Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Around the Web Wednesday: CAPTCHAs, Whales, and Charging Hearing Aids With Your Feet?

  • If you have ever filled out a form on the Web, chances are you have seen the annoying-but-useful CAPTCHAs. The CAPTCHAs, which look like distorted, squiggly words or letter/number combinations, have to be entered at the end of many forms to ensure you are a human and not an automated bot filling out a form. The challenge comes when people with vision problems need to be able to fill out forms. An audio version of a CAPTCHA can help, but what if you have trouble with both vision and hearing? The Centered Librarian takes a look at the challenges behind CAPTCHAs and Section 508 compliance.
  • On the 80beats blog: scientists have discovered that ancient whales' twisted skulls actually allowed them to hear better underwater. The asymmetrical skull, similar to an owl, lends itself to hunting in 3D spaces without echolocation.
  • From the same blog (seriously, it's a really cool blog and you should check it out), the idea of shoes that power small electronics. As I read this post, I thought of how neat it would be to have shoes that could charge hearing aids as you walk. No more tiny batteries or even charging stations. It's questionable exactly how much power the devices could charge just from walking around, but I'm curious.
  • I liked this list from Suzie's blog deafcomm about 35 misconceptions about deafness.
  • Your video for today: a cute puppy!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Positive Communication for Accommodations

I was at the grocery store the other day waiting in line, and overheard a conversation between the next cashier over and a gentleman in a wheelchair. He was asking the cashier questions like, "Have you ever been in a wheelchair? Have you ever needed to use the handicapped stall in the bathroom? When you go into the restroom can you turn around easily to close the door? Would you ever use the restroom without closing the door?"

Talk
Photo from 5150fantast on Flickr.
The cashier couldn't figure out what he was getting at, but finally he made it clear that the door to the accessible stall in the restroom opened the wrong way. When a person in a wheelchair entered, the door was in such a position that made it very difficult to easily close the door. It was a problem that could easily be solved by switching the door to open outwards rather than inwards. The cashier promised to find out how to make a maintenance request to modify the door.

What struck me was how long the gentleman took to get his (perfectly valid) point across. The cashier was extremely confused by the end of his line of questioning and not sure at all what he was getting across. Had he simply approached the cashier or customer service desk and said "The door to the accessible stall in the restroom is opening in such a way that makes it difficult for me to close the door once I'm inside," he would have made his point more easily and with a minimum of confusion.

Going back to what I wrote in my blog post Different Perspectives, I think it is very easy for people to think that their experiences are shared by everyone or that everyone can see issues that may be more personal than they think. If you do not have experience with wheelchairs you may not think about the way the bathroom door opens - if you do not have experience with hearing loss you may not think about making captions available for people.

I think a lot of it goes two ways. Yes, people in businesses, the government, and organizations should be aware of what the laws require and how to be accessible for people, but at the same time we can only achieve what we want through education and increasing knowledge of what is needed. It's one thing to demand captions but another to actually explain why they are needed. Communication is important on both sides, and it's important to recognize areas where communication can break down, or when you're not approaching the right person, or when you may be causing more confusion than actually educating people.

When talking to someone at a business I think it is important to make sure you are talking to the right person and explain fully why you need some kind of accommodation. I usually explain I am deaf and it would help greatly for (whatever) to happen. I state things simply and don't repeat myself over and over (which I think is a major downfall of communication) unless it's needed. I don't give my whole back story or complain about other unrelated things. Thank-yous are always appreciated... working with the public I know what it is like to do something for someone and receive no acknowledgment in return.

What do you think? What are some strategies you have found for approaching people to get reasonable accommodations or explain a problem?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Different Perspectives

I was thinking the other day about my thought processes and the way your thoughts change when you have to deal with the loss of a sense (hearing, sight, etc) or mobility. I think it is so interesting how your perspective can change so completely when you suddenly have to deal with it for whatever reason.

I was mainly thinking about movies and having a conversation with my in-laws about captioned and the ADA requirements at theaters. The content of the conversation wasn't as important as was my realization about how I think about going to the movies.

When I want to go to the movies, I have to think about what actors are in the movie and how well I am going to be able to understand them. For example, if I know there are a lot of actors with accents unfamiliar to me, I usually don't go or pass it up. If I'm feeling hopeful I look online for open captioned movies, though this is usually hopeless. As the movie starts I end up worrying about the sound quality in the opening scenes. Is the music so loud it's drowning out the dialogue? Is the dialogue rushed and muddled and mumbled? Are they ever going to have a scene in daylight so I can see the actors' lips?

Usually I can understand many movies I go to. Some, like Push, become nearly impossible for reasons I'm not sure of. (I think I understood one sentence out of every five or six in that movie.) Some I avoid and miss out on seeing in the theater. (I'd really like to go see David Tennant in Fright Night, but am I going to be able to understand him?) I wait till they come out on DVD or Blu-Ray so I can watch it with subtitles at home and pause and rewind if need be.

But I understand the same thought process doesn't go through everyone's mind. A lot of people go see whatever movie they want to see. So it got me thinking about the things a lot of people take for granted, that some don't.

Like parking. I park wherever, and it might mean a few extra steps, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter the way it matters to someone who has difficulty or experiences pain walking. I can go wherever and walk from the far end of the parking lot. Someone with mobility challenges has to consider whether there are adequate accessible parking spots, ramps, etc.

Or reading the menu at a restaurant. My sister-in-law brought up this one the other night. Just imagine having to carefully consider your accessibility options just to get some food. Are the people at McDonald's going to understand you can't see the tiny text on the glowing screen, or is the server at the restaurant going to patiently explain the menu options? And do you want to deal with the potential embarassment?

Or even walking around a store. There is a gentleman in my community who has a very large power scooter tricked out with an umbrella and some other cool stuff. It's larger than a wheelchair so he has to consider where he can go. The aisles at Wal-mart may not be a problem but he can't just go browse at a small bookstore or look around a little shop.

Not to mention other people's daily concerns such as the availability of bathrooms (I have IBS so I get that one completely), lighting, how easily a door opens, etc.

It's one reason I am so grateful to accommodating laws like the ADA. Not only does the ADA help provide guidelines and rules to follow but it also opens people's eyes to problems they may not even think about. Some perspective is always useful and I think thought exercises like this help me see how other people see the world.

As an aside, as I was writing this post, someone linked to this excellent post about the Spoon Theory. It is an excellent way to illustrate what I am talking about, and also provides another perspective of something I have rarely thought about, of life with chronic pain. A relevant quote:
Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Around the Web Wednesday

  • A clever use of closed-captioning encoding: a man has come up with a system that searches closed captions for certain words, like "Kardashian" or "Lohan," and automatically mutes the television when those subjects are covered. I think this is hilarious. More info here.
  • Have you heard of DeafMD.org? It's health education in American Sign Language. According to a post at InMyLingo, it was created "to improve the health literacy, to eliminate health disparities, and to promote the overall health and wellness of our underserved population."
  • One of my favorite UFC fighters, Matt Hamill, has retired. He says, "The UFC has been extremely good to me and given me an opportunity to make a great living. That exposure has allowed me options outside the octagon as well. I just don't have it in me to fight anymore and my last two performances have shown that." I'm so sad!
  • And your video today... another bearded dragon video. (I just love them.) Here is a four-year-old beardie drinking from a juicebox straw. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Around the Web Wednesday

  • MSNBC shares 9 signs that your hearing loss is a problem. Definitely useful for anyone trying to convince a relative or friend to get a hearing test. Mine - if you find yourself complaining that everyone else is mumbling, it might not be them.
  • In my last Around the Web Wednesday I wrote about the "Caution Hearing Impaired Children" sign that was stolen from the family at the Cochlear Kids blog. Thanks to a neighbor, the sign was found in a ditch and has been put back in its rightful place.
  • Smell can definitely influence our sense of taste, but what about sound? This post at World of Psychology explores how sound affects how we perceive food.
  • And for this week's video - you may be aware I have a bearded dragon (named Loki). I also have a cat named Sneakers, who happens to look exactly like the cat in the video below. I think it is just adorable! If only my own lizard and cat got along so well. No sound/captions required. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rayovac's Hearing Professional of the Year Contest - Plus $3 Coupon

Note: I received information on this contest from Rayovac. The company is hosting a contest for bloggers who write about the contest below.

First of all, who doesn't love coupons? In an email with information about this contest, Rayovac sent along a printable coupon for $3 off their brand of hearing aid batteries. Get the coupons here.

Hearing aid manufacturer Rayovac is hosting a competition similar to Oticon's Focus on People Awards. (Speaking of the Oticon awards, you can now cast your vote online here! There are some awesome people nominated, in particular Sarah from Speak Up Librarian.)

According to Rayovac:
The Hearing Professional of the Year contest is your chance to celebrate the professional skills and patient relations of your hearing professional by nominating them as the best in their field. Supported by Rayovac, the independent awards aim to recognize the difference that hearing professionals make in our lives. We want to hear inspirational stories about what your hearing professional has done for you.
There will be 5 winners who will receive a donation of $500 to a nonprofit hearing care charity, and one winner, named the National Hearing Professional of 2011, will receive an additional $1000.

Entries are accepted through September 30, 2011 and people can be nominated here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Blog: Accessible Reads

As I've been writing this blog, I've realized there are some things I enjoy writing about more than others. Anything geeky, for one - new hearing aid tech and smartphone apps and everything else just makes me happy. Another of my favorite subjects is deafness in books, or, rather, treatment of any kind of disability in books, particularly novels.

With that in mind I decided to start a second blog with book reviews and thoughts about books that contain a character with a disability (not just deafness, but other things like blindness, autism, mobility problems, etc). The blog is called Accessible Reads and can be found at http://accessiblereads.blogspot.com/.

I'm not just writing about novels, but also nonfiction books and memoirs. Although most of the books I have read treat the subject of various disabilities well, some of them can be cringe-inducing, and I'll be writing about those, too. The posts will be a combination of original posts and re-posts of reviews I've written elsewhere.

This blog is definitely not going to end, this is just a supplementary blog that deals with a different focus. I hope you enjoy it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

New Book Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick Features Deaf Characters

Image is of the cover of Wonderstruck.
Wonderstruck is a new novel by Brian Selznick which features deaf characters. The novel is set to be released September 13, 2011.

Having loved books all my life, I often wish for more characters with differing abilities/disabilities, especially in children's fiction. I've seen a lot of characters with autism and Asperger's syndrome, particularly in young adult fiction, but characters who are deaf, blind, have mobility issues, or have other challenges are not really depicted all that often. I wrote recently about a study done on 131 winners of the Newbery Medal and Honor awards and found that only 31 of the books contained a major or minor character with a disability - and most often were simply supporting characters included to develop the main character's moral values.

That's why I was excited to see Brian Selznick mention Deaf culture and deaf identity in a recent interview with Publisher's Weekly. In the article, Brian explains why he wanted to include Deaf characters and how he has spoken to Deaf individuals who appreciated the very visual nature of his previous, wonderful book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Wonderstruck features entwining stories - one told in words, the other in pictures:
I started what became Wonderstruck while I was still working on Hugo. I had been thinking about Deaf culture after seeing this really, really good documentary, Through Deaf Eyes, which is about the history of Deaf culture. There was a line about how the deaf are a “people of the eye.” Most of the ways they communicate is visually. To me, that was the perfect reason to tell a story about a deaf person through illustrations. I had met deaf people who told me the thing they liked most about Hugo was the silence. Even when you’re reading words, you hear those words in your head but telling a story through pictures, there’s a feeling of silence about that and they really liked that.
Brian and the interviewer, Sue Corbett, also discuss the difficulty of "having to look for one’s culture outside of one’s biological family" that I think is really touching and interesting.

I'm really excited to read Wonderstruck now. Speaking of books with deaf characters, my friend Caris recently told me about Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz, in which the main character's little brother is deaf. I plan on picking this one up soon to take a look at how the character is handled - too bad I have to wait till September for Wonderstruck!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Around the Web Wednesday

  • A group of mandrill monkeys at the Colchester Zoo in England have developed a sign of their own - the first report of monkeys creating their own gesture that means something in their culture. The gesture involves the monkey covering their eyes, and the article at Scientific American says the gesture communicates "do not disturb."
  • Over at Cochlear Kids, the mom of Gage and Brook reports that the "Caution Hearing Impaired Children" sign she had by the road, along with a stop sign, has been stolen. I don't understand why people do things like this.
  • Have you been following Eh? What? Huh?'s entries on the silly censoring of Breaking Bad captions? There is a video clip and pictures of the censoring of swearing on this show here (which is not censored in the audible dialogue).
  • I was happy to learn about a local teen, who lives in my state, hiking the Grand Canyon for the Hear the World Sound Academy. I wrote about Hear the World back in January and the trip is now coming up soon! Like me, Jacob Gonzales (16 years old, from Chandler, AZ) was diagnosed with his hearing loss when he was four years old. Go, Jacob!
  • For the video today - I had no idea Thai insurance commercials could be so heartbreaking! This one was shared by Yahoo! Accessibility. It features a deaf-mute father and his bullied daughter. And it's a gut wrencher. It is subtitled/captioned.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bluetooth Hearing Aid Accessories: As Mainstream as iPods?

Yesterday at work I met a man I really liked. He tried to take my Dr Pepper*, but I liked him anyway. He just needed a little direction to the nonfiction section. All in all, it was perfectly ordinary. Except for one thing - he had an Oticon Streamer around his neck.

If it weren't for the Streamer, I wouldn't have noticed he had a hearing loss. His hearing aids were practically invisible and, although he needed a few things repeated, it wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Seeing the Streamer made me smile, though. He was just wearing it around his neck - a bright white object that most people probably thought was a music player or maybe a cellphone.

Photo taken by me.
Image shows the white Oticon Streamer next to a computer keyboard.


It struck me that with the trend towards smaller and less visible hearing devices, hearing loss is becoming even more of an invisible disability for people. There is a lot of marketing for "invisible" devices.

Just go to any of the websites of major manufacturers of hearing aids. Lyric Hearing trumpets that it is 100% invisible. The Esteem website starts off saying "invisible hearing." Oticon's website says, "Once upon a time there was nothing discreet about hearing aids but now subtle design is paramount in any hearing aid development." Siemens touts their Pure hearing aid, "designed for utmost discretion."

I'm not saying it's a bad thing. Advances in hearing technology benefit everybody who uses it and making hearing technology more discreet can help people be convinced to buy something they might otherwise put off. However, my personal challenge with small hearing aids has been that, since they don't correct everything, people get more irritated with having to repeat things than they would if they had a visual cue indicating I have a hearing loss.

I wonder what would happen if more people wore Streamers (or comparative devices) around their neck all the time. People would slowly realize what they are, plus users would get the convenience of having the Bluetooth device there with them all the time. I'm sure these types of devices will also become smaller as technology advances (except devices designed for seniors or those with low mobility).

I just think it would be cool if Streamer-type devices became as acceptable as listening to an iPod with your headphones, or having your cellphone in a holster on your belt. Since more and more people are being diagnosed with hearing loss as they age, I think these types of things will become more mainstream in the future, as technology-oriented generations age.

* He was joking. Probably. But he did say next time he has a Dr Pepper and he's in the library, I can have some.