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.