Saturday, December 15, 2012

Loud Commercials Are Now Banned

It's been a four-year effort, but this week, the FCC has barred broadcasters from showing overly loud commercials. Commercials must now be the same volume on average as the main show - putting an end to having to adjust the volume every few minutes or run for the mute button on your remote.

A television remote control being pointed at a television
Photo via Flickr user espensorvik
Television companies have known this rule was coming since 2010, when Congress passed the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act. Only two small television companies have been granted waivers.

According to Senator Charles Schumer, "It's about time we turned down the volume on loud commercials that startle TV watchers into paying attention."

If you notice a commercial is still too loud, send a complaint to the FCC via their complaint form. You can also call 1-888-TELL-FCC to report a complaint; TTY number 1-888-835-5322. Multiple complaints will prompt the FCC to look into a problematic commercial.

(via KearneyHub)


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

23andMe Drops Genetic Testing Price to $99

Today the genetic testing company 23andMe announced in a press release that a $50 million investment as well as the dropping cost of genetic tests has allowed it to drop the cost of its genetic testing to $99. Previously, the company would occasionally have sales to drop the price of the testing, but its non-sale price was in the hundreds of dollars.

My 2010 testing kit from 23andMe.
I am personally a big fan of 23andMe. I took advantage of a $99 sale in 2010 to get my genetic results, and I detailed what I found out in this blog post. 23andMe provides information on disease risk, medication response, and even ancestry - you can trace your maternal or paternal (if you are male) line back hundreds of years.

23andMe has two tests related to hearing loss. One tests for Connexin-26-Related Sensorineural Hearing Loss (I found out I am a carrier, but it's not necessarily the cause of my deafness). The other tests for Pendred Syndrome, a hereditary condition which is characterized by deafness (I don't know about this one, although I doubt it, because I need to upgrade my account, which I plan to do soon).

Hopefully this new price will enable many more people to learn about their genetic history - or even a little bit about their ancestry.

Friday, November 30, 2012

My Heart Glow by Emily Arnold McCully

The cover of the book My Heart Glow by Emily Arnold McCully.
The cover of My Heart Glow
by Emily Arnold McCully.
My Heart Glow: Alice Cogswell, Thomas Gallaudet, and the Birth of American Sign Language was written by Emily Arnold McCully. I stumbled upon it at the library where I work, and I'm happy I did; it's a very interesting, concise retelling of the story of young Alice Cogswell, Thomas Gallaudet, and Laurent Clerc.

Alice was a young woman in the 19th century who felt alienated from her peers, and unable to communicate beyond simple finger signing with her siblings. Through Thomas Gallaudet's help she became able to read and write. After Gallaudet took a trip to Europe and met Clerc, they established the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut and enabled the development of American Sign Language.

The book uses illustration and text to tell Alice's story to young viewers. By presenting the story from the viewpoint of someone their age, McCully is able to make the story relatable, and she also includes excerpts from Alice's letters to Gallaudet, demonstrating how she was able to write. I think it's a worthy read for anyone interested in Deaf history of any age.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Transitioning from Analog to Digital Hearing Aids

The author of the blog post at around age 5 with her mother.
Around the time this photo was taken, I would be wearing
my analog hearing aids.
When I was 12 years old, I had been wearing analog hearing aids for about six or seven years. I was used to the sound quality, having never experienced anything different. My audiologist suggested a switch to digital hearing aids. This would have been the late 90s, when digital innovation in hearing aids was starting to pick up steam.

I remember being nervous about the switch. Dr. Scharber explained how my new hearing aids would be able to direct sound more easily and also help me differentiate between background noise and important noise. I remember asking him how a hearing aid could do that, and he told me that my ears and my brain would do most of the work for me. I wasn't used to thinking of my ears as able to do much of anything for me, so hearing that made me think that maybe my ears weren't totally useless after all.

When I got the new hearing aids, I was amazed at the sound quality. Right away I wanted more sound out of those little aids. I remember them calling me a "power hearer" at the audiologist's office. I wanted to be able to hear everything.

I don't remember having to adjust to the sounds at all, but I do remember having to identify background noise I had never heard before. I could hear the air conditioner, and when we got home I heard the microwave ding from the other side of the house. The next time it rained, if I focused I could actually hear it beating on the rooftop (I'm not always able to, unfortunately, because I love the sound).

In 2009 I switched hearing aids again, this time to digital aids with Bluetooth capability. Again, the sound quality was a big jump and again I wanted more sound out of the even smaller devices. To me getting new hearing aids is like getting a pair of glasses. Your vision - or hearing - can degrade in such small intervals that you don't even realize what you are missing. When you get a pair of hearing aids or eyeglasses that help restore what you've lost it's great.

I can't wait to see what new advances come out in hearing aids in the future. The new technology is amazing.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Notebook That Taught a Deaf Teenager to Communicate in the 17th Century

A page of diagrams from Alexander Popham's notebook.
A page from the notebook.
Alexander Popham, born in the 17th century, is considered one of the earliest deaf people who learned to speak.

At the time, men who could not speak could not inherit property or make wills, and Alexander, who was born deaf, was from a noble family, so it was important that he learn to communicate. His family turned to John Wallis and William Holder, and the teenager eventually learned to speak. Interestingly, the success of the case led to division between the two men as they argued about who had been successful with his instruction.

According to MSNBC, in 2008 a notebook was discovered in Berkshire, revealing that Wallis was the more successful tutor, and made use of verbal communication, writing, and sign language to communicate with Popham. He took a very scientific approach, which is interesting for the time period, when modern scientific research was just coming into being.

While I was reading about Alexander Popham, I discovered some mentions of a book about his notebook called Alexander Popham's Notebook by Peter W. Jackson, due to be published this year, but it doesn't appear it has come out yet.

For more information

300-year-old manual shows effort to help deaf speak (LiveScience)
Find could end 350-year science dispute (BBC News)
William Holder and John Wallis (Wikipedia)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mental Floss Explains Facial Expressions in American Sign Language

A sign language interpreter at Capital Pride Festival in Washington, DC
Capital Pride Festival by vpickering on Flickr
Back in high school, I took two years of American Sign Language to fulfill my foreign language requirement to graduate. (I had the hardest time with my other two options - Spanish or French. Although Spanish would be useful in my current job, most of the time I just couldn't understand the words.)

One of the most difficult things to get used to when communicating in any sign language is the use of facial expression and body language. Of course, most, if not all, verbal languages are somewhat dependent on body language already - but sign language can take it to a whole nother level, to the point where it can feel funny or awkward to watch someone signing. I'm not a very extroverted person already, so trying to get my point across in ASL proved very difficult! (I had the hardest time interpreting songs. My instructor would tell me it was obviously a beautiful song but it wasn't coming across on my face. I definitely need to work on that.)

I really liked this article from Mental Floss about why sign language interpreters look so animated. The article uses ASL interpreter Lydia Callis, who has become something of a minor internet celebrity after interpreting NYC Mayor Bloomberg's television addresses about Hurricane Sandy. The visual example of Callis' interpretation is used to great effect (especially for us visual learners) to explain how body language and facial expression can affect words and phrases in ASL.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Supertooth Buddy and Motorola CLP1040 Radio

Back in August, I wrote about my experiences being able to communicate at work using a combination of my Oticon Streamer and the Motorola CLP1040 radio. At my workplace, we've started using these Bluetooth radios to be able to communicate with others in the building.

As I wrote in my original post, it seemed that my Streamer was going to work fine with the Motorola radio. However, we soon found that there were some challenges. Any time I wanted to use the radio and pair it up with my Streamer, I would need to have someone else walk out of range of my hearing aids and set it up for me. What's more, it would often take a very long time or not work at all. It just wasn't going to work out for me.

The Supertooth Buddy.

The solution came in the form of the Supertooth Buddy, a Bluetooth device intended to serve as a speakerphone in the car. My employer ordered one for me and one for a coworker who also wears hearing aids. We also have one to use for the person who answers the phones at work so they don't have a Bluetooth device in their ear while they try to talk on the phone.

This device eliminates my need to use my Streamer at work. I simply pair it up with the radio. The sound comes through the speaker in the device, rather than through my hearing aids.

Now that I've been using it for a few weeks, I have the system pretty well worked out. It pairs fairly easily. It's small, and comes with a clip, so it clips right on my pants pocket along with the Motorola radio. The only difficulty I sometimes encounter is being able to hear if someone is trying to get ahold of me. The volume can be set fairly loudly, though, so it usually isn't a problem.

It may seem a little unorthodox to be using a car speakerphone as a communication device at work, but when it comes to making things accessible, sometimes all it takes is a little thinking outside the box!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Netflix Will Caption All Of Its Video By 2014

By 2014, all of Netflix's streaming video will be captioned, according to Disability Scoop.

Netflix has been in legal battles over captioning for years, since they were sued in 2010 over their captioned content (or lack thereof). Even as they fought various rulings, the number of captioned videos on Netflix rose, to the point that 90% of their videos are captioned today.

I'm very happy to see this ruling. As a fairly recent Netflix subscriber, I've found that most of what I want to watch is captioned, but there are always exceptions. For me, those exceptions mostly come in the form of various documentaries and educational TV shows I'd like to watch - now I'll finally be able to, as long as Netflix doesn't make severe cuts to its streaming library as a result of this decision.

Combined with Amazon.com's recent decision to start captioning its Instant Video titles and the FCC's deadlines on captioned internet video, I think we're finally near a point where accessibility is recognized as an important part of providing online media.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Amazon Has Begun Captioning its Instant Video Titles

The FCC has instituted a schedule that requires Internet video that meets certain requirements be closed captioned. As a response to the first deadline, which was September 30th, Amazon.com has begun captioning some of its Instant Video titles.

TechCrunch reports that some Amazon users received an email explaining the new captions feature and how to search Amazon.com for captioned Instant Video titles. It's fairly easy to browse, as an option shows up on the left-hand side when you're browsing movies or television on the web site.

The Amazon.com Instant Video page showing a Closed Caption search option.


As you can see (click to enlarge the screenshot if necessary), when I took a look at Amazon.com, 88 movies had closed-captioning in English. It's only a small percentage of the thousands of videos available on Amazon.com, but it's a start. As we've seen with Netflix, it can take a company awhile to go through their library and add captions or subtitling options.

I'm glad to see that Amazon.com Instant Video is now something that I can consider as an option if I want to watch a movie or a TV show. Hopefully, with these new regulations from the FCC, we'll see a lot more accessibility.

Monday, October 1, 2012

How To Easily Caption or Subtitle Your YouTube Videos

Over on my blog for my college class, Accessibility Basics, I've added a tutorial on how to use Amara to easily subtitle your YouTube videos. It was super simple for me to do and I plan to use it for all of my future videos.


Here's the video I used for the tutorial, if anyone is curious about what I sound like! Haha. This snippet of video is intended to eventually become a longer video tutorial on captioning.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Making Web Content Accessible for Everyone

I apologize for the lack of posts on my blog lately. As I expected, with going back to school my free time has been constricted a bit.

I wanted to share with you my current project for school. I'm currently taking a Principles of Writing with Technology class towards my major in Technical Communication. Part of the class involves a project - could be anything from a research paper to a website.

I decided to create a blog aimed at content programmers and creators for the web. This blog is intended to assist people who program and write for the web in making the content they create accessible for everyone, including those with disabilities.

The blog/website will encompass everything from advocacy for captioned video to how to add alt text to images for people using screen readers.

It's been very eye opening for me so far and I've only just started! I hope you will take a look and give me feedback along with the feedback I'll be receiving in class.

Of course I still plan to write here, and I definitely will when things settle down, but I'm really enjoying the chance to explore different aspects of technology I haven't been able to before. 

And if you can think of anything that would be a good fit for this site, let me know! I plan to cross-reference items related to deafness and hearing loss between both of these blogs.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Netflix and Amara - Crowdsourcing Subtitle Possibilities

Amara, formerly Universal Subtitles, and Netflix have teamed up to crowdsource subtitling some of Netflix's offerings, according to an email sent out by Amara. The concept is still in beta and it's not yet known if Amara subtitles will actually show up on Netflix-streamed shows and movies.

01 (216)
Photo via Victor1558 on Flickr.
They're also providing the ability for you to help, if you want to lend your captioning expertise (not just in English). There's a form here to fill out with your information, including different languages you know, if you want to help with the project.

It sounds to me as though Netflix is trying different options to satisfy any obligations it has under the ADA and other accessibility laws. As Netflix expands into other countries, it will also have to consider international laws as well. Crowdsourcing sounds like it could easily help take some of the burden off Netflix while also allowing members of the public to contribute to a worthy cause.

(via Amara and GigaOM)

Monday, August 20, 2012

LSTN Headphones Provides Hearing Aids for Children in Need

A pair of LSTN Headphones with cherry wood.
Today I learned about LSTN Headphones, a company based in Los Angeles, CA which sells environmentally-friendly headphones made from exotic woods.

A pair of LSTN Headphones costs between $57 and $95, and they claim the sound quality is excellent, but that's not why I'm particularly interested in them.

You see, for every pair of LSTN headphones purchased, LSTN provides a pair of hearing aids, batteries, molds, ear cleaning and antibiotics to a deaf child in need. They do this as partners with global charities who operate clinics in small villages.

I think this is really great. As they say on their website, "the production of hearing aids only meets 10% of global need." They even provide mosquito nets, because malaria is a leading cause of hearing loss.

Note: I wasn't contacted or sponsored by LSTN in any way to make this post. I just think they are doing something really amazing for children in need.

(via Complex)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Oticon Streamer and Motorola CLP1040 Radio

Communication at work has always been something important to me, whether it be being able to talk on the phone to call my coworkers or just being able to hear them in a crowded, noisy room. Today I want to talk about a new communication device we have at work and how I am able to use it. Hopefully my experience can assist other Bluetooth hearing aid wearers.

Vocera and Motorola CLP1040
Me with the Vocera (left) and Motorola CLP1040 (right)
I work in a public library, which is not huge, but is rather spread-out and very busy. People are not always by their phones when they need to be reached and it can be hard to track someone down physically, especially if we are busy.  We  started off with a solution to this problem called Vocera, which is marketed at the healthcare field. The Vocera is like a walkie-talkie, but you can call people directly rather than contacting everyone on the same channel. Someone standing next to you could hear both sides of the conversation.

Recently my library decided to switch to Motorola CLP1040 radios. These are more like walkie talkies where your voice is heard by everyone on the same channel. They utilize the main device as well as a paired Bluetooth headset. This means someone will only hear one side of the conversation, as the wearer hears others through the headset.

It also meant I was going to have to come up with a solution, because I can't wear a Bluetooth headset. Or rather, I'm already wearing a Bluetooth headset (my hearing aids), and I don't want to give them up!

Oticon Streamer
Me with my Streamer device.
That is where the Streamer came into play. My hearing aids, manufactured by Oticon, can pair with the Streamer device, allowing me to hear phone calls and music through my hearing aids.

However, getting the Streamer to work with the new radio was not as easy as I was expecting. I expected it to pair as easily as the Streamer pairs with a cellphone, but that was not the case. For awhile it looked as though the devices were never going to connect.

The IT department and myself looked at several options, including physically connecting the Streamer and the radio via an audio cable (which did not work), getting another device like a portable speaker phone, or a special cable.

Eventually, though, we were able to get it to work. It required taking the Streamer and the radio far away from me (and my hearing aids), and pressing a lot of buttons on both devices. When they were returned to me, everything was properly paired, and I could hear what I needed to hear from the walkie talkie.

When in "phone call mode" with the Streamer, there are two settings. One mutes the audio surrounding the wearer to allow them to focus on the phone conversation. The other is supposed to leave all audio at the same volume so that you can monitor your surroundings as well as the phone call. (I'd just like to take a moment to be amazed at technology. Not only can I get phone calls streamed directly into my ears, I can selectively mute what I'd rather not listen to. How cool is that?)

I experienced some trouble using the latter setting. In a library setting, assisting patrons, I needed to be able to hear them as well as the walkie talkie if someone started speaking. Even on the setting where nothing should be muted, everything seemed too quiet and I experienced some difficulty hearing patrons. Not to mention, I felt fairly disconcerted, as all of the surrounding noise I was used to was very quiet. I took a look at the Streamer manual and experimented a little with the volume buttons. Turning the Streamer off and on again appeared to do the trick. Hopefully, I don't have to fumble with it too often at the public desk.

I think this whole project is still a work in progress and it remains to be seen how well it will work when everyone is using the walkie talkies (right now, we are still testing everything out). However, I am really glad that I am able to use the same thing as everyone else, just with one added accessory.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Turn a Deaf Ear by Janet Horger (Giveaway!)

Update: The giveaway has closed and the winner is Jim. Jim, I'll be in contact with you.Thanks to everyone who entered!

I just finished an interesting book called Turn a Deaf Ear, by Janet Horger, and wanted to share my thoughts on it. Be sure to check the end of this post for the opportunity to win a copy of this book courtesy of the author.

Turn a Deaf Ear is the story of Linda and John, mostly focusing on Linda. The reader is taken through Linda's early life and experiences, complete with recipes for some of the amazing-sounding food that her Italian family dishes up. Linda meets John and in turn is introduced to the wider Deaf community and American Sign Language.

I really enjoyed this book. The writing is very personable and accessible, and it's a great multicultural experience. The challenges that Deaf people experienced during this time period (the '60s and '70s) and continue to experience are highlighted. There's also some nice humor from Linda's mother and other members of her family.

If you would like to win a copy of Turn a Deaf Ear for yourself, just enter a comment below (US/CAN only please). You can enter as often as you like, but please make sure you include some way for me to get in touch with you. I will choose a winner on August 2, 2012.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Deaf Participation in the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

Beijing 2008 Olympic Cupcake
Photo via Flickr user clevercupcakes
Like many others, I watched the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony last night. I love the Olympics and especially like the opening and closing ceremonies. One thing that caught my eye was the inclusion of the deaf in the opening ceremonies. I did a little bit of research into those participants and thought I would share.

Evelyn Glennie (website)
Dame Evelyn Glennie led 1,000 drummers into the Industrial Revolution portion of the Opening Ceremonies with a catchy, thumping drum beat. It was very visually striking as Evelyn was above the actual stage while actors portrayed the movement into the Industrial Revolution.

Evelyn has been profoundly deaf since she was eleven years old. She is Scottish, and grew up in Aberdeenshire. According to Evelyn,
First and foremost I am a sound creator. Everything I do is derived from sound in spite of my profound deafness. I strive to explore every sound avenue and surface including design, technology and physicality. I enjoy the challenge of creating a 'no-fuss' approach and relish the idea of building a global legacy brand that will live long after I have departed the stage.
Evelyn has written an excellent essay that touches upon her deafness and how it is often misunderstood. Her Hearing Essay can be found here (pdf) and eloquently explains how both deaf and hearing people act upon their perceptions of the world around them.

Kaos Singing Choir for Deaf & Hearing Children (website)
This choir, dressed in pajamas, performed the British national anthem for the Queen during the Opening Ceremonies. They performed the anthem in English and BSL.

According to their website, the Kaos Singing Choir has over 200 participants and is "the only integrated deaf and hearing children’s choir in the UK."

They have some music tracks (Songs of Kaos) and videos on their website here to give a watch/listen.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Apple Working on Patenting a Social Network for Hearing Aids?

people talking in paris
Photo via Flickr user katiedee47.
It appears that Engadget has found an interesting concept from Apple in the United States Patent and Trademark Office database - a social network for hearing aid users.

According to Engadget, the idea is that a person's hearing aid could store a profile, or list of audio settings, which could then be "shared" when the user meets someone else wearing hearing aids. The hearing aids would then adjust dynamically to provide both wearers a good listening experience. This would all work with a computing device, maybe a tablet or smartphone, and the profile could be adjusted based on the user's preferences.

You can read Apple's actual filing here. What do you think? I think this is a neat idea - I would be really interested to see a demonstration and get an idea of how well something like this would actually work. This could be another example of how Apple is looking towards accessibility, in addition to its "Made for iPhone" hearing aids teased earlier.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy (Giveaway Now Closed)

Update: The giveaway has closed and the winner is Maevy's Daddy. If this is you please get in touch with me so that I can send you your copy of the book. Thanks to everyone.

When I was a kid, I remember my dad telling me the story of the origin of the football huddle. The story goes that Gallaudet University quarterback Paul Hubbard invented the football huddle in the late 1800s, out of frustration that opposing teams could read sign language and gain knowledge of upcoming plays. I liked the story, both because it was interesting, and because it showed that deaf athletes could play and even influence sports.

When I was contacted by Lee & Low Books to ask if I would like to take a look at the book Silent Star: The Story of Deaf Major Leaguer William Hoy, I definitely appreciated the chance to be able to read about another deaf athlete. Lee & Low Books also sent me a copy to give away to one of my readers. If you would like to enter to win this copy, check the end of this post for instructions.

Silent Star, which is by Bill Wise (illustrations by Adam Gustavson), takes us through the life of William Hoy. William, or "Dummy" as he actually came to prefer to be called (the term was acceptable in the 19th century), was deafened by a bout with meningitis in his childhood. Hoy never gave up on his dream of playing baseball in the major leagues. This book vividly describes his experiences growing up and proving his abilities to be able to move up in the baseball ranks. Hoy retired from baseball over a century ago, but his accomplishments still rank up there with today's notable players. According to the book, he is "one of only three outfielders to record three assists to home plate in one game and is the only outfielder ever to lead a major league in assists, putouts, and fielding percentage in the same season."

In order to play, Hoy had to overcome initial skepticism as well as difficulty with the mechanics of the game itself (not being able to hear the umpire's calls meant he had to turn and look at him after each pitch, leaving him unable to see the pitcher getting ready to throw another ball). The book is an inspiration, showing how Hoy beat his obstacles and became very successful.

The book is available on Amazon here.

I would like to give away a copy of this book to one of my readers. To enter, leave me a comment below. After July 26, 2012, I will choose a winner randomly. Please make sure you leave a way for me to get in touch with you (email address) in your comment (or make sure you are logged in to Google to comment). US/Canadian address only, please.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Just Some Housekeeping

I have made a couple of changes to the blog in the last few days.

First off, Hearing Sparks now has its own domain, meaning you can reach it at www.hearingsparks.com. The old blogspot URL still works just fine, but will redirect you to the domain. Now I want to make some business cards!

Also, I updated my logo slightly. As in, I actually made a logo rather than plain text! You may be wondering about the bulky headphones in my logo. I chose them for two reasons. First, they remind me of the headphones I wear at the audiologist to have my hearing tested. Second, if I want to listen to music and not use my Oticon Streamer, I have to use bulky headphones. At first I disliked wearing them, but now I find them really comfortable (or maybe I lucked out on my pair.)

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Guest Post: Simple Lifestyle Steps to Follow to Maintain Healthy Hearing

The post below is from John. Many thanks to John for sending me this post on how cleanliness can affect hearing health! For more information about guest posts on Hearing Sparks (I love them!), see here

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Maintaining healthy hearing ability is something that is extremely important and can benefit an individual for a lifetime. Not everyone considers how to maintain good hearing ability. However, taking the time to learn about simple steps that can be taken to protect the ear, the ear cavity and ear drum can result in benefits that will be significant.

Lifestyle Choices and How These Choices Affect Your Hearing
Most people are familiar that a good diet and exercise are important for maintaining a healthy body, but these things are also extremely important for maintaining excellent hearing. While loss of hearing can result from numerous things, people who have diabetes or poor circulation are at a higher risk of losing hearing ability than people who do not have these health problems.

Clean homes and environments are also highly important to maintain a solid ability to hear well. Ear infections are one of the biggest causes of loss of hearing. If a person goes swimming in a pool that is not clean, if a person does not take proper care of personal hygiene, or does not visit a doctor regularly to take care of infections, these things can lead to partial or full loss of hearing if left unattended.

People that live in homes that are clean and who take good care of their personal hygiene have a lesser chance of getting infections in their ears. Other infections that can be caused by bacteria can also move around the body and potentially cause hearing problems. Keeping kitchens and bathrooms sanitized and keeping other rooms in the home regularly cleaned, dusted, scrubbed, and vacuumed will increase the person’s ability to manage their hearing health, as well as their overall physical health.

Know When to See a Medical Professional

Knowing how to recognize signs of potential hearing loss is the best way to take proactive measures to protect your hearing as much as possible. Hearing loss can be caused by being subject to loud noises on a consistent basis. Hearing loss can also be caused by ear infections, physical illnesses or a disease or tumor. In addition to these things, a blow to the ear or the head area can also affect how well a person is able to hear.

Each of these things will result in symptoms a person can report to a doctor. Seeking medical attention as soon as possible and accurately reporting the symptoms will help the physician to make a proper diagnosis. In some situations, it may be necessary to wear a hearing aid in order to regain full hearing or partial hearing ability.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

8 Dolls, Stuffed Animals, and Toys with Hearing Aids

For kids with hearing aids, sometimes having a toy "just like them" can really help. Here are eight such toys, stuffed animals, and dolls I found for purchase online.

1. Build-a-Bear
Build-a-Bear offers a plush hearing aid for their stuffed animals to wear. It's $2, and is red and silver.
Image of the Mr. BTE Doll
From Just Bekuz Products

2. Flaghouse
The website Flaghouse sells Just Like Me Dolls which can be outfitted with a variety of accessories, including hearing aids, leg braces, and even an assistive dog. The dolls come in a variety of appearances and skin colors. The hearing aid accessory costs $1.25.

3. Oticon
The hearing aid company Oticon offers Hearing Aid Care Kits when a hearing aid in their Safari line is purchased. The Hearing Aid Care Kit for ages 0-4 includes a stuffed animal, Otto, who has his own hearing aids. There is an adorable picture of a little boy with his "Otto" on the Team Espinoza blog.

4. American Girl
American Girl now offers hearing aids for their dolls. The removable aids cost $14 and require the doll to be sent to their "Doll Hospital" so that the doll's ear can be properly fitted for an aid on one or both ears. You can also order a doll complete with hearing aid from their website.

A MyTwinn Doll with hearing aid.
5. Just Bekuz Products Co.
Just Bekuz Products has a stuffed animal that IS a hearing aid! He costs $19.95 and comes with a built-in dehumidifier to store and dry a child's hearing aids.

6. Sign Language Doll
These dolls cost between $80-$100. They wear hearing aids and have manipulative hands so that they can form signs. They have a little girl, a little boy, and a rabbit doll for purchase, and also allow you to buy a doll for a nonprofit organization of your choice.

7. Lakeshore Learning
Lakeshore sells adaptive equipment for dolls, designed to fit their Multiethnic School Dolls. I've read these can also fit other dolls or stuffed animals. You can purchase two hearing aids and two pairs of eyeglasses for $9.95 on the site.

8. My Twinn
My Twinn dolls can be purchased with hearing aids. They cost $9 each and are beige.

I wasn't able to find any stuffed animals or dolls that have cochlear implants. Has anyone heard of any?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Google+ Hangouts Now Have Captioning Options

Google announced an exciting new feature at the National Association of the Deaf Conference this year: Google+ Hangouts now support live captioning, either through a professional service (StreamText) or via a participant in the Hangout typing a transcript for the benefit of other users.

An example of captions in Google+ Hangout, via Google.
 Hangouts are an important part of the Google+ social media platform and Google's attempt to distinguish Google+ from Facebook and other competitors. Hangouts allow people to video chat with groups, free, for up to 10 people. Users can also stream Hangouts from their profile for anyone to see.

Hangout Captions is an app which must be installed from this page. There's also a support forum for troubleshooting.

This follows the addition of an option to caption videos added to Google+ in May.

I'd be happy to see the addition of Google's automated captions technology to Hangouts as a third option, besides the transcript or professional captions options. Automated captions aren't perfect but they'd be very helpful, especially with the option to edit captions as they appear.

(via Mashable)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Guest Post: 5 Reasons for Having Saliva Tests Done

The blog post below is from Jennifer Gonzales. Thanks to Jennifer for keeping us apprised of things we can do to help our health! For more information about guest posts on Hearing Sparks (I love them!), see here

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U.S. Army Medical Research Unit - Improving malaria diagnostics, Kisumu, Kenya 05-2010Saliva tests can help diagnose a number of conditions. They are not as invasive as blood tests and offer more accurate results in some cases. They also cost less and can often be done at home. Saliva tests involve producing a small amount of saliva, which is then checked for certain abnormalities, such as high or low levels of proteins or hormones.

1. Thyroid Imbalances 
People who show signs of a thyroid imbalance, such as fatigue, weight changes, or hair loss, can have saliva tests done to help diagnose their condition. A saliva test checks a person's hormone levels. When the levels are high, this can indicate an overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism. Low levels are associated with an under-active thyroid or hypothyroidism. Saliva tests might produce better results than blood tests since the amount of hormones in the bloodstream is much smaller than the amount found in a saliva sample.

2. Ovulation
Women who are trying to get pregnant can use a saliva test to find out if they're ovulating. The test involves placing saliva on a slide and looking at it through a microscope to see the pattern it forms when it dries. A pattern shaped like a fern indicates an increase in estrogen which is associated with ovulation. The most accurate results occur when the test is taken no earlier than two days before ovulation usually begins, or no later than two days after it typically starts. This test should not be used to help prevent pregnancy.

3. Food Allergies and Sensitivities 
People who suspect that they have a food allergy or sensitivity can have saliva tests done to help determine which food is causing the problem. The test works by showing the levels of antibodies produced in response to certain types of food. Abnormal levels of antibodies indicate a sensitivity or allergy. This type of test is less invasive than the blood tests and skin prick tests that are usually done to find out what is causing an allergic reaction.

4. Infectious Diseases 
Saliva tests can be used to determine whether or not a person has HIV-1. The test device is placed inside the mouth for up to five minutes and then is sent to a lab to be checked for antibodies to HIV-1. These tests produce highly accurate results and were officially approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration in 2004. Saliva tests have also shown potential for accurately diagnosing other infectious diseases, such as hepatitis C, parasitic infections, and Helicobacter pylori infections.

5. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Women who show signs of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), such as hair loss, irregular menstrual cycles, or infertility can have saliva tests done to help diagnose this condition. These tests measure the amount of hormones in the saliva sample. Results that show high levels of androgens, such as testosterone or DHEA, and low levels of progesterone are associated with PCOS.

Saliva tests generally provide a safe, accurate, and more comfortable way to detect certain conditions. People who use them should keep in mind that some conditions will also require other medical tests to confirm a positive diagnosis.

 Jennifer Gonzales is a freelance writer, who blogs about a diverse range of health-related topics. Jennifer recommends saliva testing as a fast and efficient way to be diagnosed for certain medical conditions.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sundance Channel's "Push Girls" - $2.99 if You Want Captions, Otherwise Free

Push Girls is a new show which premiered this month on the Sundance Channel. The show "trac[es] the lives of four dynamic, outspoken and beautiful women who, by accident or illness, have been paralyzed from the neck or the waist down" (from the site, here). It sounds like an interesting show, which would educate and advocate about disabilities.

An image from the Push Girls website.
However, according to this Consumerist post, you can only watch the show with captions if you buy the $2.99 episodes on iTunes. The show is captioned on television, or on iTunes, but not on Sundance's website here. In fact, when I looked at the player for the episode, it appears the player is not programmed to be able to provide captions at all.

This reminds me a lot of "rental versions" of DVDs you can get at Redbox and other rental companies which sometimes don't have captions. Captions are often considered a "special feature." (This seems to be getting better, but I still see it sometimes on 'rental DVDs' we get for the library I work for.)

This makes me sad. If a company is going to make a show available online, especially if it is a show about disabilities, I don't see any reason we should have to pay $2.99, or buy a cable/satellite television subscription, to be able to watch it.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Automatic Captions on YouTube are Now Available in Spanish

Spanish-speakers who find captions useful can now take advantage of YouTube's automatic captions service.

Automatic captions use voice-recognition technology to transcribe captions without human input. Sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn't. However, I think it is awesome that Google is making captions available in a wide variety of languages.

If you need captions in another language and automatic captions aren't doing it for you, take a look at Amara, formerly known as Universal Subtitles. You can request that a video be captioned or even help out captioning videos in your language.

For more information on YouTube's Spanish captions, visit their blog here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Made for iPhone Hearing Aids: Intriguing News About iOS 6

A screenshot of Apple's information on accessibility.
Click to enlarge.
Note: See update on November 25, 2013

Yesterday, Apple announced new features coming to their newest version of their operating system, iOS 6. On their website they have a preview of the new operating system, which promises to bring a host of accessibility features to the system along with other features. One of the comments on the preview that jumped out at me, though, is this line:
And Apple is working with top manufacturers to introduce Made for iPhone hearing aids that will deliver a power-efficient, high-quality digital audio experience.
I can't find much more information about this online (not even who the "top manufacturers" are). The wording of this comment seems ambiguous. It could mean there will be "iHearingAids" sometime soon, or the wording could imply an aid to hearing - more accessibility features programmed with the input from manufacturers of hearing aids.

Lastly, and what I think might be the most likely, is that Apple is providing certain specifications that hearing aid manufacturers can meet in order to brand their products "Made for iPhone." This is similar to the way speaker manufacturers and other companies can brand their products "Made for iPhone."

I'm not a big Apple fan (Linux through and through), but the idea of a computing company manufacturing its own brand of hearing aids intrigues me. It may not be happening here, but I could easily see it happening sometime in the future.

What do you think? Would you seek out hearing aids specifically branded "Made for iPhone?"

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lou Ferrigno Receives Esteem Hearing Implant

Supanova Perth 2010 - Lou Ferrigno
Photo via Flickr user Nikita Kashner.
The Esteem is a fully implantable hearing aid device which gained FDA approval back in March of 2010. (I blogged about it here.) The device has been steadily gaining interest since its FDA approval. It is not for everyone - only for adults 18 and over and for people with a stable sensorineural hearing loss and normal ear anatomy.

In late May Lou Ferrigno announced that he has had the Esteem implanted in one ear. Lou is an actor who became profoundly deaf after ear infections in his very early childhood. He's currently on Celebrity Apprentice, and was on The Incredible Hulk and The King of Queens (as himself). I still remember my Dad pointing out Lou on The King of Queens and telling me that he was just like me.

I can't find a whole lot of information on Lou and the Esteem but this press release has some. Lou's wife Carla encouraged him to have the Esteem implant. As a result, Lou says he "hasn't felt this good since he won the Mr. Universe competition" and that "everything is so loud and so clear."

I'm really happy for Lou and glad the implant is working out for him. Hopefully it can find a place alongside conventional hearing aids and cochlear implants as helpful devices. I can't take advantage of the Esteem because I have a progressive hearing loss, but I find it very interesting. I anticipate a lot of interest in the Esteem as more people are implanted and we learn more about it.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Helen Keller in Love: Definitely a Book to Look Forward To

Cover of Helen Keller in Love.
Helen Keller in Love: A Novel* is a novel by Rosie Sultan, which came out April 26 of this year.

The book explores a romance between Helen Keller and her secretary Peter Fagan. Although this is a fictional piece of work, the author has researched Helen Keller's life and it has a basis in fact.

I find Helen Keller an absolutely fascinating historical figure beyond what people think of as her disabilities. After she learned to communicate with Anne Sullivan, she graduated from Radcliffe College and became the author of twelve books. She was a radical, with anti-capitalist views and a membership in the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World, and she was always an advocate for people with deafness and blindness. So she went far beyond what is often portrayed of her, as a feral child who learns to communicate. She was much more than that.

I haven't read this book yet, as I'll have to wait until it becomes available for me to request at the library. I'm very interested in its portrayal of Helen Keller and the difficulties she faced.

Have you read it? What do you think of it? 

*Affiliate link to Amazon

Friday, June 1, 2012

Some Tips for Convention-Going as a Deaf Person

This past month I was finally able to attend Phoenix Comicon after wanting to for several years. It was a brand new experience for me and although it was a little overwhelming at times, I really enjoyed it! I saw a lot of awesome people, bought some cool art, and overall had a very geeky time.

If you are not familiar with "comicons" (comic conventions), or similar conventions, essentially they serve as places for people with geeky interests (not just comics) to gather. Quite a few people dress up, celebrities make appearances and you can sit in on panels on various subjects. There is also an exhibit hall where you can spend every last dollar bill in your wallet on awesome stuff. (No regrets!)

I thought I would write a few suggestions for anyone who is deaf/Hard of Hearing and interested in attending a convention like this. Something new, with so many people, can be overwhelming. I will also share some of my pictures from the con so you can see how much fun it was!


Phoenix Comicon - Dalek

Sit up front
Unfortunately I didn't follow this advice in any of the panels I went to. I was a little nervous about being right up front. But, this was the biggest thing I would have done differently. The microphones were not always positioned correctly at various panels and some people didn't bother with them at all, unfortunately. Sitting up front would have improved my ability to hear immensely.


Phoenix Comicon - Video Games Panel
Not conducive to being able to hear.

Don't be afraid to ask people to speak up
This goes for panels, people at booths, and pretty much anyone at a convention. Everyone I met was immensely friendly and the place can be loud - so even people with typical hearing will need to speak loudly to make sure they are heard. Don't worry about asking people to repeat themselves or speak up. Chances are someone else in the audience or your group was about to ask the same thing.


Phoenix Comicon - Lego Guy

Utilize different settings on your hearing aids/devices
My hearing aids have a setting set up by my audiologist which decreases the amplification of sound to my left and right but keeps the correct amplification ahead and behind. This was a lifesaver my first day of the convention. The next couple of days I was more familiar with what to expect so I didn't need it. But this setting gave me just enough relief from the loud sounds of the crowd to be able to focus.

Check what special settings you may have on your hearing device and see if any can help you.

Familiarize yourself with the map and setting
You don't need hearing to navigate a building but I feel much better with a general idea of where to go. The Phoenix Comicon has a smartphone app which had maps of the buildings. They also have a handy programming booklet which includes maps, too. I found them very helpful.


Phoenix Comicon - Jack in the Void

Find a quiet spot you can relax in if you need it
I needed this especially a couple of times. It's good to have a spot to relax and recharge. Take a break from hearing. Even in a large building full of people, there is always a quiet spot to be found, even if it's the bathroom. Take advantage of it so you don't get overly stressed.

Go with friends

Friends/family members can always help you out if you need help communicating with someone or advocating for something. Plus I think the con is more fun with more people!


Phoenix Comicon - Us
Ask ahead of time about accessibility accommodations
The Phoenix Comicon seemed very accommodating and willing to help according to a couple of panelists I heard from over the course of the convention. If the information about accessibility accommodations (wheelchair ramps, captioned films, Braille signs, etc) is not available on the con's website, email them ahead of time. You may remind some very busy people of something they didn't mean to forget.

Request captions/subtitles

I didn't watch any films at this convention so I can't relate if subtitles were available. It may be a hassle to ask and then try to figure out how to turn them on, but if you need them, don't worry about it.


Phoenix Comicon - With the TARDIS

Don't be afraid to just sit and people-watch
I did this a few times with my husband during the convention. We would just find an empty space of wall and watch people for awhile. It helps your ears acclimate, and helps you get used to everything. You can spot when a crowd has left a booth so you can speak to the booth owner quietly. And you may be able to see when something interesting is about to happen that you wouldn't hear normally.


Phoenix Comicon - Young Sith Lord
There were a few things I felt the con could have improved on. Some were specific to certain booths (announcing a raffle without enough amplification), others could have been improved upon by the convention runners themselves (no text accompaniment to audio announcements, no way for those with visual difficulties to see what room certain panels were in). All in all I had a great time. Don't be worried if you are concerned about going to the con and not being able to hear. You'll have fun anyway!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Someday, An Awesome Heads-Up Display With Captions and Sound Indicators?

A few days ago I visited my audiologist to get some more hearing aid batteries and have the aids cleaned in preparation for summer (hotter days equal more sweat, which can damage the aid). I saw my audiologist as he was leaving and we had a brief conversation about this blog. The key part of the conversation, though, was that I didn't have my hearing aids in; I couldn't actually hear a word he said, but I was able to follow his words by lipreading.

I was pretty proud of myself for the accomplishment (I don't practice much without my aids, and rely on them a lot), but maybe in a few years I might not actually need to lipread. It looks as though Google is looking into a way to use its Google Glasses (wearable augmented-reality glasses, which overlay information in front of wearers' eyes) to create a text-to-speech feature.

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin Sports the New Google Glasses at Dinner in the Dark, a Benefit for the Foundation Fighting Blindness -- San Francisco, CA
Image via Flickr user Thomas Hawk
Google filed for a patent titled "Displaying sound indications on a wearable computing system" and was issued the patent on March 22 along with six others related to Google Glasses. According to Ars Technica, the patent doesn't mention Google Glasses but seems very likely to be related. The display would display what people nearby are saying as captions as well as "show arrows and flashing lights to indicate the direction and intensity level of the sound." The device would also be able to identify sounds for the person wearing it.

Of course the system may not be reliable right out the gate and the entire Google Glasses project has some problems to overcome, but I think this is a great taste of what is out there, technology-wise, to help deaf people. I'd give them a try for sure.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Marvel's New Deaf Superhero Created for a 4-Year-Old Boy

Image via Marvel from the CBR website
I can't even tell you how big of a smile I had on my face when I read this story about four-year-old Anthony Smith. Anthony has only partial hearing in his left ear and was born without a right ear at all. Some time ago he told his mother he didn't want to wear hearing aids because superheroes don't need hearing aids.

His mom got in touch with the comic book company Marvel and asked them for help. They sent Anthony a picture of Hawkeye, who in the comic books at one time lost his hearing to a sonic arrow. Then they created a deaf superhero named Blue Ear just for Anthony.

According to Marvel editor Bill Rosemann,
The brilliant truth that our founding creators understood was that giving our characters physical and psychological challenges not only made them unique from the ‘square-jawed’ heroes that came before, and not only instantly made them sympathetic and more three-dimensional, but it also gave them the ability to inspire our readers to overcome their own obstacles. The metaphor of the Marvel heroes is the very real idea that all of us–no matter our particular type of challenge–can push back against adversity and use our abilities to help the world around us.

Before I read this I didn't realize that there had ever been a comic book hero who needed to use hearing aids. How neat would it have been if they had made Hawkeye deaf in the Avengers movie?

Anyway, I think this was a really cool thing to do for a little boy!

(via Comic Book Resources and also thanks to my friend Amy for the heads-up)

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Experience - What to Expect From a Rear Window Captioning System at the Movies

On Thursday evening my husband and I decided to go see a movie. It was our wedding anniversary, so we went out for a nice dinner and then decided to go see Avengers at our local AMC theater. The trip to the movies gave me my first experience using a Rear Window Captioning System so I thought I would give an overview of how the process worked and how well I think it will work for me.

I first looked at Captionfish at home and then double checked it on my smartphone before the movie to make sure that this theater was showing an accessible screening of Avengers at a good time. Captionfish allowed me to see that AMC was showing the movie with a Rear Window system 40 minutes earlier than another nearby theater, so I went with them.

I also took a look at exactly what Rear Window Captioning Systems are. Basically, a theater is equipped with a screen on the back wall of the room near where the projection comes from. This screen displays the captions throughout the movie, mirror-image reversed. A movie patron takes the rear window device into the theater. It is mounted with a reflective panel which can be moved into position. The captions show up the correct way in the panel and it can be positioned over the screen.

The Rear Window device.
On the marquee at the theater there were 3 listings for Avengers: AVENGERS D3, AVENGERS D and AVENGERS D-AV. I bypassed their electronic ordering system to ask the employee what the different listings meant. He said D3 stood for "3D" and that "AV means it's for the hearing impaired but it won't affect your viewing at all." He said the last part so quickly I had to wonder how many people he had to explain that to every day.

I told him I wanted the "AV" showing, got tickets and headed inside. I asked the person taking tickets how the system works and she gave me a quick rundown, including telling me I needed to pick up the device itself from the customer service desk. I didn't have to give an ID or anything like that, which I liked. We had a funny moment when the employee handed me the device with a sock on the display screen. Another employee made sure the sock was removed before I took it in the theater, but it made me laugh.

The shape of the device is also funny (if you have a funny sense of humor). It has a base which sits perfectly in the cupholder (so you will be a little annoying if you have a drink, using two cupholders). A long flexible stalk leads up to where the reflective panel is positioned. It looks a lot like you are carrying around a flag.

Anyway, I got into the theater with my husband and we set up the device to my left. We sat in the middle of the theater, towards the front. The screen had a generic "Welcome to AMC Theatres"-type message while the opening ads were being displayed. This allowed me to situate the device exactly where I wanted it without having to fiddle with it during the movie.

I was a little worried initially because the wording was fairly small from where we were sitting. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to read it easily and also watch the movie. I thought about moving from our spot up a few rows but ultimately decided against it.

The generic message disappeared when the previews began. The previews weren't captioned, so if you got to the theater during the previews and needed to set up your Rear Window system you would end up having to wait till the movie begins.

Once the movie started I was happy with the system. The words were a little small but not too bad. The captions were well-timed with the dialogue. However, "outside noises" beyond dialogue, such as a helicopter, crowd noise, etc were not captioned the way they normally would be during a TV show.

The only other problem I had was the positioning of the device. I needed to leave once to use the restroom but I didn't want to have to adjust the positioning by moving it out of the way, so I had to slide under it. It was just a little annoying and made me look a little silly.

As the movie progressed I actually forgot the device was there. In fact when I got up to use the restroom I glanced at the screen and was surprised not to see the captions there. I forgot about it entirely.

We left the theater and handed the device back to an employee. No fuss about it at all.

All in all I enjoyed the experience. There were just a few clunky moments which may be ironed out as I get more experience using it. The employees couldn't have been nicer.

I hope this post helps you get a feel for what using a Rear Window Captioning System will be like if you haven't tried it yet!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Around the Web Wednesday

I know, I know. "Around the Web Wednesday?" you say. "You haven't posted one of those since October 12, 2011." I know. And I'm flattered you remember. Ha. :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Another Advantage of Captioning: Find Old Clips Quickly

Magnifying Glass
Image of a magnifying glass
Via Flickr user Auntie P
We all know how useful captions can be for the deaf and hard of hearing. And I've covered how captions can help you market your videos, too (the text file of captioned videos can be scanned by search engines which can help them come up in results for people searching for what you're selling).

There is also another advantage to captions, highlighted by the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. According to this article on User Interface Engineering, the staff of the show utilizes a computer program to search through old news archives to find clips of politicians to use on their show.

I think this could be handy for other things, searching for old news clips, television shows, etc. for quotes and lines of dialogue. It would be especially handy for the actual producers of the show to find previous references to old topics. So - yet another reason to caption those videos!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Text-to-911 Could be Nationwide by 2013

The Federal Communications Commission is currently working on the Next Generation 911 Initiative, a program that will update the 9-1-1 system to reflect advances in communication, such as data, images, VoIP services, and others.

Texting
Image of a woman texting
Via Flickr user Jhaymesisviphotography
Part of the initiative involves Verizon and their chosen vendor, TeleCommunication Systems, creating a text-to-911 system which would allow people to use the texting function on their phones to notify 911 of emergencies. A similar system is already in place in the United Kingdom.

It appears the text-to-911 service would at first be limited to Verizon Wireless users and will be rolled out gradually across the country. With any luck it will spread quickly to other carriers. Eventually the FCC hopes to have the groundwork in place for people to be able to send images and video to emergency responders, which could greatly aid them.

(via ArsTechnica)


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Theaters Slowly Becoming More Accessible

I have been happy to see that recently movie theaters have been stepping up the game when it comes to accessibility in my area. I have a feeling this has to do with some recent lawsuits - and with companies realizing they need to make accommodations.

I wanted to take a moment to talk about Captionfish as a great resource when it comes to finding accessible, captioned movies in your area. The site couldn't be simpler to use - visit it, tell it where you are located, and it will find movies within 60 miles of your area. It provides a description of various accessibility devices so you can determine what will work best for you.

Currently in my area AMC is showing two movies (at separate theaters) with Rear Window and Descriptive Video. A nearby Cinemark theater is showing twelve (twelve!) movies with Captiview closed captions. As usual, Harkins Theatres has nothing available for me in the area. They are slowly rolling out accessibility options, currently only available at 3 theaters in Arizona: Peoria, Chandler and Tucson. (They have updated their accessibility page to reflect that they plan to "soon offer closed captioning for the hearing impaired and audio description for the visually impaired.")

Captionfish also provide links to captioned trailers, and has an iPhone application.

Have you noticed more movie theaters going the accessibility route in your area? What's it like when you want to find a captioned movie where you live?

Monday, April 30, 2012

A New, Invisible Implant

Hearing devices have consistently been getting smaller and smaller as scientists find ways to move away from clunky, large devices to nearly invisible aids. And it seems like the smaller they are, the more interest people have. My blog post on the Esteem implantable hearing aid has received dozens of comments over the course of two years since I published it and I've heard there continues to be a lot of interest in implants such as this.

Now researchers at the University of Utah have developed a tiny hearing aid which is implanted in the middle ear, totally invisible. The device has been tested on cadavers and the researchers plan to cut its size down to a third of a pencil eraser before they work on testing it on living patients. According to Professor Young, who is working on the project, it has an advantage over cochlear implants because there is nothing exterior to worry about damaging. However, because there would be a battery implanted as well, patients would need to "recharge" overnight by wearing a device behind their ear.

I can see a lot of interesting potential with this device. Whereas the Esteem can only help those with stable sensorineural hearing loss and normal ear anatomy, this device could help people who have degraded inner ear bones and possibly other types of hearing loss. However, the device hasn't been tested on a living person yet, so there is no knowledge of potential side effects or how well it works. This is something I definitely plan to keep an eye (or ear!) on.

(Thanks to my dad for sending along the Daily Mail article!)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

On Communicating That You're Deaf at Work

This post on Consumerist.com got me thinking and I'd be interested to hear your opinion.

In the post, a man reported about his visit to Target. In the checkout line, his cashier had a sign which read "Cashier is Hearing Impaired." He was worried it was embarassing for the cashier and calling attention to something that might not be a big deal.

In my line of work, I work with the public a lot, although it's not retail. Usually at least 60% of my day is spent answering questions from people. This got me wondering if I would want such a sign at the computer I work from.

On the one hand, I want to say yes because I would like to have people aware when they come up to me. I have talked to my fair share of people who are irritated when they need to repeat themselves for me or when I appear to be ignoring them. It would be nice to have a sign to point to.

Mumble mumble mumble
Photo from Flickr user DrBacchus
On the other hand I know not many people read signs, and some people misinterpret deaf/hearing impaired/hard of hearing to mean they won't be able to communicate with the person. I've had that happen before. I told a person I was deaf and they said "well then how are you talking to me right now?"

If I decided to do something like this, I think it would be good to test it out first. I'd want to see people's reactions to see if I'm getting into something I'd rather not deal with. After all, 95% of my conversations go well and the person doesn't ever need to know I couldn't hear half of what they were saying...

Thinking about this reminded me of Speak Up Librarian's shop where she has some t-shirts and other gifts that communicate to people in a humorous way. Somehow I don't think I'd be allowed to post those around the desk... but I sure wish I could sometimes.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Two Great Webcomics Touching on Deafness & Hearing Loss

In the past week I've discovered two webcomics which touch on deafness and hearing loss, and wanted to share them with you.

The first one is That Deaf Guy by Matt and Kay Daigle. That Deaf Guy follows the lives of a Deaf man, his interpreter wife, and their son. I like That Deaf Guy for its gentle humor. There is not a lot of negativity here, just funny moments from everyday life.

The second one is a recent discovery called Runewriters. The comic is set in a magical world (think Lord of the Rings or Dungeons and Dragons). It follows a profoundly deaf girl and her bodyguard who seems to get into magical mishaps often. The girl uses sign language, although not many other people in her village know it. This comic is also funny, with a dash of geeky fantasy storylines that I like.

Do you know of any other good webcomics that touch on deafness and hearing loss?