Monday, May 23, 2011

The Relay ID Pack from Sprint Provides Accessible Apps

Back in September I wrote about the top 8 Android apps I consider best for the deaf and hard of hearing. Of course, by now that list might have changed - in the world of cellphone applications, there is always something new, different, and changed.

Sprint has become the first cellphone provider to provide a collection of apps, called the Relay ID Pack, intended especially for their deaf and hard of hearing customers.

Sprint's ID packs are basically bundles of apps targeted around something specific. Other ID packs from Sprint are Disney, Green, and Entertainment, for example. The nice thing about Sprint's ID packs is that they require just one single download - you don't have to find each app and download it separately. 

Sprint HTC EVO 4G Launch Day
Photo from Flickr by Mike Saechang
Image of balloons with Sprint and HTC EVO 4G logo
What's It Compatible With?
  • LG Optimus S
  • Samsung Epic 4G
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab
  • Samsung Transform
  • Sanyo Zio

What Does it Contain?
  • AIM Instant Messenger, which allows access to telephone relay services
  • Calendar Notifier for visual reminders of upcoming events
  • Captionfish.com to look for captioned movies in the area
  • GMail Notifier for notifications of emails through GMail
  • Google Voice for transcriptions of voicemails
  • Handcent SMS for notifications of texts
  • Sprint Mobile Video Relay Services for sign language relay
  • TuneWiki for song lyrics
  • VideoPlayer
All of these apps look pretty good and I think they're useful - especially Google Voice (one of my favorite apps) and Captionfish.

However, apps can definitely clutter up a smartphone. I know I always have to go through and see what apps I'm actually using. Some of the apps listed above just might not be useful enough on their own, so I would probably download each interesting item separately myself.

I like how Sprint has done the legwork in this case and bundled together useful apps people may not know about - and some of these apps are probably difficult to find if you're just browsing. It's really great to see a large company considering the needs of the deaf community.  

(via Android Guys)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bluetooth In Place of Standard FM Systems?

My Oticon kit, including Streamer (& old cellphone)
I've heard of FM transmitters before - awesome devices for meeting rooms, movie theaters, lecture halls and other spaces that allow people with hearing aids to listen more easily - but today I learned about Bluetooth transmitters. Bluetooth transmitters are a fraction of the price of an FM system, are manufactured by prominent brands like Sony, and are easy to set up. Al.com has a case study of the Harbert Center in Birmingham, Alabama. Ivey Jackson, an 80-year-old wearer of Bluetooth-equipped hearing aids, pushed for Harbert Center to install a Bluetooth transmitter.

Jackson has Oticon aids and uses the Streamer accessory to pair with the Bluetooth transmitter and his hearing aids. He can sit anywhere in Harbert Center's main meeting room to have the audio from the microphone broadcast to his ears. And, of course, with his Streamer he can use a multitude of other devices. The article touches upon the aging Baby Boomer market, a segment of the population who have been exposed to astounding technological leaps and bounds throughout their lifetime and expect the best tech no matter what they need it for. In this case this older generation is paving the way for younger people to be able to take advantage of accessibility options like this.

I can see one downside with a Bluetooth transmitter used as a replacement for FM systems. Not everyone has a Bluetooth-equipped hearing aid, so using one tech in place of the other can shut out some people. In that case I think the people in charge of a meeting area would do well to survey the population of attendees they receive and see what accommodations they would like, before spending money on something no one can use.

This article gave me the idea to look into a Bluetooth transmitter for use at home. I think it would be a cool addition to our home audio setup (which I'll admit is pretty much nonexistent at the moment). It would be pretty neat to be able to stream sound directly to my aids from our music collection or the TV. For those with Oticon hearing aids like me, Oticon also has a ConnectLine line of products that interact with the television and landline phones.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Six Predictions on the Future of Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are becoming very science-fictiony devices, like something you might see on Star Trek. Many new models have Bluetooth capability, as I wrote about in a January guest post here. Below are some predictions I have for hearing aids as we continue into the 21st century.

Hearing Aids Will Be Embraced By Younger Generations
Possibly out of necessity, and possibly due to lowering stigma about hearing aids, I think more and more younger people will be willing to wear hearing aids. Since hearing aids are no longer obvious to wear or clunky to use, it will become a non-issue for younger people. Some hearing aids could even come to be seen as cool - fashion accessories that could be blinged out, with graceful designs and trendy colors, that have cool tech to back them up.

Image from Flickr user BitBoy
Image of a neon sign displaying the words "Hearing Aids"

(Hearing Health Will Be, Too!)
At the same time that hearing aids are becoming more popular, I think hearing health messages will be easier to get across. Initiatives like Phonak's Hear the World, using celebrities, and Marlee Matlin's recent work with Starkey for Celebrity Apprentice, will make the public more aware of hearing loss and health.

Hearing Aids Will Be Even More Integrated with Daily Tech

While many hearing aids today have Bluetooth technology, it often requires the purchase of a secondary device, and has to be paired by an audiologist. I think that hearing aid technology will increase to the point that they will one day be able to interface directly with the other device.

Hearing Aids May Become Daily Tech
Not only may they soon be able to integrate directly with devices, hearing aids may soon actually become those devices. Imagine going to an audiologist, buying a pair of hearing aids and then stopping off at a cellphone provider to add a voice plan. Add a simple keyboard and screen device for texting or video calls and you have a fully integrated system.

Cellphone Apps Will Become More Advanced

There are already apps out there to test your hearing, add captions to what you're watching and other cool options. I can easily see a company releasing an app as a "remote control" for their hearing aids. There are a lot of cool apps still to be developed, but I think the neatest ones work with augmented reality tools to enhance daily life, which for users of hearing aids, would be really easy to do.

Hearing Aids Will Be Covered Under More Insurance Plans
At least for children, I think we will soon see more coverage for hearing aids under insurance plans. Massachusetts currently has a bill in the works for hearing aid coverage and I predict more states to follow. 

What do you think? What's coming up in hearing aid tech?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Phone Failure

I had to use the phone yesterday.

I hate the phone. I can use it at work just fine... answering it, helping people, hearing what they are saying. But at home, my anxiety levels about the phone skyrocket. I worry I won't be able to hear, that the other person will talk too quickly, or that I'll answer a question bizarrely because I misheard it.

I had to call my doctor yesterday to make an appointment to get a prescription refill. They require appointments for all refills, and they only do same-day appointments, so I had to call yesterday at 7:30 in the morning to get an appointment. On their appointment line, they don't have an answering service set up. It's either a busy signal, which means you have to hang up and try again, or it will ring and ring and ring until someone picks up. It took me 30 minutes of trying before someone answered the phone. My heart sank as I heard what they were saying... "Dfsjieh, werwer, orld." Just gobbledegook, delivered quickly, and mumbled. I had to ask them to repeat themselves 3 times before I realized they were just trying to put me on hold.

Once I was on hold, I kept hearing things in the background. It wasn't hold music, but I couldn't figure out what it was. It could have been someone trying to answer the phone, I don't know, or maybe I wasn't actually put on hold but the phone was set down. I finally gave up and asked my husband to call.

It was very frustrating. It makes me feel like a failure.

From Flickr user Diederick F.M. Cools
Image of a telephone plugged into the wall.

There are a lot of things I have accomplished. I have a good life and I am blessed to rarely feel disadvantaged or put upon because of my hearing loss.

And yet one thing I still have difficulty with knocks me down every time.

I try to reassure myself before I make a call that it will go just fine. I will be able to hear them, I will sound professional, we will communicate effectively and I will accomplish what I need. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't work that way... and it bugs me.

I used to use relay services pretty often for phone calls. Unfortunately a lot of businesses just don't educate the people answering the phone with how to deal with relay calls. I was always getting hung up on, not getting answers, or unable to get through to people. When it works, it's awesome... and I think I may need to go back to using it for my doctor.

One thing I try to take away from "failed" phone calls is what NOT to do when on the phone. Since answering the phones takes up about 20-30% of my job, I have to know how to communicate effectively on the phone. By listening to other people failing at communicating I can be better. I have a pretty good "phone voice," and I work hard not to mumble or speak too quickly. If someone needs something repeated, I try to slow myself down and speak more clearly, not more loudly, since yelling just serves to obfuscate a voice over the phone even more. And sometimes I fail at that, too. Sometimes people insist I am speaking too quickly or not loud enough. When that happens, I feel bad (unless they are rude). I can definitely put myself in their shoes. I know how it feels.

All we can do is try... try to make ourselves clear, and keep trying even when failures happen. I will call the doctor again, next time I need an appointment. No sense letting it stop me.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How Insurance and Cheaper Hearing Aids Influence People's Decisions

What does it take to make someone choose to wear hearing aids? Of course the answer is different for everyone and there are many varying reasons someone may or may not wear hearing aids, but one thing I always thought was that cost was an issue. After all, if hearing aids were cheaper, more people could afford them, and would wear them, right?

From Flickr user AMagill
Image of a roll of 100 -dollar bills held together with a rubber band.
Apparently not - a study covered by Medical News Today seems to show that if someone does not have insurance for hearing aids or only has partial coverage, lowering the cost of the aids, even by 40%, will not make them more likely to buy hearing aids at a younger age or without severe loss. Only full coverage of the price of hearing aids makes younger or "less deaf" people buy hearing aids sooner.

The study was done by Henry Ford Hospital. They split a group of 1,200 patients into three categories based on how much insurance coverage they had for hearing aids (full coverage, partial coverage, and no coverage). The following results are quoted from the article linked above:
The study shows that patients who had full coverage for hearing aids obtained them about seven years earlier and with better hearing than the other two groups. But there was no difference in age or hearing loss between people who paid for the full cost of hearing aids or purchased hearing aids at a substantially reduced cost.

The more patients had to pay out of pocket (partial and private pay groups) the more likely they were to upgrade to a more advanced device. Patients with full coverage were the least likely to upgrade, and only purchased what was fully covered by insurance.

According to the study, the only situation in which patients are motivated to get hearing aids earlier is when they are provided at no cost.
This is really interesting to me. It seems to say people with full coverage may get hearing aids sooner but be more likely to settle for a lower quality brand if that's what insurance will cover. At the same time, people who have to pay out of pocket will save their money until they feel the aids are necessary and spend more for a higher quality device.

Personally I think I would be the same way. I like having better quality hearing instruments so I would probably pay extra for nicer aids. Of course - it would help a lot if only insurance would cover even some of it! (No health insurance I've ever had would cover any hearing aids at all.) And I really think insurance absolutely should cover hearing aids. What do you think?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

ABC's New Drama Switched at Birth Includes Deaf Characters

If you're like me and you are completely addicted to Whose Line Is It Anyway?, making it a point to watch it in reruns every evening on ABC Family*, you've probably seen the seemingly endless promotions for a new show, Switched at Birth. The show stars Katie Leclerc, who is deaf, and Vanessa Marano as teenagers who discover they were switched at birth in the hospital. It premiers in June.

Somehow while watching the promotions I managed to miss that one of the girls (Katie's character) is deaf, and Marlee Matlin will be guest-starring. I'll make it a point to watch the show, whereas I probably would have skipped it before. I'm curious now. There's more information about the show here.

What do you think about this upcoming drama?

* I know - you're probably not like me. But really, Whose Line? is an amazing show.

Around the Web Wednesday

  • It can be tricky sometimes to enjoy television without turning it up too high. Volume control on televisions can be tricky and don't always make what you want to hear more clear. The blog Unplggd shares some tips for how to maximize dialogue clarity while keeping the television at a manageable volume level.
  • Teaching a child to speak and listen can be a daunting task. Cochlear Implant Online shares ten tips for parents, educators and other adults. I really like the idea of replacing typical words you often say with interesting synonyms: you didn't just have a "good" day, you had an amazing day, a fun day, a splendiferous day!
  • The human brain is amazing. An MIT study shared here at Medical News Today explores the ability of the human brain to remap itself to perform functions in areas not previously "mapped" for it.
  • Knowing two languages may just help you cope with dementia. According to psychologist Ellen Bialystock, quoted in this 80beats blog post, "Being bilingual has certain cognitive benefits and boosts the performance of the brain, especially one of the most important areas known as the executive control system. We know that this system deteriorates with age but we have found that at every stage of life it functions better in bilinguals. They perform at a higher level. It won’t stop them getting Alzheimer’s disease, but they can cope with the disease for longer."
  • And finally, your Wednesday video. This ad for Sapporo beer is more like a piece of art. No dialogue; just music.

Friday, May 6, 2011

May is Better Speech and Hearing Month - Take the Million Ear Challenge!

I stopped by my audiologist yesterday and got my right hearing aid, which had been acting up, all fixed up. It wasn't just moisture but also a part that needed to be replaced - didn't take too long and now I feel like I'm hearing correctly again!

Have you heard of the Million Ear Challenge? It's an initiative working to tell one million people about hearing loss through social media. You can use Facebook to tell your story, share your favorite sound, and share tips and advice. If they reach their goal, they'll unlock $150,000 for people with hearing loss who are in need of help. You can also read what other people have posted - very interesting reading!

Here's a PDF calendar with events throughout the month of May, which is Better Speech and Hearing Month.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Unilateral Hearing Loss

My right hearing aid is acting up today. It will start up normally, but if it moves around in my ear at all, or if I try to adjust it, it turns off. I think it may be just moisture in the aid - the temperature has definitely been rising around here and I've been outside (and sweating) more often. My aids go in a Dry 'n Store every night, but I will be going to the audiologist to see if they can dry it out and clean it more fully. They always do a good job. Hopefully, that's the only issue.

So, right now, I'm not wearing my right hearing aid - it going on and off was more annoying than just taking it out. My right ear is my "bad" ear (see my audiogram here), and I can definitely feel a difference with it out but my left aid still on. Everything feels sort of off-balance and strange.

I was curious how many people deal with one good ear and one deaf ear every day, what is known as unilateral hearing loss (hearing loss in both ears is bilateral - makes sense) or single sided deafness. ASHA estimates that 391,000 elementary-school aged students in the US have unilateral hearing loss, but I can't find the statistic on people in general, or adults. I think a lot of people tend to assume that if someone has a hearing loss it would be in both ears. Anybody have a better/more useful statistic about unilateral hearing loss, or any stories they want to share?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Around the Web Wednesday

  • Twitter as an accessibility tool? That's what Catharine McNally discusses in this interesting article from Keen Guides. If the event you're at doesn't have sufficient captioning or interpreting services, you may be able to turn to Twitter, to see live updated feeds and information about the event. Catharine likens it to turning to a friend in a crowded cafeteria for the scoop on what's being discussed. Twitter can't and shouldn't replace other accessibility options at live events, but it can definitely help.
  • Did you know Helen Keller has her own page on Facebook? Become a fan here. I wonder how Helen would have used social media such as this if it was around during her lifetime.
  • Your funny video for Wednesday: reverse psychology is universal, as demonstrated in this great (subtitled/translated) video.