Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Digital Divide and Disabilities

Cliftons Computer Lab
Photo from flickr user rex libris.
One of the many eye-opening experiences of working at a public library is seeing the number of people who do not have access to technology in their homes. Yes, there are your typical students and people whose internet access may be down at home or whose printer isn't working, but then there are people who come in who need to use computers daily but do not have the technology at home. They may need to find a job, conduct business, pay bills, or file for unemployment and have found themselves on one side of the digital divide. As more companies and government offices move to doing things entirely online, the digital divide becomes more pronounced and more people experience it.

The U.S. Department of Commerce released a report this week called "Exploring the Digital Nation: Computer and Internet Use at Home" (link is a PDF). According to the report, 72% of people without disabilities had broadband access to the internet at home, compared to 43% of those with disabilities. This is according to information from the Census Bureau. According to Disability Scoop,

Socioeconomic factors appear to be a major reason behind the lack of Internet access among those with disabilities, the report found. When researchers controlled for income, education, age and other demographic and geographic variables, the disparity in access between those with and without disabilities dropped to only about 6 percent.

Of course, in this economy, I think the digital divide is becoming even more of a concern. People may not have the ability to buy a computer and rely on places like libraries, which in turn are feeling the budget crunch and may not be able to provide those services or provide them at hours that people can use them. At the same time, jobs are increasingly require more computer skills, and to even fill out an application requires computer knowledge (and sometimes accessibility options companies don't always provide.)

What do you think?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eventually, No More Moisture Problems?

Playing with water: The rabbit and the ball
Image from John 'K' on Flickr.
One of the most annoying things about owning a pair of hearing aids is dealing with the problems that can arise from excess moisture getting in the workings. I try to remember to take my hearing aids to my audiologist every few months to have them dried out, and I use a Dry and Store every night, but the problem still persists.

I was excited to see a company is working on the problem, and the solution sounds pretty cool (if you're geeky like me and like this kind of thing). According to a press release sent out recently, Clear-tone Hearing Aid Laboratories has developed "MPS Technology" to create a moisture-repellent bond that binds to the surface of an object. It's invisible and doesn't affect the acoustics of the device.

There's more information over at Nanowerk. Pretty cool!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guest Post: Accessibility at College

 The below guest post is from Anthony Garcia. For more information about guest posts on Hearing Sparks (I love them!), see here.


Anthony recently completed his graduate education in English Literature. A New Mexico native, he currently resides and writes in Seattle, Washington. He writes primarily about education, travel, literature, and American culture.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing have to consider many things when choosing a college. The most important aspect, whether you are looking for graduate programs online or at traditional campuses, is accessibility. For a student who is deaf or who has a hearing impairment, access to equal communication is key. Cultural and academic barriers can make the transition to higher education difficult even without hearing loss, so finding one that offers strong accessibility and support for you is vital.

One of the greatest obstacles for students who are deaf or hard of hearing is communication in the classroom. Even though some students may know how to lip read, some instructors can be difficult to follow during lecture in a large classroom. Look for a well-staffed and knowledgeable special services department that can help to provide an interpreter for you once you get in the classroom.

Many campuses also hire note takers through accessibility services offices. A note taker is usually another student in the room who writes the notes on a special type of paper. The paper makes a second copy that can be given to the student who is deaf at the end of the class, or the notes are photocopied and sent to the student who needs them through the accessibility office. This process can also be anonymous if desired by the student.

The school might be able to hire an interpreter to meet students’ language needs, whether the individual uses American Sign Language, requires translation or uses another form of communication, which is something to ask about in the student services or accessibility services office.

Another support tool to consider when you are searching for colleges is a support system for captions in the classroom, although once you arrive on campus, you should also discuss this need with each professor individually. When films are shown in class, they should have closed captioning, with a running script of the dialogue. This makes it easier for the student to get the right information and clearly understand the video’s content. Classes can also be open-captioned, which involves having someone type onto a screen what the presenter is saying. There are numerous services that can offer the school captioned videos for free. This reduces the cost the school may incur for using captioning.

Classrooms at the school should have the technology available that make use of visual aids and multi-media that are well-suited to the visual learning style of students with hearing loss. This includes videos, power point presentations, and interactive tasks.

Some colleges and universities put accessibility at the forefront of their priority list. Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. is an excellent example of a school mindful of students who are hard of hearing. This school has instructors who use sign, full captioning services, and support services for students. Activities and staff are set up for those who sign, use speech or other forms of communication.

The Rochester Institute of Technology, which features the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, is another example of wonderful accessibility. The school and its website incorporate universal design, which strives to make campuses and other user interfaces accessible to the broadest audience possible. The school has captioning services, interpretation and related support services.

The University of Vermont gives students who are deaf numerous support options, including note takers, interpreters and captioning. They also encourage instructors to utilize deaf-friendly teaching methods, such as a greater use of visual aids while teaching and repeating student questions and comments.

Students who are deaf or hard of hearing should make the first stop on their campus visit the special services office. This department can help them to communicate with instructors about accommodations, get resources and meet other challenges that may come up. If the school is serious about accessibility, they will offer a wide variety of options for the student to choose from.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Help FEMA Reach the Deaf Community, November 9th

On November 9th at 2PM Eastern, there will be a national test of the Emergency Broadcast System by FEMA. If you live in the US and have a Twitter account, you can help FEMA establish how well the alert reaches the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community. There is more information at the Xpressive Handz blog here.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On PBS November 3rd: A Documentary About ASL Poetry

On November 6th on many PBS stations, Independent Lens will be showing a documentary about American Sign Language poetry called "Deaf Jam."

The documentary will follow Aneta Brodski, who is a high school student attending the Lexington School for the Deaf. She is involved with promoting ASL poetry and slam poetry and takes a look at Aneta's life and her schoolmates.

In my area "Deaf Jam" will be showing at 11PM on Thursday night, November 3rd, so I am not sure if I will be able to stay up till midnight to watch it, but I am very interested and I hope someone gets a chance to see it!

Below is a captioned trailer for the show:

(via Technorati)