How Technology has Helped the Deaf

There’s no doubt that technology has improved the lives of deaf people but what exactly are those advancements?  If we roll back only a few years, deaf people had little choice but using the postal system if they wanted to communicate which obviously was hardly easy.  SMS might seem quite a simple technology but it has transformed the lives of many deaf people.  It’s sometimes easy to forget how dependant we are on using phones to communicate at least twenty years ago, but the deaf were pretty much excluded from using these devices as most can’t hear voices on phone lines.


The SMS followed the invention of things like the textphone which allowed people with hearing problems to type to one another with words appearing directly on the screens.  Many deaf people also invested in expensive Fax machines as another way to communicate.

Nowadays there are loads of options that technology has made available for deaf people to communicate more easily.  Social networks like Facebook are especially popular for deaf people were there is no disadvantage in communicating without being able to hear.  Even people in restrictive societies where internet access is often filtered can use something like a British VPN to use the internet freely.

The other major development is being able to use video on most network enabled devices so that deaf people can use lip reading or sign language across the internet.

There are other significant improvements for deaf people in the improvements in hearing aids and cochlear implants.  These are now much more effective and can be integrated with other devices like smart phones or music players via Bluetooth.

New innovations are appearing all the time, using video is now pretty much mainstream and has certainly helped the deaf in more formal situations like meetings.  There are now devices and software which can translate automatically between sign language and English.  Projects have often focussed on the popular BSL (British Sign Language).

There are many deaf resources also available on the internet, for example check out the great deaf magazine from the BBC called See Hear.  All these resources have certainly improved the lives of deaf people all over the world but particular for those in developed countries where deaf people have easier access to these technological aids.

For further information on how to access the BBCs resource for deaf people outside the United Kingdom using a proxy server – please see this site.


Netflix Fails Deaf Subscribers

Netflix has been around for about a decade now, and in that time has compiled a huge library of films, TV series and documentaries.    All of this is backed up with multiple device support and a really clever algorithm that suggests and recommends films and shows to it’s users.

It’s simple to use and you can access on a variety of platforms – my favorite is the new Wii U where you can even watch your shows on the gamepad if you prefer.  There’s no doubt that Netflix have developed a state of the art viewing platform except of course if you happened to be dead.  Many hearing people’s first experience of closed captions on Netflix will perhaps be on a foreign film or perhaps some mixed dialogue in a film.  You’ll then start to see what deaf subscribers have to put up with – they’re truly awful.

If you’re lucky they may just be out of synch, but in reality most are transcribed very badly almost to the point of a bad joke.  They’ll often line up over each other, contain awful spelling or grammar, or perhaps just be complete nonsense.  An example in one of ABCs sitcoms Better off Ted, sees the captions block out real subtitles for a foreign language excerpt and cover them with the text – ‘SPEAKING JAPANESE’

Or how about this beauty from the latest Bond blockbuster – Skyfall.

“Report to the new Quartermaster for ur documentation,” 

It’s enough to make you cry, the real scandal is that a global media company treats it’s deaf subscribers with such disdain. There’s very little excuse, Netflix has even been sued by the National Association of the Deaf in 2011. A timetable was agreed at that point to include and improve captions on all streaming content. It appears they have honored that agreement by trying to just stuff any old rubbish into their shows and hope nobody notices.

Perhaps we should be grateful that there is at least some effort into providing captions at all but I think that misses the point. Some of these efforts are so awful that they can really spoil a movie, remember if you’re deaf and rely on these captions – this is the dialogue you see.

Netflix is always keen to pour resources into it’s algorithm or to create new region versions of it’s subscription. Netflix in the UK for instance has only a fraction of the content available to subscribers in other places like the USA. Although if you want to access those then at least your subscription is valid for all of them but you’ll need to use a fast proxy to access them like in this video.

There is some sympathy with Netflix from many quarters, providing closed captions is not easy and there is no simple solution available at the moment. You only have to look at the automatic captions produced by the huge resources of YouTube – often they’re complete nonsense. But surely quality should be the driver here, mistakes and errors just spoil the experience completely for the viewer. It’s like trying to read a book full of spelling mistakes it’s an extremely depressing experience.

There is a demand for this and Netflix spends a huge amount of money on licensing and generating it’s own programming.  Many people already switch between versions of Netflix just to get better versions, they don’t like people doing this and there’s been a lot of – How to Hide your IP address type videos like the one above.  They shouldn’t forget that up to 15% of people have some sort of hearing difficulties so that’s an awful lot of people.

Phoenix Priest Invents the Computer Based Confession

It might not seem a priority for many deaf people, but for some Catholics it’s an important part of life – the confession.  It could be difficult for many deaf people who have problems communicating and obviously using an interpreter is perhaps not always appropriate for a confession.

Well a retired priest called Reverend Romuald Zantua, DS based in Phoenix Arizona has now come up with a potential solution, which could possibly help thousands of deaf people across the world.  He has utilized technology to produce a computer based confession system that anyone can use.

It uses two connected computers complete with ASL instructions and videos (ASL is American Sign Language), those priests who can’t sign will be able to use the chat function to communicate with their parishioner.

The software running on both machines thus allows communication in a variety of forms, the sequence on the computer follows prescribed church practice for the confession.  Without this method you’d probably have to resort to pen and paper which restricts the relationship between the priest and the individual.

It’s a perfect example of a task that can cause great difficulty to a hearing impaired person, and illustrates how special needs can usually be accommodated with just a little thought and effort.   It is hoped that perhaps this method may be able to be used online over the internet.

It is hoped that perhaps with some security and a willing host that a confessional service could be expanded to other locations.  Perhaps the Priest or individual might need use an elite proxy switcher to ensure secure communication and then the confession could be taken in complete privacy.   There are other issues involved when trying to broadcast to certain countries which filter and control access to sites, but these can be resolved easily with a combination of the proxies mentioned and a DNS service.

There’s a video here about the communications issues involved –

There are now over 360 million people in the world with a hearing loss disability according to a WHO report from this year. In 65 years old and above, over 30% have some sort of hearing difficulty. The number of priests who are either deaf or have the ability to sign is unknown but it is suspected that there are nowhere near as many as required.

Online Deaf Resources

Not long ago if you wanted to discover information on what was happening in the deaf world or perhaps meet up with other deaf people, you would have had very limited options.  There were some deaf resources, a few local based deaf centres and even some social events but by and large there wasn’t much in place.

Of course now the internet has changed all that, there are loads of resources online and you can find out all about the deaf world from your own home.  There are so many now it’s difficult to know where to start but here’s a few resources you can find – just type their name into Google if  you have trouble finding them.

Sign Post which is based in the North East of England offers lots of information on Sign language.   You can even learn a new Sign every day.  For children has got a large selection of signed stories – if you have children who are deaf this is a great site.

Last but by no means least is the BBCs Sign Zone which actually rebroadcasts many programmes with a BSL translation.  Unfortunately these are usually on very late but you can also find them on the BBC Iplayer as well.  If you live outside the UK and  need access to this fantastic deaf resource from the BBC you may need some help.  Normally the BBC Iplayer is blocked outside Britain but you can use this technique – you simply use a UK proxy – how to here to fool the Iplayer that your based in the United Kingdom.  It works like a dream although I really think the BBC should reconsider blocking access to resources like this.

It’s also show here in this video –

You can watch it in full screen on Youtube entitled – buy proxy – some options.

Deaf Student Defies the Doubters

When Bethan Hindson was told by several veterinarian schools that there was no point applying to them, it would hardly been surprising if she had changed direction.  Bethan is profoundly deaf and it was this condition considered a barrier by the veterinary schools.

Bethan however is extremely academically gifted and she instead took up a place in Cambridge University in order to study history.  At the same time she received a hearing implant which allowed her some hearing and even to join in conversations.  She graduated in 2009 and her heart was still set on becoming a qualified vet so she applied to study at the Royal Veterinary College.  One year later she was granted a place and began her studies towards her dream career.

Bethan thinks her implant was extremely important to her success.  The major practical issue that it solved was the ability to use a stethoscope for diagnosis, something that would have been impossible for her before.  The implants also enabled her to take part in group leaning and classroom discussions.

She is now in her final year of study and looks like fulfilling her dream.    She also works as a volunteer for the company Cochlear which produces the implants. These devices bypass the damaged hair cells in the ear and work directly with the hearing nerve instead.

For more for more information on the academic options available for deaf students in the United Kingdom – a good place to start is the BBC learning resource centre.  You can even use the specific functions in the BBC Iplayer although you may need access to  a UK based IP address or some new proxies to access the application (see this site).

For many people this site is a lifeline so it’s worth repeating another option for accessing the site easily –


Possible Cure for Deafness – Gerbil Cured

Scientists working in the UK have achieved an enormous breakthrough in treating deafness.  They used stem cells to restore hearing to deaf animals, the very first time that this has been achieved.

The scientists rebuilt some of the ear nerves in a selection of deaf gerbils.  These nerves are what passes sound to the brain in order to be processed.  The equivilant change in a human would be something like not being able to hear a busy road into someone whoo could listen to a conversation.  However the researchers warned that using the same techniques on humans is still a little way off.

When someone with normal hearing listens to the radio or chats, then the ear converts the sound waves into electrical pulses which make sense to the brain.  But for many people these nerve cells don’t work properly and don’t pick up the signals.  The nerves are called spiral gangliion neurons and the scientists are hoping to use the same technique to fix human deafness problems,

The results achieved with the gerbils is certainly encouraging with many going from total deafness to achieving 45% hearing range.  A small number of gerbils reacted even better with some getting 90% of their hearing back but equally the technique also failed completely with a few of the sample.

There is much more work yet to do and a lot of testing before it can be tried on humans.   Of course there’s also the question of ethics and health issues with using stem cell research in this way.  This and some of the other big developments can be seen on the BBC science programmes which you can watch on the Iplayer.  If you can’t access because you’re out of the country you just need to find a proxy site like this  based in the UK to hide your IP address.

Here’s another video I’ve just found which I think explains it slightly better.

Watch it on YouTube in Full screen mode if you can’t see all the options and the IP address details. is powered by Wordpress | WordPress Themes