Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ASL at the Arizona Renaissance Festival

Over the weekend I had the chance to go to the Arizona Renaissance Festival with some family members. I always try to go once a year because the show is really well put-together, and very professional. It feels more like an amusement park than a bunch of people running around in old clothes, and the shops are really great to browse in.
The joust at the Renaissance Festival (photo by me)

I was surprised this year to have lots of encounters with signing at the shows. The Renaissance Festival is set up so that you can attend whatever shows you like or even just spend the day shopping. I always try to see at least a few shows, mostly the funny ones.

At the first show, which was Ded Bob, there was a person interpreting in ASL for another audience member. Ded Bob, who likes to heckle audience members during his (hilarious) show, picked up on it and started rattling off silly words for the interpreter to sign, which she did, while laughing. It was a pretty funny experience especially since the interpreter didn't even hesitate and continued signing while she was being teased.

At the next show, a music show, the performers ended their routine with two women interpreting "Amazing Grace" while they played the bagpipes and drums. I was disappointed, however, to see that the women didn't actually interpret the song. They just signed the exact wording of the song with ASL signs in English order and zero facial expressions or very much movement at all. I'm sure it looked pretty, but it was way off.

And finally, in the last show I saw, which was pirate-themed, the performers made up a sign for "pirate" ("R" held up to the forehead), explained the difference between signing "R" (arrr!) and "X" (marks the spot), and also demonstrated the sign for "defecation" for the kids in the audience, which was very funny for them.

It was interesting to me to see three shows with elements of signing in them, all in a row. They didn't all get it right but it was still an added entertainment for the day.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Helen Keller's "Touch Watch"

I saw this article about Helen Keller's unique pocketwatch on Neatorama and wanted to share.


Helen received this "touch watch" when she was twelve, from John Hintz, the superintendent of the Volta Bureau. The Volta Bureau was constructed in the 19th century by Alexander Graham Bell as a place to house information about the deaf and hard of hearing. (You may know it as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.)

According to the National Museum of American History, "This uncommon watch has a case studded around the edge with pins that correspond to the hours on the watch dial. A revolving hand stops at a point between the pins that corresponds to the hour and approximate minute. With the hand and pins as locators, it was possible to feel the approximate time in the dark or, in the case of a diplomat like Hitz, discreetly."

Very interesting! I'd love to play around with something like this.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thoughts on Sounds

Yesterday I decided to vaccuum after getting home from work. As I was finishing up and wrapping the cord up to the machine, I realized I could still hear a ringing in my ears. That's nothing new. My hearing aids have a problem with very loud sounds and entrainment, which leads to me often continuing to hear a sound at a similar frequency even after the sound itself is over. But the ringing just wouldn't go away. I frowned, left the room, and it stopped. After I put away the vaccuum cleaner, I came back to the room, and the ringing was happening again! I finally realized it must be an external sound and quickly located the battery backup hooked up to one of our computers, which was beeping insistently at me.

It usually takes me much longer than other people to figure out where a sound is coming from and what exactly it is. I think it was that same night that I jumped and had a scare when I heard a confusing cacophony of sounds - something like a wolf howling and drums, or something like that. I thought it was a "real" sound, i.e. something from outside or something breaking down. Nope. It was from the soundtrack of the video game that was on at the time. If my husband hadn't said so, it would have taken me forever to figure that out.

Since moving in to our new house I have had to make lots of adjustments to my expectations and the way I think about hearing. Our washer and dryer make noise when they finish a load - except I inevitably think the sound is coming from anywhere but the laundry room, and it takes me forever to figure it out. On the plus side, though, sound carries very well in the house. I would have never expected it, but I can hear the finishing beep even from our bedroom. It's been pretty easy to make out voices.

I know this type of thing comes really easily to hearing people. While I am wandering around at work trying to figure out what is making a certain sound, my coworkers have already identified it and where it is coming from. People I know can figure out if a sound is coming from the TV or if it's "real," and figure out what direction a sound is coming from.

I guess it's just one of those subtle things people (even me) rarely think about with deafness. It's easy to visualize large problems one might experience with hearing loss, like not being able to hear your child speak, but it's another to think about having trouble identifying sound sources and how it can sort of muddle things up.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Communicate Your 911 Accessibility Needs to the FCC

As part of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, the FCC has created a committee to work on 911 accessibility issues. They've created a survey, accessible here, to find out how they can best make 911 accessible for everyone, including using text and video devices or the Internet.

I took the survey and it was very simple, taking me only about 10 minutes. You have until April 24 to complete the survey.

(via DeafTechNews)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Some College Students Underestimate Their Hearing Loss

University of Florida researchers were recruiting college students for a study on music players and hearing loss, and, as part of their eligiblity tests, discovered that a quarter of students who reported normal hearing actually had some degree of hearing loss. The study involved 56 students, who first filled out a questionnaire and then took a typical hearing test. The article is here.
Photo from Flickr user Schlusselbien2007
Although the author of the article seems surprised, I wasn't very surprised to learn this.  Besides the fact that people typically overestimate their abilities, there's the simple fact that hearing loss can be very difficult to detect either by the individual or people around them. According to the article, "researchers measured 15 decibels or more of hearing loss at one or more test frequencies, an amount that is not severe enough to require a hearing aid, but could disrupt learning" - so if students did know they were having trouble, they could have attributed it to a lot of other things besides hearing loss.

The article says the researchers plan to find a larger sample size to continue investigating  a link between hearing loss and music players (the majority of the quarter of the students they found were male who listened to music players). I wouldn't be that surprised if they continue to find a similar number of college students with an undetected hearing loss.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why is Voice Quality on Smartphones Lacking?

There's no question that phones have evolved throughout the years, from old dial phones to brick cellphones and now smartphones. I personally use my LG Ally for dozens of different things beyond simply picking it up to call someone - texting, calculating, budgeting, entertainment, and more. With so many other features it seems that the interface and quality of the phone itself has fallen on the backburner.

This article from NPR addresses the issue. Such a dizzying array of features present themselves to today's smartphone buyer that a simple question like "How's the voice quality?" can be drowned out by the size of the SD card, the apps that come preloaded, and the number of megapixels on the camera.

Image from my Flickr stream
I don't call people much; I text, email or chat on Google Voice. However, voice quality is very important for me for those times when I do need to call, particularly since I don't have a landline to turn to. So far, I haven't had any complaints about my phone's voice quality. I've simply maxed out the volume and it's useable that way.

According to the NPR article, "Consumer Reports gave most smart phones 'fair' voice quality ratings in its latest reviews. [...] That's in stark contrast to the "excellent" ratings given to display, Web browsing and even battery life features on smart phones."

So what's to blame for the lack of good voice quality on smartphones when manufacturers pay careful attention to things such as battery life and screen resolution?

There seem to be a few factors, according to the article: less room in the device itself for a good speaker; texting and video phone use on the rise; and the fact that cellphones rely on carrier coverage beyond what's built into the device.

A J.D. Power and Associates report linked to in the article has some specifics on particular carriers and how they rank in geographic regions of the US. For example, Verizon Wireless is highest in my area, the Southwest, in terms of "fewer customer-reported problems with dropped calls, initial connections and interference, compared with the regional averages."

It's always wise to research not only the device but the carrier before committing to a phone or a contract. How much emphasis do you put on voice quality when shopping for a phone?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Turning Up Your Headphones May Lead to Difficulty Distinguishing Background Noises

I'm back and finally getting settled into the house. We have furniture, food, and Internet - as well as a pile of boxes to unpack tucked away in the garage. For more on our house, feel free to check out my personal blog at Meginsanity. By the way, anyone have any recommendations for a visual smoke alarm?

From Flickr user Meredith_Farmer
Today I saw an interesting article over at Medical News Today concerning hearing loss and music players. It's not the same old story, though, concerning whether or not hearing is affected by listening to music through headphones. It has to do with the "vividness of sounds" - how easy it is to discriminate sounds, particularly in a loud setting, such as a restaurant.

A study in Japan took a look at two groups of young adults. One group was typical and the other group usually listened to music at full blast. They were asked to watch a movie and pick out a particular frequency from the background noise. Those who often listened to loud music were less able to do so than others. This kind of loss goes unrecognized in typical hearing tests and people may seem to have normal hearing while nonetheless being unable to distinguish background noise.

One of the doctors who worked on the study, Dr. Hidehiko Okamoto, says it makes more sense to use technology like noise cancellation rather than simply turn up the volume when you're in a noisy place and listening to music.