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.

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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.

 

Innovative New Hearing Program Launched

Cathy Zimmerman uses various technology — low and high — to counter her hearing loss.

She uses sign language and has hearing aids and a captioned phone.

“I lost my hearing in my own teens. I did not understand it, because it was slow.”

She’d what’s called sensoneural hearing loss, due to injury to the inner ear.

“I can hear you, and I am reading your lips,” she told a visitor.

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Zimmerman learned American Sign Language about 20 years past but had no one else to communicate with.  Evolving standard practice is required by vocabulary, she said.

Extending one somewhat cupped hand before her face, she illustrated the “selfie” signal.

An organization of “Saturday Signers” consistently meets in the society’s Samaritan’s Well building, next to the St. Vincent de Paul shop, to keep up their abilities.

“We get anywhere from five individuals to a dozen. We are all at different degrees,” Zimmerman said.

“We had a meet and greet in Perryopolis in December for anyone who signed. We got two individuals from DuBois. They needed the social interaction,” she said.

In 2003, when she was 60, Zimmerman began school, earning a bachelor’s degree in family studies and human development .

“I never went to school because I could not hear,” she said.

As a part time job instructor for Transitional Employment Consultants, she accompanies new workers with other impairments or hearing loss as they learn their occupations. Signing the word “thought” — a pinky flick off her brow — she came up with Hear Fayette.

“I understood how isolating (hearing loss) is.

“Cathy not only saw a demand, she developed a treatment for the demand.”

Hear Fayette offers sign language classes two times annually and contains a 725-subscriber list because of its bimonthly newsletters. St. Vincent de Paul worker Jeff Martz, who’s deaf and mute, instructs from the American Sign Language University program.

“Jeff uses lots of pantomime. I do believe he is a natural-born performer,” Zimmerman said.

Contributions are taken, although there’s absolutely no charge for the lessons. Hear Fayette volunteers distribute literature and supply loudspeakers and service referrals.

It is a volunteer centre for Pennsylvania Initiative on Assistive Technology Lending Library, Telecommunications Device Distribution Plan and Assistive Technology.

In addition, it helps with programs for free or low cost hearing aids and telephones.

“It is among the most effective things that ever occurred to me.

Across a tiny display, text scrolls through the telephone ‘s voice recognition technology.

“Occasionally you acquire some funny things. …

The plan has worked with police departments, teaching them the signal for “mistreatment,” so they can comprehend a deaf casualty. It is hoped that many other technologies which can help deaf people will have a focus within these new support centres. Many technologies can help deaf people in all sorts of circumstances, even using a simple VPN program like illustrated here, can allow deaf people to access programming with proper captioning that may only be available in certain countries.

“We want to do as much as we are able to in order to get the term out that we’re here for folks, as well as for others to value the hard of hearing. … I simply wished to help other people who have hearing loss find out they’re not by yourself,” Zimmerman said.

Additional Information

Useful Safety Device for Deaf

Sometimes an invention seems so simple and obvious that you wonder why it’s taken so long to appear.  Often though, particularly with products designed for people with some sort of disabilities it’s just finding out about them that can be the difficulty.

Safety is often an area that is overlooked,  devices which able bodied would deem almost essential are often of little practical use to the disabled for a variety of reasons.  How many of us for example would consider a smoke and CO2 alarm an essential piece of safety equipment to protect our homes and families.  Of course for a hearing impaired person, the standard smoke alarm is of little use, there are some modified systems which have light warnings as well as alarms but of course you have to be able to see it.

The bigger problem with traditional smoke alarms is that the majority of  fire incidents occur when people are asleep.  In this scenario a deaf person is completely unprotected by a traditional smoke alarm which they simply wouldn’t hear.  However there is a innovative new product designed by Deafgard, which has recently been purchased by the Doncaster College for the Deaf in the UK.

It’s a vibrating pillow which works alongside it’s existing ‘deaf’ fire alarm system.  All the lights on a system like this are useless if the person is asleep so the vibrating device is placed in the pillow and will wake anyone up if the fire alarm goes off.

It’s completely wire free and also has strobe lights to augment the powerful vibration that it incorporates.It’s been tested successfully in many environments which have hearing impaired people and is now considered an essential safety device.  Not only does it improve safety, it is just another tool which allows deaf people a little more independence and increases awareness of these issues to staff and people without these disabilities.

These simple technological devices can make a huge impact on disabled people’s lives, despite the fact that the effect can seem minimal to an able bodied person.   They provide a huge level of independence and allow hearing impaired people access to lifestyles that were previously not possible.   A deaf person now is much less reliant on able bodied people than they were 20 years ago.  The internet has of course made a huge difference too, a deaf friend of mine who a decade ago was forced to live with his parent now has a completely different lifestyle.  He lives in a studio apartment packed through with gadgets and runs his online business through a high speed vpn server which also controls his fire and burglar alarms.

You can find more information on this technology being used in UK colleges for the deaf on the BBC website.  To access the broadcasts outside Britain you will need something like a UK TV VPN however to bypass the country based filters.

 

Deaf Sky Customers Win Cancellation Battle

We’ve all been there, that service or subscription that we need to cancel yet the firm makes it as difficult to cancel.  It’s something I’ve just experienced and I can confirm it’s a bit of an ordeal, my attempt to cancel my Sky subscription (a Satellite TV service like cable) was successful but very hard work.  You start with an initial phone call which gets passed to a ‘special department’ where you’re quizzed and tempted with bonuses to reconsider, you can of course cancel – Sky is billion dollar multinational after all – but it’s tough.

Consider now, trying  this if you’re hard of hearing, my mother for example can just about manage very basic phone calls but not much else.  Trying to fathom her way through different electronic options and then trying to hold long phone calls with persuasive call center staff is extremely difficult.  Which is where the problem lies with Sky, the phone call was previously the only acceptable way to cancel a contract.  No quick email, no ordinary letter or fax – the only option was to run the gauntlet of departments designed to change your mind – clearly an unacceptable situation for the hard of hearing, and impossible for those who are completely deaf.

In the light of some very strong criticism and a decent media campaign by a couple of newspapers the company has relented and changed it’s requirements.  Now the approximately 15% of the population who have some hearing difficulties will not have to use the telephone to cancel their contracts.  They will be able to use email and ‘textphone’ to stop their subscriptions and cancel the service.  They have ruled out written letters for security reasons, which we find rather baffling as it’s ultimately at least as secure as email but a success never the less.

The company have upgraded their accessibility pages, in light of this criticism so they’re worth a look for the disabled and hering impaired – accessibility.sky.com.  There is talk of a video relay service which could be used by sky customers to use sign language to communicate with specially trained staff.  Although I’m not so show this is something that would be that appreciated, after all if you want to cancel you want to do it quickly and easily.

Many of  the bigger media companies seem to think it’s an acceptable way to keep customers, simply making it as difficult as possible to cancel their contracts.  The reality is that there’s huge competition especially online where anyone can with the right tools watch just about any media programme they like if they know where to look.  Imagine watching all UK terrestrial channels anywhere including the USA – iPlayer USA.

For the deaf community, technology generally makes life much easier for them. Simply being able to communicate online via text or email to order goods, manage accounts and other administrative tasks is much more straight forward.  Indeed with the rights skills and a few tools like good VPN software and a fast internet connection there’s not many aspects of life that can be controlled in this way.  So to be fair to Sky they have backed down and helped all those hearing impaired people who just can’t use a telephone easily.

 

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