Friday, December 30, 2011

Subtitles and Childhood Literacy

I have been busy lately with work and holidays and decided to ignore this blog for a few weeks. I know, not fair, but it isn't a lack of things to write about, trust me. According to Blogger I have 33 posts here but only a handful are posted. The new year should be glorious (maybe).

Here is a quick story for you to think about:

Captions are a big issue for Deaf and HH, surprisingly there are a lot of nuances in the issue of simply providing a text copy for what people are saying on TV. In a nutshell though, my hearing is at the point where if I don't have captions, it almost isn't worth watching most things because I simply can't follow along with the story. I can still watch it and find out the basic plot but it's like reading the cliff-notes or watching a movie based on a well written and intricate book. You know the plot (and the ending), but you really didn't get the story. That is what watching un-subtitled movies and TV is like to me. If it is something I care about, I am better off just waiting rather than ruining the ending. The point is, most things we watch together as a family are subtitled.

Yeah, it's like watching Doctor Who with River Song. 

Recently though I noticed my Ver1 reading the TV. I asked her about it, "Are you reading the subtitles?" Her response was that, yes, she always read the subtitles when she watched things with me. Despite the fact that subtitles ruin some jokes and take some nuanced timing away from he actors, I found it amazing that she could follow along. Subtitles are often very fast. I guess the eye is naturally drawn to the text since my wife said she would often read them too. 

Ver1 is highly literate, able to read books and comprehend and spell words far beyond her peers in school. It isn't something I want to brag about to anyone other than her Grandparents (heh), but it's simply the truth. Her teachers have tested her extensively and even talked to the English teacher at the local middle school about it. Ver1 is reading at an 5-6th grade level and improving constantly. Ver2, her younger sister is also showing great aptitude for reading as a pre-schooler. Obviously, this is something we encourage at home and my wife has talked about books and literacy before as she helps out with reading at my daughter's school.

Now I wonder, how long has she been reading the TV and how much did it contribute to her literacy? I know it is great for foreign languages and subtitles can encourage literacy (as flaunted by lots of kids educational videos), but a lot of that is suspect by the fact that sitting kids in front of a TV with a video was much worse than just reading a book to them. It was a lazy parent's method. We do both though, we read lots of books and the little TV we do watch is always subtitled, but it's normal TV, not educational kids videos.

My oldest daughter is obviously smart and that isn't something I can take much credit for, but she is an outlier (in the best way) when it comes to literacy level. There is no way to separate this subtitle effect out as it is just part of life here (as are owning lots of books and frequent trips to the Library), but I have to wonder if my hearing disability didn't actually improve my children's literacy levels. It's something I may never answer, but I think it's worth thinking about.

Something new to add on this subject. I have been baffled several times in the last few weeks by the lack of subtitles on kid's DVD's. We borrowed a "Cid The Science Kid" DVD from the local library and it had no subtitles.
Sid is a great show really, the DVD's are just lacking one small detail. 

I have this same problem with about half of the kid's TV shows I have watched recently on DVD. Is there some kind of assumption that kid's can't read and don't need them anyway? Is it cost savings? It's annoying because despite the fact that subtitles help kids learn to read, leaving them off of a DVD release aimed at kids seems counter productive. It also annoys me as a parent because I can't discuss the lessons and choices the characters make or review the facts on the subjects being "taught" by the shows and talk about them with my kids.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Artist, Movie Preview

There is a new film coming out called "The Artist" written and directed by Michel Hazanavicious (who I must admit I am not familiar with as most of his work has been in his native France) slated to be in theaters November 23rd, 2011.

It tells a story from the classic silver screen era of 1927 Hollywood. A silent movie star, George Valentin, is faced with the arrival of the "talkies" and what that means for his life when he meets Peppy Miller, a young dancer looking for a big break. It's supposed to have romance, comedy, and drama and in all respects sounds like an interesting story.

It has made it's way around the Film Festival circuit picking up several awards, including Best Actor at Cannes and even the little dog "sidekick" has won some awards for his work, so it should be well acted as well.

(There is a coat rack scene in the trailer that is absolutely hilarious and sweet. 
Hopefully that is an indication of the rest of the acting quality.)
The Artist is itself isn't just a love letter of sorts to silent film, it is itself a silent movie. Filmed entirely in black and white, in 4:3 ratio and there is no sound or spoken dialogue in the film other than the music score that accompanies the action. Dialogue is in the classic "text slide between movie scenes" style. It's a Silent movie in all respects, completely new (not something remastered and re-released) and so it should look absolutely beautiful.

This has me entirely intrigued. It was filmed this way on purpose so the movie is artistically forced to carry itself entirely on the story, the acting, and the visuals (oh, and the music). It's the anti-thesis of the current big budget 3D movies with CGI actors. Based on the reception it has gotten at festivals and the praise from reviewers, it sounds like is succeeded. The visuals and cinematography have been described as almost sensual and captivating and that should be a nice change, because lets face it, Avatar and Transformers just weren't that good as movies (and I love Sci-Fi!) and even the enhanced, modern CGI visuals just weren't that captivating. Did I mention this movie was made for an estimated $12 million, not hundreds of millions?

Now, I love silent films so I am biased from the onset here, I'll admit that. I grew up watching every Chaplin production I could get my hands on from the local library and I often watched other classic silent era movies as well. Is that weird for a 10 year old boy in the 80's? Maybe, but the movies were great. So, yeah, this interests me just based on the premise, but why talk about it here on "Hears No Evil," a blog about hearing issues?

Because, this might be the first movie released in years that the Deaf community can go see and understand in it's entirety and on the same level and at the same time as everyone else, just as it is meant to be experienced. (There are some foreign films with subtitles that I adore, but they weren't intended for their original audience that way.) I won't have to ask about plot points after the film and even those lucky enough to have theaters with captioning devices won't have to be distracted by them. In fact, since silent movies sell so much of the story based on acting and body language we might even catch more than you do. Deaf and HH people make a lifetime study out of non-verbal communication, so it should be a real treat. (I do apologize to my friends and family with low vision, I am not sure how the visually impaired community will handle this movie, but that doesn't stop me from being excited for those of us with hearing issues. Maybe theaters will have a special audio track that translates the text to voice.)

I have an ulterior motive as well. CBS just released a news article which included interviews with some of the cast. Especially surprising was this part:

John Goodman plays Valentin's boss, the studio executive desperate to modernize by branching into talkies instead.

What was it about the role that attracted him? "Playing a big shot, without lines!" he replied.

Since there was no scripted dialogue, he (and ALL the actors) just made it up, acting out loud, even though the audience would never hear a word.

"If I screwed up the dialogue that I was improvising, who cares?" said Goodman.

"You didn't have to memorize a thing!" said Cowan.

Seriously? They said that? Yup. I was a bit surprised at this as I often forget that a lot of people still think that just because you can't hear them, that no one knows what they are saying (actors are no exception it seems). They completely forgot about the millions of people around the world (like me) who can read lips. I'll admit, I am rather curious to sit and "listen to" what they are actually saying, and then compare it to the official dialogue that pops up on the captions screen following the lines. Hopefully it won't draw me out of the movie too much, but it might prove to be entertaining. Like the Native American who watches old westerns just to crack up every time a cowboy is insulted in their native tongue. Maybe the Deaf community should even get together and write an official script of the spoken dialogue. I doubt that will happen but you see why this both amuses and annoys me. Also, old movies did have a script and the actors did memorize the lines.

I do plan on watching this. Maybe it will do for silent film what Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge did for musicals. Reminding us of how fun and powerful they can be and re-energizing the genre (unfortunately, nothing that came after Moulin Rouge was nearly as good). At the very least it will remind people that a movie needs good acting and that comedy doesn't have to be raunchy to make us laugh. Unfortunately, I can't take my kids as it is PG-13, but as one reviewer wrote, "The Artist conjures a bygone age of Hollywood that reminds us why we love cinema." I can't wait.

Want to know More?
The Official Movie Site
The Artist on IMDB
The Artist on Rotten Tomatoes (as of this post it is 94% fresh, we'll see how that changes after it is actually released)
The Wiki page
A CBS article you really should read
The Artist Official Trailer hosted by Apple (The new trailer is entirely silent with just music, to reflect the film. It works well, it's beautiful and funny.)

The movie has been out for a few weeks and getting lots of press and Oscar buzz, but I still haven't seen it. I am holding out for the local art theater to get it, but it looks like the release has been a lot slimmer than I hoped for. Fingers Crossed.... will see it on blu-ray for sure and the local art theater says they will play it when they can get a hold of it. Anyone have any feedback on the movie from a Deaf perspective? All I can find is the main stream reviews.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Great Debate

I am learning ASL as I mentioned last time. I also added some web resources I have found to that post for those of you who might be interested.

My hearing loss was discovered when I was a kid and they decided I didn't need sign language as I could hear well enough to integrate into normal society. Although that means now I have to learn it as an adult as a second language, it wasn't until recently that I learned what that meant in a broader context.

It means I was raised "Oralist". You see, among adults there has been a huge debate about how to educate the deaf, but more specifically it often falls under "what to do with the deaf kids". It's a debate that still rages quietly even now and as the children involved often have the decision made for them at a young age, it is still a very important discussion. There is a lot of bitterness and pretentious attitudes around this subject. It isn't a real violent debate, but talk to any audiologist, Deaf or HH person, or doctor in the field and the issues are there under the surface.

This is the Coke vs. Pepsi, Democrat vs. Republican, or Star Destroyer vs. Enterprise debate of the Deaf world and it has been going on for almost two centuries here in the US and apparently as far back as Socrates and Aristotle in the rest of the world.

Pictured: The the debate that filled a thousand forum threads.

So yes, there is a lot of history here. The two main divisions about deafness center around Deaf Culture that views deafness as socio-linguistic minority culture with their own sophisticated language (ASL) and the "Medical" view that sees it as a disability and focuses on using technology and treatment to bring deaf individuals as close to the "normal" human condition as possible, able to communicate with speech and hearing. I don't side entirely with either, but I'll expand on this a bit later.

The issue in deaf education is whether to focus on Oralist vs. Manualist methods:

Auditory-Oralist or Oralism (wiki) is the idea that through auditory and linguistic training, a deaf individual should be encouraged to integrate as much as possible into the normal hearing society. Language, speech reading or lip reading, speech therapy, and using as much residual hearing as possible with hearing aids and Cochlear implants are the common focus. Sign language is highly discouraged as it is believed to keep deaf people from integrating in hearing culture. Teaching Oralism is a slow process and is often criticized for decreasing literacy, delaying development, and isolating deaf individuals socially.

The two best known modern Oralist centers in the US are:
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech

Manualist simply means Sign-based. It encourages communication through sign language. By giving the deaf, and children in particular, a full fledged language to communicate with, they will thrive academically and be able to develop naturally academically and socially. Manualism also encourages human rights, Deaf culture, community, and personal identity.

The best known manualist school in the US is Gallaudet University

A Brief History:

I have been alluding to this, but to really understand the debate and the issues you absolutely have to know the history of Oralism and Manualism in the US. I'll try to summarize it as briefly as possible.

In 1815 Thomas Gallaudet traveled to Europe to find better ways to educate and communicate with his deaf daughter. After being turned away several times, he eventually ended up in France at the French National Institute, the first public school for the deaf. He met Laurent Clerc, a deaf Frenchman who taught him to sign. Together they returned to the US and founded the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817. This was the beginning of what would later become ASL. They taught and employed both deaf and hearing teachers and founded other pro-signing schools across the US. Sign language existed before this in the US, but they helped popularize and standardize it. It was often seen as a beautiful and elegant way to communicate up to this point.

A wise man with glasses ca. 1830
(aka Thomas Gallaudet)
There were also several schools for Oralist style teaching at the time backed by several influential people. The most famous proponent was Alexander Graham Bell (yes, the inventor of the telephone). Bell's mom started losing her hearing when he was 12 and his dad worked as an authority in phonetics and speech disorders. Alexander Bell also became a teacher working with deaf students and over time fell in love with and married one of them, a Miss Mabel Hubbard who had lost her hearing at age 5 from illness. Mabel would become one of the lauded success stories of Oralism. For Alexander Bell, both his parents and wife influenced his career profoundly in the field of acoustics and sound. Bell was actually friends with Thomas Gallaudet's son, but they disagreed profoundly about sign language and Oralism.

An important guy with a beard ca 1914.
(aka Alexander Graham Bell)

Following the Civil war and up to about 1880 there was much debate between these two groups. There was actual some fear of this minority group with its own language and sub-culture and the idea that through science and proper teaching they could simply be assimilated into proper society gained traction. Members of the hearing community who were in favor of oralism took offense to deaf people having their own group identity and what they saw as refusal to integrate within the greater community. Deaf children would no longer have to be isolated from society just because they were taught the wrong language. You might remember this is the same sad period in which forced assimilation of Native Americans and other native groups all over the world was taking place.

Bell would help legitimize Oralism as the scientific view and by 1880 a number of powerful people had managed to make Oralism the established and "correct" method of deaf education. Bell himself viewed deafness as something like a disease that ought to be eradicated. Oralists in general saw the deaf population as a debilitating influence on society and wanted them to assimilate into the hearing majority culture, forcing the closure of schools for the deaf, their clubs and publications, and the suppression of sign language.

Most all of the deaf schools were taken over by Oralist and hearing teachers and deaf teachers were fired outright. Oralism was the primary focus of teaching and students often had their hands tied behind their back to prevent any signing. They would only be transferred to the manualist classes if they were an "oralist failure". Signing flourished however, but in secret and away form the teachers, but was outlawed in most public and private schools. Often students would be forced into public schools where they were expected to simply assimilate. This often didn't work as their were no support services for this and the students were very isolated. It wasn't long before people realized that the Oralist approach was hurting deaf students academically and literacy among deaf children plummeted, but it was always the student's fault, not the teachers.

This continued until about the 1960's when some hybrid methods started to be popularized. It was thought that the focus should be on communication through many methods (including sign language), not the rigid focus on lip reading and mimicking of hearing society. In 1965 Congress issues the Babbidge Report on oral deaf education and concludes that it has been a "dismal failure." Manualism starts to gain popularity again throughout the 1970's. The Civil Right movement also helped with the conception on the Deaf community as a group with rights and deserving recognition. "Total Communication" becomes the basis for new guidelines on deaf education in schools and in the 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act increased the access to resources. ASL is now the 4th most common language spoken in the US.

That's a lot of history, but even with all that I glossed over a lot of important details. You might find this

American Deaf Culture: Historical Timeline page to be a fascinating read if you want more information. It also includes history on deaf issues goign all the way back to 1000BC.

The last statistics I saw on education methods for Deaf and HH people was 53% were educated oralist, 11% manualist, and 36% both.

Modern Variations:

A lot has come out of all that history and discussion of Deaf education. Most of what I already discussed is still being debated, but one major thing happening right now is the debate over Cochlear Implants (which I will talk about in detail in another post). Essentially, they are hearing aides that can be implanted permanently into the ear. The modern Oralist push is coming from companies that sell these as it gives an option to "give people back their lost hearing enabling them to function like normal again." However, this is often pushed at a young age, even infants, and there is a lot of money involved, they cost about $30K per ear and this isn't covered by insurance. But what parent wouldn't want to give their child the biggest advantage over a "debilitating handicap" as early as possible? The backlash is "why permanently mutilate children and give them no choice later?" Even with implants, It's an ongoing debate. The truth is, implants only restore some hearing and they will still need to learn sign language and use text services on telephones and use captions on TV. These children also still have to be put in special programs for kids with implants, so it has created a kind of third wheel in deaf education. A newer implant is being targeted at people with only partial hearing loss (like me) and I am still waiting to see how these change things. Adults that are profoundly deaf who get implants can see some increase in ability to perceive sounds, but there might be some ostracization from their Deaf friends.

What Does All This Mean To Me Personally?

In a nutshell, the one group focuses on technology and methods for curing hearing loss and the other group tries to focus on the whole person, socially and mentally. I might be slanted in my view, but I can't disagree entirely with modern Oralists. The technology is incredible and there are times (frequently) when I wish I could hear normally. I try to accept what I have been given. Hearing loss is not a curse, but it does mean I have to compensate for my limitations.

Oralists approaches can and do work okay for Hard-of-Hearing individuals like myself. If you retain some or even significant hearing, with some hearing aides and special considerations, such as people occasionally being patient with you, you can function pretty well in "hearing society." My hearing loss was discovered when I was about 8 years old and I had already learned how to read lips on my own quite proficiently. That is something I never had to be taught. I was compensating on my own to what I thought was normal. When I was in elementary school I sometimes used a special pieces of technology to help hear teachers better and I had periodic meetings with speech therapists. More to the point though, this approach doesn't require anyone to change their lifestyle and it is "easy". My family didn't have to learn sign language or pay for any special schooling. I wasn't alienated from friends and extended family who would never want to learn things like ASL. I was part of regular society and never felt an urge to be part of the Deaf community. In that respect, I was the perfect creation of the Oralist's philosophy.

As my hearing has degraded though, the flaws have become more evident. I can still hear a lot, but there seems to be a threshold I crossed where my previous tools for compensating aren't good enough any more. As my wife says, "Now I have to go back and learn how to be a deaf person." What she means is, there are things I used to be able to do, but can't now. I need to go back and learn more tools and take advantage of more resources that are available to individuals with more profound hearing loss. Some things I should have learned as a child but didn't (ASL) and other things I am just now discovering, such as employment rights and legal issues, where to find support, and what things are legal and what crosses the line.

It is true, we live under equal opportunity laws that prevent discrimination, but that is only part of the story. I'll expand this in another post, but you still have to be able to perform the "critical functions of the job" and more and more that means phone support and other similar things. Employers only have to provide "reasonable accommodation." I have to, as an employee, entirely overcome the effect of the "disability" and fulfill the expectations or I can't do the job at all. Sometimes the technology or money just isn't there and I am still being compared on performance reviews to people without these issues.

So I think there is a place for technology and it is naive to think you can remove yourself entirely from society and form your own community. There will always be people who love you or jobs or opportunities that require interaction with people who don't care about hearing loss or the Deaf community. I think Deaf and HH people have to spend time learning to communicate with "regular" people as much as possible. However, the Oralist approach by itself (even the modern one) is fundamentally flawed. I love the new technology and the opportunities that it opens up (and will in the future), but you have to focus on the whole person. Implants, hearing aides, telephone transcription, and lip reading are just band aides. Hearing loss can not currently be repaired. The community focus and giving people more tools for communication is the key. Be it ASL, the Internet, or hearing aides. I think the hybrid approach is going in the right direction, but this debate has been going on so long, there are a huge number of misconceptions within and especially outside of the Deaf community that will take a lot of time to over come.

Things Deaf people are tired of hearing (besides puns):

Misconceptions? Yes, there are several things that I think most Deaf and HH people specifically are tired of hearing from the general public thanks to media coverage of scientific breakthroughs and specifically this long ongoing debate. Most groups have these. Here are my top few.

Why don't you get one of those (coke clear) implants and get your hearing back?

A: You can't get your hearing back, it is currently an unfixable kind of permanent thing. Those implants can help restore sound perception for profoundly deaf individuals, but they won't restore hearing to the level of someone with normal hearing. It might increase the ability for word comprehension though, maybe not, it depends on the person. Also, they are expensive (Two of them, one in each ear, will cost you about the same as a new Corvette or a three bedroom house in Oklahoma) and it's all out of pocket as they are not covered by any insurance. Children can often get a grant though.

I heard about (insert famous person) who was deaf and they could read lips so well no one knew they were deaf at all.

A: Reading lips is not a magical ability. Anyone can learn to do it, but it has a lot of limitations. Although it is a fun ability to use, it only gives partial word comprehension in even the best conditions. You can fake hearing ability by reading lips for a while, but there are give away mannerisms that are obvious to any observer. Lip reading also doesn't work well across cultural boundaries and languages, at a distance, on the phone, and obviously any time someone has their back turned or mouth covered.

I though deaf meant you couldn't hear at all. How can (some specific person they have heard of) recognize speech or have the ability to talk?

First of all, people who are Deaf are not usually mute (unable to talk) as well. Level of deafness varies, but most deaf people retain some ability to hear limited sounds. Most hearing problems are only a partial loss of hearing, but it can effect the ability to comprehend (understand, not hear) words being spoken.

Deaf people are not stupid. This is important. This seams to be misunderstood for some reason. Deaf does not equal low IQ. We can learn to communicate and understand speech and language in many ways. A lot of deaf people love to talk as well. In fact, among the deaf and HH, the love of reading, ability to concentrate, knowledge of multiple languages, computer literacy, and ability to observe means that, as a group, they are probably smarter then the general population.


So, those are the big issues in the deaf community. It isn't typically obvious in the media, but as you see things, talk to people, and read news articles and pamphlets, maybe this will help you see some of the underlying agendas of the people involved. It really helped open up the world of Deaf issues and education for me (as well as my own childhood) when I started making a study of this history and debate. I hope it will help you as well.


A more complete list of Schools for the Deaf here in the US.

Fascinating and much more detailed read about some of the issues and history I touched on here.

More on the Cochlear Debate.

A typical pamplet on the subject handed out in the late 90's. You'll notice the name Bell comes up a lot on the references section.

More from Wiki:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

ASL, the Deaf Community, and Me

I was going to hold off on this blog subject, but since I officially started my first ASL class today, it seems like a good time for a post about it.

An introduction to ASL:

ASL is American Sign Language. I am new to the subject so most of my knowledge is academic. Just so we are on an even playing field though, here are some interesting things you need to know about sign language:

- Sign Languages are all foreign languages. While most signers also speak their local verbal language while they sign (English for me), each sign language has its own syntax and grammar that is different from spoken languages.  Often you can take a sign and write it's rough English equivalent, but you can do that with Chinese too. Also remember, some signs have multiple meanings based on their syntax and usage. 

- Closely linked to (and most people would say a part of) sign language is finger spelling. That is using simple hand signs to denote letters of the alphabet. This is useful for proper names and signing anything there isn't a sign for. It acts like a bridge between spoken and signed language, but it very commonly used in ASL. Words are spelled in the local language (or the language the signer knows), so ASL finger signs in English usually, but in Europe you might use the same letters to sign in French or Spanish. Different regions also have different finger spelling alphabets.

- There are many different sign languages in the world and they aren't universal. While both the US and England speak English, the British Sign Language (BSL) is much different. ASL is closely related to French Sign Language due to its origins and is used in several countries. Individual countries and regions around the world might have their own sign languages. Here is a list.

- Even within ASL there are regional lexicons and dialects. People might make the same signs slightly differently. There are also larger regional dialects such as Afro-American Sign Language and Hispanic American Sign Language. 

- Like any language, ASL evolves with use. There are "old words that aren't used anymore" and new words and slang added all the time as needed. For example, Internet, Cell phone, iPhone, and Facebook all have signs. 

- ASL users aren't speaking English. There is another method called Signing Exact English (SEE) that is used to teach English. It is slow and tedious to sign. 

- You might also hear about Pidgin Signed English (PSE) which is not a language. Its more of a compromise for bridging the gap between two people who don't speak the same language.  Signers might use more English language structure and non-signers might make up their own comprehensible signs to try to communicate. 

Deaf Culture:

Something else closely related to ASL is Deaf culture or community since they make up the common group that speaks ASL. It is denoted with a capital "D". The Deaf community tends to view deafness as a different type of human experience, not a disability. When you refer to deafness as a medical condition, you use a lowercase "d" in deaf.

I'll just tell you right now that I have never (and don't currently) considered myself a part of Deaf culture. Although I am learning more about it and have recently begun learning American Sign Language. Perhaps in the future I might feel that connection. 

When my hearing loss was discovered as a child, I was about 8 years old, the decision was made that corrective measure such as hearing aides, sitting close to the teacher in classes, and some other technology along with speech therapy and monitoring would allow me to just integrate into a normal classroom and society. It worked for the most part, but mostly because I was very smart and nerdy anyway. I was often ahead of the learning curve and a great reader. Was it the right decision? I can't say, but maybe someday I'll wax philosophically on the subject. 

It does mean that now that I am in my mid-30's and losing more hearing, I am finding things like ASL to be useful tools in communicating. My wife and I already use simply phrases to help speed up communication, especially in noisy places. 

It also means that now it is hard for me to hear spoken language and I don't understand many signs yet so I am at a disadvantage in both languages. My ASL teachers have to be slow and patient and often spell out what a sign means. 

The Teachers:

Speaking of teachers, my first ASL teacher turned out to be the older sister of one of my daughter's preschool friends. They go to different schools now, but we made friends with her family by going to all the same birthday parties and school events. Now we keep up with Facebook and random encounters around the community. While we were at the wedding of a mutual friend, their oldest daughter V (who is in high school) said she had learned ASL from a deaf friend of hers (who I'll call K) and would be happy to teach me as well. 

So my first several ASL lessons were from a high school cheerleader. Life and relationships are funny sometimes. In fact she also interprets songs into ASL (the sign language is more artistic and sweeping) and posts videos online. She gave me permission to share them on the blog. You can watch her awesome interpretative signing on her Youtube Channel.

Her friend K and an adult ASL interpreter named Sarah are starting an after school class once a week for the rest of the school year. One or both of my daughters might go with and they seem to be picking up ASL about as fast as I am. My wife might have to miss it for nap time with my toddler, we shall see, but I'll be going to that regularly. My wife wants to learn too, which is great, because it pointless for me to know it if I can't talk to people using it. If I study and practice, read a few books, and talk with the few friends I know that use ASL... I might just be proficient by the end of the year. Maybe enough that instead of getting a captionist I might just be able to use an ASL interpreter. 

A Little Fun with ASL:

I can still communicate verbally, but ASL has proven to be a useful tool, especially in noisy public situations. It's a different way to communicate though. 

Since it is visual, your ability to communicate is only limited by your ability to see. You can carry on conversations across crowded rooms and large fields without losing much clarity. 

However, with ASL, there is no being discreet. While you can use it like a foreign language to talk about things privately without having to worry about people overhearing your whispers, if anyone does know ASL in the vicinity, they can also eavesdrop without any effort on any conversation you have. So it should be interesting to see how we use this new tool. Also, it doesn't work in the dark at all, so that still doesn't help with me not being able to communicate in the dark (such as waking up in the middle of the night, dark car, etc). 

I'll give updates as I have them, but for the most part, remember I'll just be quietly taking classes for the next year. If you know ASL, feel free to talk and quiz me when you see me.  


"American Sign Language University" is a large collection of ASL resources and practice aids for students and teachers.

App for ASL finger signing practice

Underneath the horrible site design are a number of really great ASL learning tools.

News and entertainment in ASL video format.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Some Interesting Numbers

Hearing loss as a subject is fairly complicated. As I mentioned in the last post, I can really only share my own experiences, but I have a very scientific mind in that I am always learning and researching things (a dangerous habit on the Internet as it can suck your time away).

I wanted to answer the questions "How many deaf people are there in the US?" and "What does the deaf population distribution look like?" like before I get too far into smaller topics or just talking about myself (which a few readers have requested I do more of... and I will soon). I have reason to explore these statistics and I'll explain that below, but the gist of it is, in order to understand myself, I seem to have a curious desire to see where I fit into our bigger society. Well, at least based on numbers, and I think it will help other people to view deaf and hard-of hearing in a different context once they know the details.

Measuring Hearing Loss:

There isn't any single or simple centralized overview of hearing loss statistics and numbers for the general US population. I am looking at numbers classified as disabilities (deafness). Numbers on Deaf individuals (note the capital D) is something else entirely and involves the Deaf community (which you could call statistically an ethnic group).

Why not just check the 2010 Census? Well, because, the 2010 Census data isn't detailed enough or readily available for analysis. You can, using several different surveys, piece together a good picture, however, the definition of "deaf" can vary widely from one agency to another. The National Center for Health Statistics (part of the CDC), the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S.Department of Education, and Gallaudet University all have surveys and resources measuring various aspects of hearing loss for various reasons (mostly political and money related to be honest). Gallaudet has detailed numbers on the students within it's own schools, but that's hardly a reflection of the national situation.

I just named enough organizations to give a normal person a small headache, so I digress. Here is what you should know:

Most surveys depend on people to self report by answering a few questions. The 2000 Census just lumped hearing and vision into a single question called "sensory disability". Surveys concentrating on hearing loss will ask people to self identify and parents usually answer for their children. Most statistics deal with those 3 years and older or 5 years and older. One survey asks, "...difficulty hearing what is said in a normal conversation with another person even when wearing [his/her] hearing aid" another asks, "Which statement best describes your [or child's] hearing (without a hearing aid): good, a little trouble, a lot of trouble, or deaf?" (So which is it, are we measuring with or without a hearing aid active here?)

Results are often listed with labels such as deaf, "functionally deaf" (i.e can't comprehend a verbal conversation with or without hearing aids), profoundly deaf, hard of hearing, some trouble hearing, and "the kid I was surveying plugged their ears and stuck their tongue out at me, so I am marking temporarily deaf" (kidding).

Despite the disparities in measurements, I can confidently say the following.   

The estimated number of hearing-impaired people in North America is more than 25 million in a total population of 300 million (about 8.3% of the population). People who reported "some kind of trouble with their hearing" make up about 14% of the population.

About half of all hard-of-hearing and deaf individuals are elderly over the age of 65.
(Also, this number is increasing and is more common in men.)

There are relatively very few people in the US who are 100% or even "functionally deaf", it's about 0.18%, but under the age of 18 it's even fewer than 1 out of every 1,000.

If you include hard-of-hearing with deaf, the number jumps to 22 in every 1000 or about 0.22%

Deafness or "a lot of trouble hearing" increased dramatically with age, rising from 0.9% among adults under age 45 to 3.1% among adults aged 45-64 and 11.1% among adults aged 65 and over.

In children, one survey of ages 3-17 reported that 5 in every 1000 surveyed have "a lot of trouble hearing". Another study reports that 1 to 3 percent of all children are suffering from hearing loss and up to 14% of children 6 to 19 may have at least a slight hearing loss according to pure-tone audiometrytests, although some of the measured loss could only be temporary. (Remember for the general population that number is still closer to 8%). This is important because, "Children who are hard of hearing will find it much more difficult to learn vocabulary, grammar, word order, idiomatic expressions, and other aspects of verbal communication." I agree. 

Hearing loss will continue to increase worldwide to about 9/10th's of a Billion people by 2015.

Lets stop and turn that around and look at the opposite numbers (slightly rounded)

People with good, normal, or standard hearing by age (people who don't have a hearing loss): 
98% of children
92% of adults 18-45
80% of adults 45-65
60% of adults over 65. 

So... that's a lot of numbers. If you remember nothing else, I want you to know this. Profound hearing loss and deafness is not common. Hearing loss in children is also very small, but having some hearing loss as an adult is growing more common (protect your ears at all times) and the numbers simply go up with age as the ear wears out. Half of all hearing loss is in people 65 and over. 

How does this relate back to me?

I was diagnosed with a hearing loss as a child, when I was in 2nd grade. It is believed that I was either born with a hearing loss or lost it at a very young age. I got my first hearing aides shortly thereafter. There was a big (and legitimate) concern that I would be at a disadvantage learning language and there was great fear of my having a learning or social disability. I didn't actually have great difficulty and I made friends okay. I'll talk about that another time, what I noticed as a child though was that I was unique and these numbers affirm it.

Only 1-3% of children have a hearing loss (basically a loss bad enough to warrant hearing aides).  The numbers for deafness and sever loss are much lower (one survey mentioned 5 in 1000 kids). So if I had 30 kids in my class at school, there is a pretty good chance I would be the only one with a hearing loss. In fact in my entire primary school career, I don't distinctly remember meeting anyone in any of my classes with hearing loss until I got to college. My elementary and middle schools only ever had about 500 kids max and my high school had about 300 in each grade level. Statistically that means there would have been 2-5 kids at each school with a hearing loss similar to mine. They were just in different grades and classes I guess.

I was given many tools and opportunities to simply integrate into society as best I could and I relied heavily on hearing aides to bring my hearing up to an acceptable level of normal. For reasons I will talk about later, this only partially works. There is a Deaf community in the US, basically just a group of people who share a common language and life experience due to the way they hear and interact in the world. I was never part of this group. 

It's odd that I didn't know anyone else who was hard-of-hearing, but also it was interesting how people often tried to help me integrate. I often heard, especially at a young age that I wasn't really different in any way and that hearing loss and hearing aides are just like wearing glasses, just slightly different. I think most kids with any kind of difficulty, physical or mental, will hear this approach many times. It is said to boost your self-esteem of course, but I think adults often say it without realizing that the child knows they are different. It wasn't until recently that I gave this much thought. 

If my own kids are faced with a similar situation, I will not tell them how they are just like other people. I will share with them how they are different. How all people are different in their own way, unique, but beautiful. Dealing with what I viewed as my disability is all about learning your strengths and weaknesses and personality quirks. Acknowledging them and learning to cope, overcome, or live with it. There are things I simply can't do and I have to acknowledge that. There are going to be some people that simply struggle more than others to do some things. That's not a "failure to believe in myself and the power of positive thinking". It is a logical first step to becoming more capable. Its good advice for anyone, I believe all people have things they have to overcome and understand in themselves (popularity? genius? athleticism? anxiety? you name it). 

I just wish someone had shown me these numbers earlier (saving me the time of observational discovery  on my own). Then again, those struggles made me who I am today.

More Resources:
The Prevalence and Incidence of Hearing Loss in Adults

FAQ: Deaf Population of the United States

FAQ: Introduction to Deaf Statistics (which has some interesting links to international numbers)

How Many Deaf People Are There in the United States? Estimates From the Survey of Income and Program Participation

(Yeah, this blog post actually took about 3 times longer then it should have because I spent a few hours reading all of this.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A (boring) Overview of Hearing Loss

This is a fair warning. Before I get started into a bunch of specifics, I wanted to give a quick overview of hearing loss. This will be slightly boring and I have included a few basic terms that I’ll have to use later out of necessity.

First off, what do you call a deaf person? There are several terms used to describe people with hearing loss: deaf, partially deaf, hearing impaired and hard-of-hearing are common phrases. However, the terms deaf and hard-of-hearing are preferred and considered proper. I'll commonly abbreviate hard-of-hearing to just HH on this blog.

I don’t intend to reiterate a lot of info that has already been written by someone more qualified elsewhere, but I will link it and maybe summarize it for you.

You can find a lot of good info on hearing loss on the wiki:

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) also has a good website for general info on hearing loss, assistive technology, and other subjects.

Now, let’s talk about how humans hear things:

Sound travels through the air in waves, specifically what we call pressure waves. It travels to your ear, into the ear canal, and strikes the eardrum, causing it to vibrate, this is the outer ear. This is called air conduction. Some sound also moves through the bones around your jaw and parts of your skull, this is called bone conduction.

After the eardrum the vibrations enter the middle ear where there is a chain of three tiny bones called the ossicles changes the waves into mechanical vibrations, transmitting it to the opening of the inner ear.
The inner ear contains a fluid that picks up these vibrations and transmits them to a highly sensitive instrument called the cochlea (the little things that usually looks like a snail in most ear diagrams). As the fluid moves through the cochlea it moves little microscopic nerve endings called “hair cells” which turn the movement into electrical pulses so they can be sent over the auditory nerve to the brain. The cochlea is also sensitive to gravity and movement and helps the body balance. Essentially, the cochlea is a digitizer, changing the analog waves into electrical impulses. The little hair cells acting like binary on/off switches. Think of it like a musician playing an electric keyboard. The keyboard is the cochlea, but the keys are the little hair cells. As the musician mechanically hits each key, the keystroke is changed into an electric pulse, and sent on to be translated into music.

The brain then takes this raw electrical information from the auditory nerve and translates it into sounds and assigns the sounds meaning. So you hear things you recognize and understand speech.
That oh-so-beautiful ear diagram you see in doctor’s offices and medical books:

Types of Hearing Loss:

There are two primary types of hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss (CHL) and Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). Sometimes it can also be a combination of the two. Hearing loss can be in one ear or both and more severe in one side or the other.

Conductive loss simply means those vibrations don’t transmit properly to the inner ear. Fluid buildup, earwax, ear infections, damaged eardrums, and other minor things can sauce temporary conductive hearing loss. Sometimes the little bones or the eardrum have mechanical issues or are damaged or wear out over time. These issues are mechanical and can often be fixed with surgery. My father-in-law once had the bones in his middle ear start to ossify and had surgery to install a titanium replacement. It worked fairly well and he regained most all of his hearing. Luckily, conductive hearing loss can frequently be fixed with surgery or medical treatment. Aging or loud noise often contribute to this. However, it makes up a small percentage of permanent hearing loss.
Sensorineural hearing loss is more complicated. It is often called permanent since (most of the time) there is no medical process to reverse or heal the damage. SNHL hearing loss happens with the sensitive inner parts of the ear. The inner ear, cochlea, or auditory nerve do not work properly or are damaged. It can also be caused by damage to the brain itself (though this is less common). This loss can be caused or triggered by a large number of things (wiki link) including genetics, developmental problems, inflammatory illnesses, long term exposure to loud noise, physical trauma, and the cochlea simply wearing out with age. The effects of this type of loss vary widely from person to person, from total deafness, to only partial loss.
Solutions involve fitting corrective devices, however as I mentioned, these don't repair the existing damage to the body. Hearing aids can help by boosting volume and changing frequencies of sound into different frequencies that are still being picked up by the user. These are the cheapest and most common solutions. Surgeries have also been developed such as the cochlear implant for profoundly deaf individuals, think of it as a bionic ear. It’s expensive and invasive though, and only restores limited hearing ability.

Hearing loss is often classified into the following categories based on how loud sound must be before a person notices it. It is measured in decibels of hearing loss, or dB HL

Mild for adults: between 26 and 40 dB HL
Mild for children: between 20 and 40 dB HL
Moderate: between 41 and 55 dB HL
Moderately severe: between 56 and 70 dB HL
Severe: between 71 and 90 dB HL
Profound: 91 dB HL or greater

I have a Profound loss, but that’s slightly misleading and oversimplified. I can hear some sounds normally, mostly lower frequency sounds, but for other sounds, high frequency ones specifically, I am profoundly deaf, I can’t hear them at all unless they are painfully loud.

I have hearing aids that help with this. I have since I was a child, with a new pair about every 5 years on average. Technology has been changing a lot and the newer models are now all digital, able to detect sound patterns and shift and change the sound automatically. They also have a ton of neat programmable features. While hearing aides are relatively cheaper then implants, they are still expensive.
However, that’s a subject for another post.                   

Wednesday, September 7, 2011



Welcome to my blog. I have great plans for this empty space and like a deranged super-villain, I will be happy to share them with you.

I guess we should start with the name. Its just a catchy reference to the ancient proverbial phrase and modern meme of the three "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys. You see, I am partially deaf. I often can't hear any evil, I miss it completely. I can indeed hear, but... well... only partially.

That in itself is misleading, as there are so many details and misconceptions about what it means to be "Partially" something. Which part? or rather, what parts are you talking about at all?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...