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.

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?