City.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Give the Department of Justice Your Opinion on Movie Captioning

The United States Department of Justice is considering revising "title III regulations to require movie theater owners and operators to show movies with closed captions and video description in their theaters at least fifty percent of the time," and they would like your comments.

Although open captions would not be required, they would also like to hear your opinion on those as well.

The Federal Register has instructions on how to comment:
You may submit electronic comments to When submitting comments electronically, you must include DOJ-CRT 2010-0112 in the search field, and you must include your full name and address. [...]  Please note that all comments received are considered part of the public record and made available for public inspection online at Deafness has a great blog post on this topic.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

President Signs an Executive Order to Hire 100,000 People with Disabilities Over 5 Years

(You'd think it was something like "ADA Week" around here...) On July 26, the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, President Obama signed an Executive Order to increase the federal employment of people with disabilities. The order calls "for an additional 100,000 individuals with disabilities to be employed by the Federal Government over 5 years" and that "Executive departments and agencies must improve their efforts to employ workers with disabilities through increased recruitment, hiring, and retention of these individuals."

And here is the President's captioned Public Service Announcement about the ADA:

(via Disability Blog)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The House of Representatives Passes H.R. 3101

In a wonderful way to mark the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, yesterday the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3101, moving it on to the Senate.

The bill passed 348-23. Representative James Langevin (D-Rhode Island) presided over the debates. Langevin is the first quadriplegic to serve in the House, according to the previously linked article.

H.R. 3101 sets new federal standards that will need to be followed by telecommunications. Among the standards are that remote controls will require a button for closed captioning and that low-income people will receive support to buy technology to make the Internet accessible for them.

Quoted in the article is Representative Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), who said, "The ADA mandated physical ramps into buildings [...] Today, individuals with disabilities need online ramps to the Internet so they can get to the Web from wherever they happen to be."

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Americans with Disabilities Act Celebrates its 20th Anniversary

President Bush's speech cards
Today is the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law on this day in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush.

In the same way as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act gives protections to people who need special accommodations because of " "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." People are protected while they're at work, in public places, on public transportation, and when using telecommunications. It's the reason we have wheelchair ramps and captioned movies, TTY access and accessible public bathrooms.

In so many ways, the ADA has changed the way the United States operates - the way Americans interact with the world. Even people who do not currently have a disability see, on a daily basis, what is required for people who do to get around in the world.

I was born in 1986, and my hearing loss was actually diagnosed around the time the ADA was signed into law, give or take a few months. Around the time I was being fitted for my new hearing aids, hundreds of companies, city governments and corporations were taking steps to comply with the new law. And so I grew up in a world where most companies comply, where accessibility is basically a given. It may not be complete and total accessibility - anyone can attest to the fact that it's not always easy to navigate a ramp in a wheelchair or get around, or that captions are not always available - but it's a world where people can take steps to make sure they have the same advantages others do.

According to the National Association of the Deaf's Twitter, they're at the White House today to celebrate the anniversary with Marlee Matlin and President Obama. The president will be speaking at 5:30 today Eastern time and you can watch it here.

If you are interested in seeing the Justice Department's celebration of the anniversary on the 23rd, you can watch an open captioned video from this page after July 30.

Read the text of the act here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

29% of Americans Believe their Social Life Would Suffer with Hearing Loss

Check out this interesting survey. In this survey conducted by HearUSA, Americans were asked, If you had a significant hearing loss, which do you think would suffer the most?

29% of Americans thought that their social life or relationship with friends would suffer. I made a pie chart to illustrate the rest of the results (what can I say, I'm a visual learner). Click to enlarge:

I think this survey's results are interesting but not too surprising. Social life seems to be a big concern for people who have just been informed about their hearing loss. I am kind of surprised that safety is the second highest result with 22% of people saying their safety would suffer. Safety is not a huge concern for me except in certain situations (crowded parking lot, fire alarm, etc). However, thinking in the hypothetical, it makes sense.

Good thing sex life is not a huge concern for people in this hypothetical!

New "Downloads" Page

I've added a new page to my blog called Downloads. Here you will find useful downloadable resources. Right now there's only one - my NATO Phonetic Alphabet PDF - but I'll be adding more as I find them/create them. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Autism Has a Unique Vocal Signature, and LENA Can Find It

What if you could reliably detect autism, developmental delays, or speech delays just by listening to a child's babble? LENA can do it.
LENA, which stands for Language ENvironment Analysis, is entirely automated software developed by researchers at the University of Memphis. According to the developers, LENA is 86% accurate in detecting "very young children" with autism. The researchers conducted their research by having 232 children wear special processors in the pocket of their clothes, which recorded their daily speech.

According to the article, "Oller and colleagues found that the most important of the 12 acoustic parameters turned out to be ones that targeted the ability of children to produce well-formed syllables (syllabification), by moving the jaw and tongue rapidly during vocalization," and "the sound samples from the autistic children showed little evidence of development of syllabification, in that the relevant acoustic parameters did not change much as the children got older..."

Beyond just autism, LENA could detect delays in development and in language acquisition, for example in a deaf child who is not acquiring spoken language. It could even be used in therapy at home to gauge a child's progress.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Screaming Child Onboard = Hearing Loss and Lawsuit?

Air cabin
According to a TIME article yesterday, a 67-year-old woman sued Qantas when a child on board her flight leaned over and screamed in her ear. According to the article, Jean Barnard claims "the toddler's scream made her ear bleed and caused permanent hearing loss, was helped off the plane and taken to Alice Springs hospital."

Qantas and Barnard settled the case last week, with the airline contending "[p]laintiff's injuries, if any, were caused by the arbitrary and volitional act of a three-year-old child" and were not the airline's fault. Interestingly, according to the article, Barnard already wore hearing aids before her flight.

This reminds me of the blog post I wrote a bit ago about an employee suing the company she worked for because having to listen to angry customers on the phone all day gave her hearing loss.

What do you think about this?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Inaudible Dialogue

I wrote recently about movie theaters and assistive technology. Today I read a related article, from a hearing individual, called "The rising problem of inaudible dialogue."

In the article, Simon Brew discusses the increasing trend of male actors to mumble in movies and even television shows. He says to the offenders, "Stop mumbling incomprehensibly. If you're not mumbling, speak clearly. You're an actor. That's your job. And let us all enjoy the dialogue in the script that presumably was one of the reasons you signed up for the project in question in the first place," and calls out movies like A-Team, Inception, and Public Enemies as containing unhearable dialogue as the result of mumbling.

Have you noticed this growing trend?

For the most part, I haven't. I don't see a lot of movies in the theater, and when I watch them at home I have subtitles on, which helps a lot and may even make me think I'm hearing a bit better than I actually am. I tend to blame my own hearing loss for missing things before I blame a speaker, although the possibility Brew raises over bad sound mixes could also be a source of blame.

However, if this is a real phenomenon, I think his call to actors is spot-on. Most people think that they speak clearly, but they don't, whether it's the result of mumbling, not speaking loud enough, an accent, or other factors. Being aware of how you speak is very important, especially in the case of people who work in entertainment, along with awareness of how you present yourself and your body language.

Another related complaint I personally have about movies is that they're so dark lately. I mean dark as in the lighting on-screen, not the subject matter. I recently watched Legion and Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, both of which contained multiple scenes in which it was impossible to tell what was going on thanks to the dark lighting. If I hadn't been watching them at home with subtitles I would've missed every line of dialogue in those scenes, since I couldn't see the actors' faces.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What Assistive Technology Do You Use at the Movies?

I am curious today: What kind of assistive technologies do you use at the movies, if any? What is your movie experience like and do you enjoy going to the movies? 

Personally, I really enjoy going to the movie theater. I like getting soda and candy, and settling down in a dark and cool environment to enjoy a movie without any distractions. I also enjoy the social interaction; since I always go to the movie with at least one other person, I like being able to talk about it afterwards.

I typically do not use any assistive tech at the movie theater. As I've written before, many of my local theaters are pretty sluggish when it comes to technology like this. On the rare occasion that there is a subtitled version being shown of a movie that I'm actually interested in, I enjoy watching that. (As long as I'm with other people who don't mind the subtitles, at least.) The other technology, like amplifiers, rear window captioning devices, and loops, seem to be fairly unknown around here, and certainly not well advertised.

For the most part, I can enjoy a movie, catching around 80% of the dialogue. There's the rare movie where I catch less than half the dialogue - Push was a major offender recently - but unless the movie's actors have heavy accents or there's a lot of background noise and music, I can generally assume I'll be able to follow the film. But I don't go to movies expecting to hear every line; I fully expect to have to rent it and turn captions or subtitles on later. For me, a movie is more about the experience.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fruit Flies and Proteins Help Find a Gene for Auditory Neuropathy

Auditory neuropathy is a relatively rare form of hearing loss in which everything in the ear is fully functional but sounds are not transmitted properly to the auditory nerve and the brain. Hearing aids and cochlear implants both have limited success with people who have auditory neuropathy.

According to this article, scientists at the University of Michigan Medical Center have identified a gene mutation which can cause this form of deafness. The University of Michigan's website has some more information on their findings. They were able to genetically engineer fruit flies that had an overabundance of a certain kind of protein in their auditory organs, then measured the fruit flies' response to sounds.

According to a professor at the university, "The approach we used here of combining genetic inheritance with functional information can be applied to identify the culprit genes in many other rare genetic diseases that have so far been impossible to nail down."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Helen Keller and the Committee on the Deaf-blind of America

Helen Keller
Helen Keller, who passed away in 1968, was a champion of many causes, political and social. The fascinating blog Letters of Note has shared a letter she wrote in 1950 on behalf of a new committee set up within the American Foundation for the Blind, called the Committee on the Deaf-blind of America.

For many people who have lost either hearing or sight, the thought of losing the other can be terrifying. When I am wearing neither my hearing aids nor my glasses, I feel ten times more frustrated than if I have either one of those assistance devices in. Yet there are several hundred thousand people living with this in the United States alone. Helen Keller's letter to possible sponsors of the Committee ends, "Will you not, dear friend, give some thought to the Helen Keller Committee on the Deaf-blind, so that more of those who cannot see and hear may regain life's goodness and the dignity of useful work?"

To donate to the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults in New York State, see this webpage.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Phonagosia: The Befuddling Inability to Recognize Voices

I have heard of prosopagnosia - the inability to recognize faces - before, but never phonagnosia - the inability to recognize voices. NPR has an interesting article about Steve Royster, one of very few people in the world who suffer from this condition (or, at least, who know they suffer from it).

Phonagosia is not quite the same as being unable to hear variety in people's voices. As the article states, people who have phonagosia can tell just as well as anyone else if someone is old or young, male or female, from their voice. What they cannot do is associate a voice with a person. Naturally this can cause difficulty in daily life, such as when speaking on the phone.
Skye - telephone
I thought, logically, that somebody who has hearing loss might also have difficulty recognizing voices depending on their type of loss. Rather than their brain being injured, as in the case of phonagosia, people with hearing loss would miss crucial clues in a person's voice that would clue them in to who they are speaking to. But, for me, I actually recognize voices quite well. I think this is part of the work of getting along in a hearing world. I already make daily adjustments to follow conversations and hear people's tones of voice, so this extra listening pays off in being able to recognize voices pretty well.

Of course, I also have voices for whom my hearing loss seems barely significant. I can understand my mom almost 100% of the time even in a loud situation. My dad, brother, and husband are also easier to hear. That comes just from talking to them constantly and from their knowledge of "how" to speak to me.

(via Neatorama)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Youtube Ready Captioning Vendors

One of the things I like about Youtube has been their continued interest in closed captions technology. They seem to constantly be adding small but useful features (such as their interactive captions viewer). Although the number of captioned videos on Youtube is still relatively small compared to the number of videos you can find there, I think that the easier they make things, the more captioned videos we will see.

Getting a video captioned has its challenges. It can be tricky to time things right, or even to understand the dialogue sometimes, and automatic captioning can trip up. If you want to go the professional route, Youtube has, with assistance from the Described and Captioned Media Program, created a new logo called "Youtube Ready." The logo means that a given closed caption vendor has passed an evaluation, posted their rates, and has a Youtube channel to learn more about their services.

You can see the DCMP's list of approved vendors here. Currently there are 12 vendors on the list.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Our Noisy Oceans

We all know the difficulty of making ourselves heard in loud areas like restaurants, airports, malls and at sporting events, but did you know that even the oceans are getting louder?

This article from 80beats, a blog on Discovery Magazine's website, details a small study done on 14 whales, which measured the background noise in the ocean and then compared how whales raised their voices to compensate for the loud sounds. According to the study, the background noise of the ocean was between 92-143 decibels, and in some cases whales were "shouting" up to 150 decibels to be heard.
Underwater world
The study brings up concerns about human impact on the noise of the ocean. According to the lead researcher, Susan Parks, "The ability to change vocalizations to compensate for environmental noise is critical for successful communication in an increasingly noisy ocean."

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Just 5 Cellphone: Will It Really Be Useful for the Deaf?

Just 5 is a new cellphone aimed at the market of people who want a simple, no-frills phone that can make calls and text. CNET has an article up about the phone that seems pretty skeptical about its intended markets, and I think I have to remain skeptical as well.

You see, the markets Just 5 is apparently targeting with this simple phone are "seniors, children, and the vision- and hearing-impaired" (from the CNET article). For seniors and children, they cite the ease of use of the phone. For the vision impaired, the phone has large buttons and a large contrasting screen. And for the hard of hearing? Well, the Just5 "is loud and clear, up to 100db" (from their website).

Now, I keep my phone's volume all the way up as it is, and yes, sometimes it's not loud enough. But a voice simply being louder is not enough for good communication. A voice must be clear. They say it's clear, but at 100 dB, how clear can a voice really be? Not to mention that repeated exposure to sounds over 85 dB can actually cause further hearing loss. I hope they have some mechanisms in place to avoid that. I mean, 100dB is how loud a freeway is.

I don't know. I'm deaf, and I would not want this phone. Not all people who have a hearing loss can get by simply with a louder phone or texting. I'm deaf, and I'm a geek, too. That means I want the latest and greatest tech - I want to be able to use Google Voice with my phone (which is why I'm drooling over an Android phone like the Droid), watch videos, and listen to music with my Bluetooth-enabled Streamer. I want cool stuff like the mobile VRS service announced at the NAD conference.

There are probably deaf people out there who want a no-frills phone and that's fine, but I question if simply making the phone louder can really fill that niche.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The U.S. Census Current Population Survey and Disability Numbers

Census enumerator
The US unemployment rate is something that everyone hears lately. The data, taken from the U.S. Census' monthly Current Population Survey and released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is a sobering reminder of how many people are out of work. Beyond just the unemployment numbers, the CPS also surveys the hours of work done, earnings, employee benefits, health, and other supplemental questions. Reading Disability Blog, I was surprised to find that several of these supplemental questions focus on disability, providing the public with valuable data on the number of people who have disabilities in the U.S.

There is one question related to people who are hard of hearing: "Is {person} deaf or does {person} have serious difficulty hearing?" This question, along with six others that cover a spectrum of other disabilities, has been present in the Current Population Survey since June of 2008. Two years is not very long, but currently the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Department of Labor are working on processing the data gathered into something meaningful for employers and citizens.

A sobering note from the blog post: "Only 34.5 percent of individuals with disabilities ages 16 to 64 are participating in the labor force compared to 77.3 percent of persons with no disability!"

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Youtube's New Interactive Captions Viewer

On July 2, Youtube announced a new feature related to their captions, an interactive captions viewer. Basically, this feature allows you to navigate through the video using the captions. Not only that, but it allows people who need the captions to read through them first, and get a better idea of how the video is going to play out.

On videos where this feature is available, you'll see a small "Transcript" button underneath the video player. Clicking on that will bring up the transcript, and then you can click on whichever line of text you like to jump around the video. Also very useful when you need something repeated - you no longer have to guess where to move the video slider to.

I think this is very cool. I just hope more people continue to add captions to their videos, to make this service really useful throughout Youtube.

Monday, July 5, 2010

It's Right on the Tip of My Finger

I remember learning American Sign Language in high school and being amazed at how complex it is. Any language is difficult to learn, with its own rules, but American Sign Language is something tricky. Remembering the shape of the sign, the movement of the hands, the orientation of the hands and how the hands move seemed so much harder than just saying a word.

At the same time, even spoken language can be tricky. We all know the feeling of knowing a word, having it right on the tip of our tongue, and not being able to just come out with it. That is because the meaning (or semantics) of a word is separate from its actual word (the phonology).

So I was unsurprised to read this blog post from Psyblog about this. The post concerns a scientific study published in Psychological Science that confirms the phenomenon is not just limited to spoken languages. People who speak a signed language can be certain they know a sign but be unable to actually do it. According to the study, "[s]pecifically, signers were more likely to retrieve a target sign's handshape, location, and orientation than to retrieve its movement. Signers also frequently recalled the first letter of a finger-spelled word."

Friday, July 2, 2010

New Video for Hands-Only CPR Uses ASL

Hands-Only CPR is a method of simplifying CPR. According to the American Heart Association, "It's not normal to see an adult suddenly collapse, but if you do, call 911 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest. Don't be afraid. Your actions can only help."

To advertise the simplified method of CPR, the AHA created an advertisement using American Sign Language. According to the commercial, which is signed and captioned, "Hands can do incredible things. But nothing compares to using them to help save a life with Hands-Only CPR."

Go to the AHA website for Hands-Only CPR to view the video as well as a demonstration of this life-saving technique. 

(via Illustrator: Blog-alloon

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Martha's Vineyard Sign Language

Martha's Vineyard Cottages
Martha's Vineyard Sign Language was a signed language used for almost two hundred years in the small island off Cape Cod. In Martha's Vineyard in 1854, 1 in 155 residents were deaf. Both hearing and deaf people in the community used sign language, to the point where a person's hearing ability was unimportant because everyone could sign. They discovered the ability of a signed language to be of assistance in everyday situations like trying to communicate over long distances or when silence was necessary.

In 1817, the American School for the Deaf opened in Connecticut. Children from Martha's Vineyard quickly enrolled at the school, bringing with them their sign language. This, combined with the teachers' use of French Sign Language, and other children's home-crafted sign languages, combined to create what is now American Sign Language.

Martha's Vineyard Sign Language died off as Martha's Vineyard became a tourist-oriented island. However, it remains a fascinating point in the development of language.

You can read the book Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language: Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard by Nora Ellen Groce here on Google Books, discovered thanks to Boing Boing's article on this topic. I am reading my way through it right now; it is fascinating reading about the adaptability of humans to their environment.