Shifting the Communication Burden

As a person who is deaf/hard of hearing and uses bilateral cochlear implants to hear, communicating during the pandemic has been auditorily, mentally, psychologically and even physically challenging.  

Auditorily, I struggle to hear people speaking behind masks which cut off any visual cues that might help me and physical distancing means that their voices will be softer.  Masks with clear windows or even face shields can provide additional visual cues but at the expense of compromising the speech signal even more. 

Mentally, the additional cognitive load that is required to make sense out of the bits and pieces of what I hear and don’t hear has me exhausted by the end of the day.  

Psychologically, I get frustrated and angry and sad and feel all the feels, because communication is so hard but at the same time I crave (SAFE!) interactions with people outside of my home.  

Physically, I struggle not to drop and break my cochlear implants which cost about the same as a decent used car, as I take my masks on and off and everything gets tangled in my hearing equipment, my glasses and my long and flowing COVID hair (which is the longest it has been in at least 30 years).

The other phenomena that I have been experiencing and apparently, many of my other deaf/hard of hearing friends have, too, is that I find myself leaving my cochlear implants OFF more and more hours per day compared to pre-pandemic times.   I affectionately call this “deaf o’clock”.   With everyone being home, extra sounds, the need to concentrate on tasks at my computer…it’s just easier to leave my ears off.   A consequence of this, though, is that it means I am not stimulating my brain as much with auditory input which results in poorer speech comprehension ability (i.e., being able to understand what people are saying).   Think of it as “not practicing your ability to hear and understand” because we are essentially sitting here in silence.   It’s like trying to pick up French again if the last time you used it was in high school French class.

So, on the one hand, the pure physics of sound being compromised by masks and physical distancing preclude me from hearing my best through my cochlear implants.  On the other hand, I’m not perhaps at my peak performance because I’m not practicing enough.  The end result is the same…I struggle to hear and I’m exhausted.

I’ve decided to take all of these social media reminders and prompts for self-care to heart.   Some of you may not agree with this tactic or don’t feel safe doing this but I feel my visual and observational super powers kick in when I do this…I just go out in public with my EARS OFF and put the communication burden on the other person.  

You know what?   Deaf people who don’t/can’t use hearing aids or cochlear implants and hear nothing have always done this and they’ve survived and thrived. Communicating with people behind masks is not that different for them.

I mainly do this when I go to the grocery store.   Outside of home and work, this is basically where I go the most.   It’s completely LIBERATING to put on a mask like every other person who doesn’t have to worry about things getting tangled or situating it just right between my eyeglasses’ earpieces and my cochlear implant processors. The silence as I enter into a store is a bonus.   While cruising up and down the aisles to fill my cabinets and refrigerator, following the one way arrows and keeping at a distance does not require any hearing ability – it’s the check out that has always made me anxious.   I see the mask moving so I know they’re saying something but I may have no idea because not only are they behind masks, they’re also often behind a plexiglass shield which further dampens sound.  

I used to get really stressed and lean in to hear, sometimes people would pull down their mask and I would recoil and tell them to please put their mask back on (communicating with me is NOT more important than public health and safety) or I would go into full geek mode and pull out my smartphone and use a speech-to-text app where they would talk and their speech would be transcribed on my phone.  That’s a heavy load!

What I realized is that now when I enter into the store in deaf-stealth mode and reach the checkout counter, I point to my ear and shake my head, make eye contact with the checker, we share a slight nod of understanding and voila!  They get that I don’t hear.  This is where the magic happens….THEY are constantly looking up and down and around, point at things like the ever-rising cost total (did I really need those Pop Tarts?), give me a thumbs up and thumbs down to confirm I understood their pantomime and you know what??  IT WORKS!   They got their message across, I understood and I didn’t have to work as hard because they accommodated me rather than me having to work harder to come up with these accommodations where the burden is all on me. If something isn’t clear, they’ve even pulled out pen and paper to ask me a question.

I don’t do this for every situation, just ones where I feel that I can take a break and the communication is not that urgent and not worth the stress.  I also do this when I’m out and about and alone – I wouldn’t do this if I have to communicate with my family, friends or co-workers.

So, if you see me out in public and call my name and I don’t answer – please don’t be offended. I’m not ignoring you. I just don’t hear you.

Disclaimer: when I used to travel by airplane, I would also go into deaf-stealth mode because the quiet is blissful and gate agents seemed to remember the deaf woman who doesn’t talk vs. the deaf woman who has clear speech and they’re more likely to accommodate me with any flight changes. But that’s a blog post for another day…

Would you try this??? 🤔

Presentation Topics and Descriptions

Public Speaking Icon Vector Female Person on Podium for Presentation and Seminar for People with Microphone in Glyph Pictogram Symbol illustration

Whether online or in person, my goal is to use a combination of personal perspective as an audiologist and late-deafened adult, technology savvy, knowledge of resources and audience interaction to deliver information in an engaging and informative matter. I love to use pictures and personal examples in my talks and leave my audience with resources to access after the presentation is done. All of these presentations can be tailored to specific audiences – educators (special ed and regular ed), audiologists, parents, students, adults who are deaf/hard of hearing, etc. Some of them can be combined depending on content and time allotment. Presentations and titles can also be modified to specific themes (e.g., super-hear-oes!). I can present in spoken English or ASL. Below are some of the topics that I present about and their suggested lengths, though they can be adjusted. I am also open to developing trainings on topics not listed below.


I am also available for consultation in preparation for an event (e.g., meeting, webinar, live performance) as well as acting as a host/co-host/moderator to facilitate an event.


For a printable copy of my Topics and Descriptions, please download here:


  • Accessing the Arts
  • Apps
  • Assistive Technology
  • Best Practices for Accessible Videoconferencing
  • Can You R-E-A-D Me Now?
  • Cochlear Implants
  • Hearing Loss Basics
  • Hearing Loss Inservice Ideas
  • Life as a Deaf Audiologist and Advocacy
  • Online Resources and Making Connections
  • Simple Language for Complex Topics
  • Transition – Early Childhood Through High School and Beyond
  • Transition – Life After High School
  • Travel Tips and Emergency Preparedness When You Have Hearing Loss
  • What If I Don’t Have an Educational Audiologist?

Accessing the Arts

(1-2 hours)

Currently, use of Assistive Listening Devices is the standard accommodation at theatres. This is helpful for some but not all. Learn about different options such as closed captioning, open captioning, hearing loops and ASL interpreters and how they are becoming more prevalent. I will also discuss some of the advocacy efforts underway to improve access and how to become involved.


Apps

(2 hours [overview] to half day workshop [play with apps])

We’ll discuss topics such as where to look for apps, what features are good for individuals who are d/hh and demonstrate some of my favorite apps.  I also enjoy the opportunity to answer individual questions for finding apps for specific uses. All of these apps can be found on my App Lists (http://bit.ly/Apps4HL-iOS and http://bit.ly/Apps4HL-Android).  Attendees are encouraged to bring their portable device.


Assistive Technology

(1.5-3 hours)

Due to the ever-changing nature of technology, it is often difficult to keep up with all of the new and exciting ways to connect with assistive technology.  This is my passion and I am constantly reading about, researching and trying different technologies in an effort to share the information with people who might consider themselves technology-challenged or are looking for novel options to connect with the world around them. My goal is to describe and demonstrate how assistive technology can help us beyond just our personal amplification.


Best practices for accessible videoconferencing

(1-2 hours)

With the transition to online learning in education and telecommuting and videoconferencing in the business world, it’s important to know how to make these events accessible for individuals who are deaf/hard of hearing.  I can talk in general terms or talk specifically about the platforms that you use.   We will discuss options for integrating ASL interpreters and captioners into your event, as well as planning for contingencies.  Resources at http://tinachildressaud.com will be shared.


Can you R-E-A-D me now?

(1 hour [overview] to 3 hour workshop [play with technology])

Numerous options have emerged in the field of automated captioning – similar terms include Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning.  Individuals who are deaf/hard of hearing are using this technology to help with understanding when people are using masks.  They can also benefit from this technology in short exchanges, informal settings and as a back-up to captioning by a human captioner on videocalls or podcasts.  We will discuss Use Cases, how to use the different tools and resources such as http://bit.ly/SpeechToTextOptions will be shared.


Cochlear implants

(1.5-2 hours)

This presentation can be a very basic overview of how cochlear implants work or more advanced as we talk about connectivity.  I have also presented this topic to interpreters who attend audiology appointments for clients – examples of ASL signs for this terminology is discussed.  Multiple resources to explore later will be provided. I love talking about this topic and providing my personal and professional experiences.


Hearing Loss Basics

(1.5-2 hours)

Having a good foundation for understanding how hearing loss is diagnosed, treated and impacts communication is essential for families, adults and professionals. This interactive presentation is an excellent opportunity to (re)learn some of these concepts.


Hearing Loss Inservice ideas

(1.5-2 hours)

There are many resources already out there! What’s your favorite? Maybe you’ll learn a new one at this presentation. We will discuss and demonstrate a variety of inservice ideas for families, adults and professionals.


Life as a Deaf Audiologist and Advocacy

(1-2 hours)

There are scores of deaf/hard of hearing audiologists around the world but I don’t know very many who grew up with normal hearing and then became deaf like me.  In this retrospective and introspective presentation, I talk about what it was like as a former hearing person who experienced a rapidly progressive hearing loss, lessons I’ve learned and the passion I’ve discovered for advocacy and sharing information.  This is a popular topic for keynote presentations.


Online resources and making connections

(1-2 hours)

I have my feet in both worlds – as a professional and as a consumer. I’ve come to realize that there is so much value in being able to connect with others with hearing loss whether in person at a support group or in an online community. We’ll discuss advocacy groups and resources for a variety of populations and where to find them.


Simple Language for Complex Topics

(1.5-2 hours)

Have you ever been at a loss for words for explaining an audiogram? Do you see parents’ or other teachers’ eyes glaze over when you’re trying to explain how equipment works and why it’s so important? The purpose of this workshop is to not only provide you with a refresher and update for contemporary topics in audiology and deaf education but provide you with tools to explain it in everyday terms when you can’t come up with the words yourself. If there’s a concept that you’re stuck on, be sure to jot it down so we can discuss!


Transition – early childhood through high school and beyond

(1-2 hours)

As our students go through the various ages and stages, they are expected to have increased responsibilities in terms of equipment maintenance and use and advocacy skills.  Can a preschooler use an ear-level system?  Should an elementary school student be able to put in their own earmold for their hearing aid?   What do high schoolers need to think about before they graduate?   Let’s discuss!


Transition – life after high school

(1-2 hours)

As students who are deaf/hard of hearing prepare for finishing out their high school career, there are issues that they face that are unique to their situation.  Self-advocacy goals often start in elementary school but there are some issues that need to be specifically addressed in high school such as financial aid, making contact with disability services in post-secondary settings, using assistive technology as well as accommodation options and when to start them.


Travel Tips and Emergency Preparedness when you have hearing loss

(1-2 hours)

They don’t teach you this in school! Whether by plane, train or automobile, there are issues that individuals who are deaf/hard of hearing need to consider when traveling or in the event of an emergency. Do I need to do anything special when I go through a metal detector at the airport?  What are my safety options in hotel rooms? We will discuss tools and strategies in a variety of situations including lodging. I am a seasoned traveler who often travels alone and will have several experiences to share.


What if I don’t have an Educational Audiologist?

(1-2 hours)

Unfortunately, there are areas all over the U.S. that only have minimal, if ANY, support from an educational audiologist. Who selects, maintains and sends Hearing Assistive Technology (e.g., FM/DM) in for repair…what is within YOUR scope of practice? Where do students go for audiological evaluations with a focus on the educational impact of hearing loss? How do you keep track of changes in technology? As an Outreach Trainer, I have visited many schools that have varying degrees of support – learn about what you need to know, maybe even something new, and you will definitely feel empowered with resources!

Perspectives from a Deaf audiologist: How masks, face coverings and shields affect my speech perception ability

We got a new audiometer in my office so my co-worker, Beth, and I decided we would put it through the paces, learning how to find buttons to push, word lists to play and other features as we went along. We had discussed doing some INFORMAL testing (i.e., n = 1…me) with the various types of masks and shields we had available so I got in the booth on the patient side and Beth worked the audiometer.

The results below were taken on two separate days – some of you may have seen my Facebook post where I posted my Day 1 results. Day 1 word recognition (WR) testing was all done in quiet and we forgot to test the paper mask. After some specific requests, Day 2 incorporated the paper mask and we also did WR testing in noise.

Here is the (informal) testing protocol that we used:

  • NU-6 word list – one syllable consonant-vowel-consonant words, open-ended list
  • Presentation level = 50 dB HL via Monitored Live Voice (MLV) with boom microphone positioned in front of masks and shield in the same position, simulating what a teacher might be doing
    • Testing done in quiet
    • Testing done in background noise condition – we used 4-talker babble and had a +5 signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio which meant that the speech signal (in our case, 50 dB) was 5 dB louder than our competing background noise (so it was set to 45 dB). These are the same conditions that I use when I test students.
  • Testing was done without and then with visual cues

Some background on me and my hearing history in case you didn’t know: I am a late-deafened adult who lost my hearing at age 29. I’ve now had my Advanced Bionics cochlear implants for 20 and 15 years, respectively, and I’m so grateful for this technology! I have always done very, very well with my cochlear implants as evidenced by my scores with “no mask” above. There are still times when I struggle and masking and distancing have definitely played more of a role in this. I’m so thankful that I am also fluent in ASL and tech savvy for those times when I need help!

These results only reflect MY abilities and it is more of an intra-subject analysis and personal account. That being said though, if I, as a high-functioning auditory communicator struggled as much as I did, what about our students who have been deaf/hard of hearing since birth or have had minimal benefit from their hearing aid or cochlear implant or don’t have a complete language or… ???

My interpretation of these results:

  • My cochlear implants benefit me tremendously for listening (auditory learner effect)
  • Even with 50-year old eyes and need for progressive lenses, they still benefit me for lipreading/speechreading cues (visual learner effect)
  • The “paper mask” had the least effect on causing me to have WR errors.
  • The full “cloth mask” didn’t really affect me until background noise was introduced
  • The “mask with clear window” and “ClearMask” had the same effect for me of causing more WR errors whether it was in quiet or in background noise and I was listening only
    • When I was able to lipread, my scores jumped back up near ceiling levels. I was shocked that I was even able to benefit from visual cues while lipreading Beth behind a fogged up “mask with clear window”!
    • Beth noticed subjectively that my responses appeared more confident and quicker when she was using the ClearMask – perhaps it was because I could see so much more of her mouth and there was less fogging. I should also note that people love or hate this mask – its design definitely is not universal.
  • I really, really, really don’t do well with face shields if listening only! To be honest, this was disappointing to me because I have been a shield advocate because it seemed a good solution for people that need visual cues and can be more comfortable to wear (though not as protective against SARS-CoV-2 as masks). It may still be better for some people but definitely not me.
    • This was the most difficult condition for Beth to keep her voice at a steady loudness level. She noticed as soon as she put the shield on that her voice was echoing back and sounded different. She also looked at the VU meter on the audiometer (this is what we look at to make sure our voice isn’t too soft or too loud and is steady) and it was noticeably quieter by about 10 dB. She kept her voice at the same level as much as her muscle memory allowed and it was amazing how the shield really just decimated the energy of her voice. In essence, instead of her voice being +5 (i.e., her voice being 5 dB louder than the background noise), it was more like -10 dB (i.e., her voice being 10 dB quieter than the background noise). That’s significant for me to score ZERO PERCENT. Besides that, think about how hard talking behind a shield can be for a teacher!
    • Having been hearing for most of my life, I was shocked (and pleasantly surprised) that I did as well as I did basically with all lipreading with the shield in noise with visual cues.
  • The more rigid the plastic, the more of an effect it had on me – my scores auditory only were significantly worse compared to the “paper mask” and “cloth mask”. The shield had the most detrimental effect across the board.

Final thoughts:

  • There is no one perfect mask, face covering or shield that will accommodate all students (or adults)!!!
    • I know this may not be what you want to hear (I’m looking for the “holy grail” of masks and shields, too!) but I feel like we’re still on the hunt for something “better”.
  • You need to figure out if the student is a…
    • Auditory learner – I would recommend a “paper mask” or “cloth mask”
    • Visual learner – Some students will need a “mask with clear window”, “ClearMask” or “Face Shield” to access lipreading cues. Consult your educational audiologist to consider using a remote microphone system to overcome the effects of sounds being muffled. This is critical if you have a teacher using a face shield. Remind your student to keep in visual contact with the teacher as much as possible.
  • Based on the answer above, you should choose the appropriate mask, face covering or shield taking into account which kind of learner they are.
  • If you or your student have multiple slots on your personal amplification or implantable device, I highly suggest getting some kind of “mask program” where:
    • overall output is increased (to compensate for social distancing making all sounds quieter) and
    • frequencies above 1000 Hz and especially above 4000 Hz have increased gain due to the loss of these high frequencies being filtered by masks and shields
    • You’ll want to experiment with this with your audiologist since this is not an exact science yet and really, depends on if you are listening mostly to people with masks, face coverings or shields (those with a clear window will need more output and gain in the high frequencies).

There have been quite a few studies that have also looked at the acoustic effects of masks and shields – this is just my contribution with my own scores and thoughts.

Just this morning, Abram Bailey of Hearing Tracker alerted me to a new study done just down the road from me (!!) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. They looked at how different kinds of masks, face coverings and shields impacted high frequency-speech sounds. The high frequencies contain the “energy” for consonant sounds and consonant sounds help you distinguish one word from another – if you can’t hear them, it sounds like everyone is mumbling. Check out how these different conditions are almost exactly reflected in my scores! (I did not do any testing with an N95 respirator nor a mask with cotton/spandex blend jersey)

If you’d like to see some more mask and shield studies, you can go to my social bookmarking page at https://raindrop.io/collection/2663069 and type #Masks in the Search Bar.

If you’d like to see some user comments and thoughts on different masks, face coverings and shields that they’ve used, check out this previous blog post where colleagues, Mary Beth Napoli, Carrie Spangler and I created some surveys to see if we could find a trend. SPOILER: we didn’t but the comments were still valuable!

I also had the privilege of collaborating with Catharine McNally on possible solutions involving assistive technology for situations like teleconferencing and using speech-to-text technology. Please check out our Knowledge Base at connect-hear.com!

I’d like to finish this post with a plea to anyone that has sewing skills and has experience making masks. This is my Wish List of features for a mask that I have yet to find:

  • USE OF QUILTING FABRIC – for protectiveness, coolness and breathability
  • MEDIUM THICKNESS VINYL WINDOW – to hold its shape and not get wrinkly, anti-glare and anti-fog would be bonuses but I know difficult to achieve
  • WINDOW SIZE – enough to see the whole mouth but not so much that it affects coolness and breathability
  • METAL NOSE PIECE – to prevent my glasses from fogging up and keep my nose covered, may have to be external if the mask is washable because it might be prone to rust out if sewn in
  • DARTED DESIGN (i.e., not flat) – so that the mask sits away from my face which makes it easier to breathe and so the window doesn’t get sucked onto my lips when I breathe or talk
  • RETENTION OPTIONS – ear loops don’t work for me but do for others, I prefer an adjustable head loop style with a toggle or something to make it bigger/smaller, if it was a little stretchy that would be great, too
  • AVAILABILITY IN ADULT AND KID SIZES
  • REPLACEABLE VINYL WINDOW – so I can throw the cloth portion in the laundry (this would be a total bonus but not absolutely necessary)

Any takers? 🙂

Factors that affect face shields and masks with clear windows – perspectives from people who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing

The CDC outlines how to protect yourself and others from developing COVID-19.

  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid close contact
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect
  • Monitor your health

We will be focusing on the third bullet point – the use of cloth face coverings.

The purpose of this post is to serve as a central location for surveys that have been developed by Tina Childress, Carrie Spangler and Mary Beth Napoli.

Tina Childress is an educational audiologist in Illinois and is a bilateral cochlear implant user. Carrie is an educational audiologist in Ohio and uses a cochlear implant and a hearing aid. Mary Beth is a retired Teacher of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing in New York and uses bilateral cochlear implants. We understand first-hand the challenges that accompany trying to communicate when people are using some kind of face covering.

Studies have shown that various kinds of solid (cloth) masks can have the following effects:

  • Loss of visual cues
  • Speech is quieter
  • Consonant sounds are dampened

This is in addition to the effects of listening at a distance [6 feet/2 meters] and often, competing background noise. All of these factors have a compound affect on those of us already struggling to hear due to hearing loss.

As educational audiologists and educators, we are concerned, like many of our colleagues, about the effects of face coverings in a classroom setting. There have been discussions about alternative “coverings” in the form of face shields. Carrie has been a driving force on this issue and has written articles and been interviewed to discuss some of the advantages of face shields.

We wanted to make sure that we also got the opinions of many of YOU, people using masks with clear windows and face shields in non-medical settings, to see what improvements can be made or what you think is working well.

Surveys

In order to keep product comments separate, we decided to do separate surveys for each type of shield and mask.

Which face shield or mask with clear window do you use? Click on the corresponding link below to leave us your thoughts! You may answer more than once if you have multiple products.

If there are any products that you would like to add to this list, please contact me (tina [dot] childress [at] gmail.com).

Survey
DIY Masks with Clear Windows
undefinedFace Shield (generic – elastic strap)
Face Shield (generic – velcro strap)
Humanity Shield
InstaShield
Shield Pals
The Clear Mask
The Communicator Clear Surgical Mask
ZShield Flex
The Smile Mask
(added July 11, 2020)
Bucket Hat
(added July 11, 2020)

Summaries of Responses to each of the products can be found at this link. They will be updated periodically based on the number of responses.

Thank you so much and please let us know if you have any questions!

References

Communication in Crisis: Speech Intelligibility with N95 Respirator Masks

Consideration of Face Shields as a Return to School Option

Connect-Hear.com – Knowledge Base including section on Masks and Shields with ordering information and DIY instructions

The Impact of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) on Remote Microphone Systems (June 17, 2020 Oticon webinar – has yet to be posted)

Transcript of ASHA Voices: So You Want to Reopen? An Audiologist Shares How He Did It

How to caption your videos

CC OC on computer

As I write this post, I am on Day 9 of social distancing and our entire state was recently given a “stay at home” order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All around the world, I’m watching my colleagues who work with Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH) students scramble as they transition to composing lessons for e-learning.  Finding captioned content can be difficult, so some are resorting to captioning the content they want to use on their own.

I also have D/HH peers who need resources for adding captions to content that they view or use so it’s accessible.

I wanted to share some resources that might help.

What’s the difference between subtitles and captions?

Subtitles only reflect the dialogue of what is spoken on the screen.  Subtitles can be in a variety of languages.

Captions not only reflect the subtitles but any non-spoken information such as environmental sounds like [door creaking] or [music] or [silence].

There are Open Captions (OC) which are always visible on the video content – you can’t turn them off.   There are videos that you can watch on a portable device that are OC – you just play the movie and the captioning is there.  If you go to a movie theater to watch an OC movie, you can’t turn it off (though the movie theater employee can).

There are Closed Captions (CC) which can be turned on/off by the viewer.   There is a CC button on newer remote controls for TVs as well as cable/satellite boxes.   Sometimes the control is on screen.   When you watch DVD or Blu-Ray media, you might see a choice for “Subtitles – English” or  “SDHH (Subtitles for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing)”.   The first represents true subtitles while the second actually would be considered captions because they include the non-spoken information.

Why caption your videos?

For people that are DHH, captioning = access.  The audio signal that comes from recorded or live content played through speakers is not as robust as what we might get talking to someone face-to-face.  Also visual and speechreading cues are not always available.   We rely on captioning to understand what we can’t hear.

People with normal hearing like captioning, too!   Some people might like to watch videos on mute because they don’t want to bother others (did you know that 85% of Facebook videos are watched without sound?!?), maybe they’re multitasking, perhaps they’re trying to hear a video but it’s in a noisy environment, or maybe they’re still learning English.

There are many advantages to watching captioned content.  Studies have shown that captioning can improve literacy in children – if you’re going to sit them in front of a screen, may as well turn on the captions!  As a business, captioning your videos can increase the amount of time someone stays on your website/social media site, remembers your content as well as improve your SEO.

How can I caption videos?

These are just a few of the resources out there that you can use to add captions to your videos.  I picked the ones that seemed to be the most used in the DHH/teaching community.   I’m sure that every day, more and more are becoming available.  I leave it to you to go to the websites and/or find video tutorials to make them work.  If I find some great resources, I’ll add them.

Let’s start with some of the FREE websites (click on the name of the products to go directly to their website and directions for generating captions):

Amara

“Amara’s award-winning technology enables you to caption and subtitle any video for free. For larger subtitling projects the platform makes it easy to manage teams of translators. And you can always purchase high-quality captions or translations from our passionate team of professional linguists.”

“Subtitles created in Amara Public are freely available to anyone. Use the award-winning Amara subtitle editor for free in a public workspace. Anyone with an Amara account can join the workspace and contribute subtitles in any language.

Amara Public is designed for crowd-based, open subtitle creation
Subtitles are always visible, editable and downloadable
Upgrade to Amara Plus to create subtitle files in a private workspace”

Comments:

  • You will be manually typing out the subtitles, they are not generated by automated captions.  This should work well for shorter videos or videos that do not have a lot of talking.

Kapwing

This “is an online editor for subtitling your videos”.

Comments:

  • Upload a video or provide a URL to the video (maximum 10 minutes for the free version)
  • In your “studio”,  select “auto-generate”.
  • After the subtitles have been created, you can correct and edit them.

Microsoft Stream

“You can add subtitles or captions to any Microsoft Stream video during upload or after. You can also choose to configure your video so Stream generates captions automatically using Automatic Speech Recognition technology.”

Comments:

  • If you don’t have a script, start with the ASR captioning and then go back and make the edits you need
  • Can also download the transcript

Veed.io

Simple Online Video Editing

Comments:

  • There are different plans – Free, Basic, Pro
  • You get a one-time allowance of 2 hours of free auto subtitling
  • Free version only works for a video up to 10 minutes and 50 MB or less
  • Easy and intuitive way to add text as well as subtitling to your videos

VidReader

“Read your video like read an article.

We use smart technologies (NLP + AI) to create well-formatted interactive transcripts for your videos. Now you can read, search, share, and locate a sentence within any videos in seconds. Get started with a YouTube link below!”

Comments:

  • You must first upload your video to YouTube
  • This site generates an interactive transcript which you will view side-by-side with your video (i.e., it’s not embedded)
  • You can even download the transcript.   This may be a good option for your students that also use screenreaders due to vision impairment.

YouTube

With YouTube, you’ll upload your video first.  If you already have a transcript, you can sync it with the video.  If you don’t have a transcript, you can enable automatic captions (unedited) or run your video through automatic captions and then edit them.

Here are directions on how to enable the auto-generated captioning which can be wildly variable in terms of accuracy, depending on the quality of the signal.

Comments:

  • If your video is more than 15 minutes, you will need to verify your account

Zubtitle

“Zubtitle is an online tool that automatically adds subtitles to any video by transcribing the audio and generating subtitle text.  Zubtitle offers multiple subtitle text style and makes it easy to edit subtitle text on the fly.”

Comments:

  • “Free” hooked me.  You can caption ONE (1) video for free, otherwise, it’s 10 videos for $19/month or 30 videos for $49/month.
  • I found the caption editor for this site to be the most intuitive compared to the other free websites.
  • The website did a pretty good job of extracting the audio information from the video first and then transcribing it, getting it ready to be edited.   There were not that many errors that I had to correct.
  • There are quite a few caption styles to choose from.

Here is a list of some companies that will create subtitles/captions/transcripts for you, with a quick turnaround time (anywhere from 24 to 72+ hours), but have an associated COST:

Are there other teaching tools that have captions built-in?

Yes!   Here are apps that generate realtime, automated captions:

Clips

  • FREE
  • Available on iOS only
  • Takes video and can generate realtime, automated captions that can also be edited
  • Great tool for making videos with captions on-the-fly as well as materials like social stories

FlipGrid

  • FREE
  • Tool that allows educators and students to exchange video clips
  • These clips are all automatically captioned via automated captions when they are uploaded
  • You can even edit the captions

Google Slides

  • FREE
  • When you start your presentation, click on the CC button at the bottom of the presentation window to start automated captions
  • You cannot save a transcript of the captions but if you do a screenrecording of your lesson, the captions will be on there

Google Hangouts and Google Hangouts Meet

  • Anyone with a Gmail address will have access to Google Hangouts
    • If your email address has the same suffix (e.g., firstnamelastname@sameschool.org), you will have access to live captions through Google Hangouts
    • If your email address suffixes are different, there will be no live captions
  • You need to have a G-Suite account into order to start a meeting with Google Hangouts Meet – you don’t have to have G-Suite if you’re invited to a Google Hangouts Meet meeting
    • All Google Hangouts Meet meetings have access to live captions
  • (thanks to Mary Beth Napoli for the information above)
  • Click on the CC button to generate automated captions for all videoconference participants
  • If you record this call, the captions will NOT be saved to the recording
  • If you want to save the captions, you have to do a screenrecording

Microsoft PowerPoint

  • Part of Office 365 which has a cost
  • Automated subtitles consistently available on PCs when using the PPT standalone version
  • Automated subtitles for MacBooks available when using the online version of PPT through Office 365
  • You can save the transcript from your PPT presentation subtitles

Microsoft Teams

  • Part of Office 365 which has a cost
    • Not all Microsoft licenses have access to teams (h/t MBN)
  • Cool new feature that you can now have automated captions when you use Teams for a videoconference
    • ONLY if your email address is associated with a Microsoft account, otherwise you will not see captions (h/t MBN)

Panopto

  • Cost is based on number of students and teachers that use the platform
  • This is a place where people can save videos
  • Every video that’s uploaded to this site can be played with automated captions
  • You can also do a “lesson capture” with this platform, which will also have automated captions
  • There is the ability to integrate a live CART (communication access realtime translation) captioner during a webinar on this platform

Skype

  • Free
  • This popular videocall platform now provides automated captioned during the phone/videocalls
  • For individuals that are D/HH, having captions is great in addition to having visual cues from the videocall

Workarounds

(Again, h/t MBN for her insight on this!)

  • Run a speech-to-text (STT) app like Live Transcribe (Android only) or Otter or Ava (both are iOS and Android) on a separate mobile device such as a cellphone or tablet.  You can also open up http://webcaptioner.com, Otter or Ava (only at the higher paid tiers) in another browser window.  Make sure your computer speakers are turned up so the mobile device can pick up the signal.  You will then be able to read captions on the mobile device.
    • Another way to use these STT apps is to hold your device under your chin and facing the camera so people can not only see your face for lipreading cues, they can read the captions.   Be aware of computer glare on. your mobile device though!
  • If there is someone in your group that is able to get captions on their end, have them share their screen so that everyone can see the captions.
  • If you have access to three devices:
    • Device #1 – participate in the meeting
    • Device #2 – use the STT app to caption the audio signal coming from your speakers
    • Device #3 – zoom in on the captions to join the meeting as a separate “participant”

What if I want a recording of the captions from the class but they don’t transfer over when I record from within that particular videoconferencing platform?

In this situation, it would be best to do a screenrecording of your lecture.   Here are some of the most popular ones:

Quick Time

  • FREE – This is the native screenrecorder that comes on Mac computers

PC – Built-in

  • FREE – This is the native screenrecorder that comes on PCs

Camtasia

  • Can start with a free 30-day trial and then cost increase to $249 (one time)
  • Screenrecorder where you can also add captions

Screencastify

  • Free for an up to 5 minute video / $29 per year for unlimited videos currently (40% discount)
  • Screenrecorder and can manually add captions with Google Slides or YouTube
  • Has a Chrome Extension for quick access

Screencast-o-matic

  • Free for basic tier
  • Automated or manually uploaded captions only available on upper two tiers

Final Tips:

  • If you’re going to creating your own captions from scratch or editing a video more than about 15 minutes, PLAN FOR WORKING ON THIS FOR A FEW HOURS, even more so if you’re not familiar with the app.
  • Make sure to save early and save often.  I learned that the hard way. 😦
  • Personally, for the amount of time I spent adding captions to a 15 minute video, it would have been worth $18.75 ($1.25×15 minutes) to have someone else do it.  But you have to plan ahead unless you want to pay a higher price for quick turnaround time.
  • This can be a good task for a paraprofessional in the classroom.
  • A fantastic resource for not only open captioned but also audio described (for the visually impaired) content is the Described and Captioned Media Program.   They have THOUSANDS of titles on a variety of topics.  This is a FREE service and the videos can be streamed right to your computer. Be sure check them out!

Resources

  • 3PlayMedia has some great How-to Guides across different platforms and products
  • How to add captions using Google Drive, YouTube Editor, Pinnacle Studio, CaptionMaker and Aegisub

If there are any apps that I missed or if you have any comments, please let me know!

Captioning options for Videoconferencing and Learning Management Systems

Videoconferencing

(Many thanks to Catharine McNally and Sarah Kiefer for their contributions, feedback, editing and comments on this blog post!)

In an effort to stop the exponential growth of COVID-19, we’re seeing daily announcements about schools and higher-ed institutions deciding to close or move coursework to an online format.  For students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, it is important that educators and IT staff plan for accessibility if the online classes require listening to audio in order to participate.

We are seeing similar measures from companies and businesses putting travel bans into place and requiring employees to telecommute.  Flights and larger events are being canceled and workers are being asked to stay and work from home.

Who is responsible for providing accommodations?

For students in grades Pre-K through 12, accommodations and access are provided by their school under IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

For employees in business with more than 15 employees, your rights are covered under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  More information can be found at https://www.nad.org/resources/employment-and-vocational-rehabilitation/discrimination-and-reasonable-accommodations/.

Options for students in the K-12 setting

This resource, created by Sarah Kiefer, from the Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education has FANTASTIC information and guidelines on how to provide accommodations and accessibility to your students. 

The remainder of this blog post will mostly pertain to high school, college/university and work settings.

“Accessibility Strategies for Deaf / Hard of Hearing People in Remote Meetings”

Be sure to head over to Medium and check out Catharine McNally’s fantastic article with a slightly different angle.  Yay for teamwork!

Resources from the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Technology Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center

(content added 05/15/20) Christian Vogler at DHH-RERC has been doing some amazing work documenting best practices and use case scenarios with videoconferencing, especially Zoom.   He has create two documents that are must-reads that should be used in planning an accessible online event.  First is the more general document called, “Webinar Accessibility for Deaf and Hard of Hearing People” and the second document, “Accessibility Tips for a Better Zoom/Virtual Meeting Experience” looks at three case scenarios and what worked and didn’t work.

Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) Services

Best case scenario, captioning is provided by a professional “live captioner” who can, with high-accuracy, caption synchronously with the speaker. CART allows for “live captioning” of audio events with the CART provider as the aforementioned “live captioner.”  If you desire CART services as an accommodation, contact your employer or institution so they may start the process of securing one for you.

Live captioners can be either on-site or they can provide captioning remotely (or off-site).  In the latter situation, the talker would need to wear a remote microphone (often Bluetooth) that connects to a computer to provide an audiofeed to the live captioner off-site via the internet.  The captioned content would then be transmitted back to the student on their display device.

The advantages of having a live captioner:

  • If the audio signal is poor, they can fill in the gaps with contextual, visual and situational cues
  • They will be aware of names, proper nouns and technical vocabulary if materials are provided to them ahead of time
  • They can look at visual materials (e.g., presentation slides, handouts, programs) for support
  • They can ask for clarification if someone is soft-spoken, not talking into the microphone or multiple people are talking simultaneously
  • They often arrive early to ensure adequate connections to projectors, the internet, etc. as they set up their equipment and can let others know if there are connection problems

Automated Captions

If CART is not an available option, then “automated captions” can provide some assistance.  Automated captions have improved greatly in the past few years in terms of accuracy, speed and integration with other programs and apps. They will continue to improve with increased time and exposure to more words; however, they do not have the same level of accuracy that a live captioner can provide.   There are some programs/apps that have decent speed (i.e., insignificant delay) but they are not as accurate as a live captioner. 

The quality of the automated captioning is HEAVILY dependent on the audibility and quality of the sound (the input) and can be affected by: 

  • Rate of speech
  • Accents
  • Background noise
  • Distance from the talker  to the microphone 

The “success criteria” for optimal auto-captioning input includes: 

  • Each speaker has their own microphone
  • One speaker speaks at a time
  • Background noise is minimized (be at home vs. a coffeehouse!)

The next step is determining which platform is available and compatible with the captioning features needed by students and employees.  

(EDIT: 05/15/20) The information below has been updated!

A few weeks ago, Catharine McNally launched a Knowledge Base at Connect-Hear.org

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 9.59.12 PM

The information on this Knowledge Base will be kept current so I refer you to Connect-Hear.com.   Here’s an overview of the videoconference platforms that we’ve covered:

Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 10.02.39 PM
http://connect-hear.com/knowledge-base/chart-of-videoconferencing-captioning-availability/

Non-embedded caption options

ANY platform can use the services of a live captioner via a 3rd party captioning service.  Captions are then displayed in a separate browser window.  Individuals can either resize the captioning window compared to the videoconferencing window or they can view the captions on a separate device or monitor.

Designated teleconference captioning by dialing into a phone number

Specific states have a contract with Sprint to provide conference captioning when the audio input is via a phone number.   You can request captioning via Sprint Teleconference Captioning (STC) if are in AZ, CO, CT, FL, HI, ME, MO, NJ, NC, RI, SD, VT, WV or WY.    In addition, federal employees can also access teleconference captioning via Relay Conference Captioning.

Using captioned phone services

If there is an option for an individual with normal hearing to dial into a phone number (e.g., to find out that day’s homework assignment, participate in a conference call), there needs to be an accessible option for your student/employee who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing.  This can be accomplished through the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) which is a free captioned phone service available in the U.S. This is NOT the same as having your videoconference / webinar / instructional lesson captioned by a live captioner.  

CapTel, CaptionCall and ClearCaptions have stand-alone captioned telephones that sit on your desk.  Products such as WebCapTel also have apps that can be viewed on portable devices as well as your computer.  InnoCaption can be used to caption calls on a cellphone.

Note:  

  • These captioning services are not permitted if you’re communicating with someone in the same room – only if you’re dialing in from a different location.    
  • The captioning text may look different if you’re used to seeing captions normally provided for a conference as opposed to a telephone call.

Speech-to-Text Apps

There are also speech-to-text (STT) apps that use automated captions and may be used for access in one-on-one conversations or small groups in case of necessity.  Some are free and some have a cost.   

The same limitations noted for the effectiveness of automated captions used with videoconferencing applications would also apply to these STT apps.  In addition, STT apps pull language from the most commonly searched words on the internet, so in some cases, STT apps will insert an inappropriate word leaving the individual who is Deaf/Hard of Hearing unsure of the conveyed content.

This technology should be considered as a backup when the provided captions stop working as it would not be an adequate source of access in most situations.

I’ve created a separate resource (http://bit.ly/SpeechToTextOptions) discussing the different STT apps and features.   You can use an STT app on your phone or tablet, turn up your speakers so that captions can be generated, separate from the device where you’re viewing your audio/video content.  The resource above also has directions on how to connect with a remote microphone to improve audio input so that the captions are more accurate..

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Another tool used by educators is an LMS platform.  Here you can create assignments, grade assignments, take attendance, collaborate, share content and a variety of other functions.  Below are some of the most popular platforms and resources for making the audio content accessible.

GoReactHow to add captions to pre-recorded content that you created
BlackBoard CollaborateHow to integrate CART
 How to integrate automated captions
 How to add captions to pre-recorded content
CanvasHow to add captions to pre-recorded content that you created
 Helpful YouTube video
 How to add captions to external video content that you did not create
KalturaHow to integrated automated captions
CourseraHow to use CC on content that already has captions

Other resources

This information was generated by 3PlayMedia, a provider of live and post-production captions.   It discusses how to add captions or integrate captions across a variety of media.

This spreadsheet lists a variety of post-secondary institutions and their Remote Teaching Resources.

This resource and this informational page from the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes has fantastic information for educators as they transition to online teaching.

DeafTEC, part of National Technical Institute for the Deaf, has useful tips in designing your curriculum so that it’s accessible.

Final Thoughts

This is a unique time.   We are all being affected both directly and indirectly by schools, institutions and businesses switching to an online format.   Resources will be taxed, including the bandwidth of internet connections as more and more people will be going online.  There are also families/individuals that do not have access to technology or internet connections that many of us take for granted.  For individuals who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, we need to be intentional and mindful and prepared for providing them with equal access.

Be safe!

P.S.  Be sure to follow my blog’s facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SeeHearCommunicationMatters/ for more information and resources!   So much new information coming in!

Advacation: Cruise edition – requesting real-time captioning

Advacation

carnival-sensation-2
Photo cred:  https://www.carnival.com/cruise-ships/carnival-sensation.aspx

In the dead heat of summer, my friend casually mentioned on a fb chat that she and her family were going to be celebrating New Year’s Eve on a cruise ship.  I was intrigued and then elated when I saw the “…” (indicating active typing) on our chat followed by “The invitation is there if y’all can go.”   A quick check with hubby and we (somewhat impulsively) decided that we would join them!

I hadn’t been on a cruise since I was 16 and my family had never gone so this would be an entirely new experience for us.  On the other hand, my friend, Lisa, had been on several cruises with different members of her family and was well-versed on the ins and outs of cruise life.  Lisa and I are both late-deafened – I am ASL-fluent and she knows a handful of signs.  We are both excellent spoken language communicators and rely on visual information and lipreading in difficult listening situations. This meant that in terms of accommodations to access any audible information such as public announcements or hear (and UNDERSTAND!) people on stage for a show, real-time captioning would be needed so it was accessible to both of us.

I have been deaf for about 20 years now but when I started my career in audiology, I had normal hearing.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

“First introduced in the 100th Congress, the ADA bans discrimination on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, public accommodation, public services, transportation and telecommunications. President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.” [ref.]

As a former hearing person who now benefits from the ADA for accommodations, I am (unfortunately) not surprised at how often I have to remind the-powers-that-be what my rights are.   Most of the time, it’s a matter of educating them about these rights and providing them with resources.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  There have been other times where they just flat out seemed to want to refuse on principle.  In these situations, I tend to roll up my sleeves, dig in my heels and go into advocate mode. Getting captioning for this cruise was no exception – it was time to “advacate” (see definition above).

When you register for a cruise, there are sections where you indicate if you have a disability and what your needs are.   I just went down the rabbit hole to find the disability services pages for the major cruise lines and it was fascinating to see what they offer/don’t offer.

Cruise Line Accessibility

I couldn’t figure out how to easily add a table to this post but you can see a larger and clickable version of the above table at http://bit.ly/CruiseLineAccessibilityDHH.  Some of the information was really hard to find or not even listed on the website itself but rather on a form that you have to fill out. Click on the name of the cruise line in the table to go straight to their disability services page.

Here are the important points that you need to know:

  • Cruise ships, whether they are American or foreign, that cruise in U.S. waters are subject to the ADA.  [ref.]

  • These accommodations are provided to you AT NO COST so be sure no one is trying to charge you extra or insist that you bring your own accommodations on board.  This includes paying travel, lodging and incidentals for interpreters and captioners. [ref.]

  • Even if they don’t list them on their accessibility pages, you CAN request accommodations that provide you with EFFECTIVE communication (e.g., real-time captioning, ASL interpreter, tactile interpreter, assistive listening device, written scripts, preferential seating for access to visual cues, etc.) . [ref.]

This last point is the reason that I wrote this blog post.  NONE of the cruise line accessibility websites mentioned real-time captioning as an accommodation on the ship. *If* they offered any kind of communication accommodation, it was ASL interpreters and/or assistive listening devices – these were the two options offered repeatedly (!) to us.  Yet, for multitudes of deaf, late-deafened and hard of hearing individuals, real-time captioning might be the preferred accommodation for events like stage shows, musical numbers, trivia games, etc. because:

  • they don’t know sign language (e.g., my friend)
  • assistive listening devices can be ineffective if:
    • the microphone is not properly used (if the person is even using a mic!)
    • in large, reverberant and highly noisy areas
    • if the individual does not have good aided speech perception/word recognition skills (it’s like turning up the volume on a radio station that’s not in tune – it doesn’t help)

Here is my initial email to them:

Carnival initial email

One of the most important things I’ve learned about arranging for accommodations is be very specific about the accommodations that you are requesting.  They don’t know that I’m late-deafened and that I prefer captions for some things and interpreters for other things.  They don’t know that you might not know sign language (many assume that if we put down “deaf” or “hard of hearing” that we sign).  They don’t know that you need preferential seating so that you can speechread.   They don’t know that you don’t benefit from assistive listening devices.  They can’t read our minds so we have to let them know what works best for us.

Don’t wait until last minute to request accommodations.   If there are hiccups or cancellations, then hopefully you’ll have enough time to go to Plan B.   I’m somewhat of a hyper-planner (!!) so I started this process 5 months ahead of time.   Some of the websites ask for 60 days’ notice – I would probably start trying to plan around 3 months ahead of time.

Another thing I’ve learned is document, document and document.  Save all emails, correspondence, etc. so you have a paper trail in case there are any disagreements or misunderstandings.

Have a designated point-of-contact on the boat in case there are problems.   In our case, it was our captioner who had a direct line (a la “Batphone”) with the cruise staff.   We had a great relationship with our captioner so felt comfortable asking her to contact them if there were concerns.

Lastly, know your rights.    In the table above, there are some links to some case law as well as how cruises are covered under the ADA.   Be prepared to drop some of those links in your emails to let them know that you know you are entitled to effective communication.

“…cruise lines are prohibited from discriminating against passengers on the basis of their disability by “fail[ing] to take such steps as may be necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated or otherwise treated differently than other individuals because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services.” [ref.]

After going back and forth in emails, they ultimately agreed to provide real-time captioning after trying to force us to use ASL interpreters or Assistive Listening Devices.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s because I cited the judgment against them [ref.].  I don’t know if it’s because the person I was corresponding didn’t know themselves or if they really just didn’t want to offer captioning as an option.   I had spoken to several deaf/hard of hearing friends prior to this cruise and I *knew* that captioning was possible.   We just needed to be persistent.

Our real-time captioner, Julia, was WONDERFUL.   She had been a captioner on almost twenty cruises prior to this one and she was assigned to me and Lisa.   Luckily, Lisa and I wanted to go to the same events otherwise it could have gotten complicated.

When you arrange for an ASL interpreter or a real-time captioner, I highly recommend asking that the person be assigned to you or your group alone or that you know how many other deaf/hard of hearing people might be vying for their time.  This way you know what to expect.  The advantages of having an assigned person is that I can communicate directly with them and let them know on the fly where I want to go or that I’m pooped and I just want to take the afternoon off, ears off.  This is what hearing people get to do (decide last minute) so that should also be an option for us.  We tended to use her services in the evening for shows and performances but we had the option to use her for events in the afternoon as well.   We lucked out in that we were the only deaf/hard of hearing individuals on the ship.  The captioner said that she had been in a situation where she was the only captioner and there were multiple groups that had to agree which events she would caption.  Next time, I will definitely follow my own advice about requesting someone be assigned to me.

Not all captioners have/provide the same equipment but this is what our captioner had:

  • Stenograph machine for word-for-word Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) transcription (same machine used by stenographers in a courtroom)

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  • Interface to make it easier to advance lines on pre-scripted material (lyrics to music during the shows)

20200103_203109

  • External monitor hard wired to her equipment so we could read the captions (yes, this show had lots of lyrics in Spanish!)

20200103_203104

  • Portable tablets so could read the captions

20200103_215553
Julia in the background while Lisa and I sit at the Piano Bar

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Our portable tablets at the Piano Bar

  • Harness for walking CART which we ended up not using (this could have been used for something like walking tours on the ship or off-boat if it was a ship-sanctioned activity)

CART-Captioning-For-Those-With-Hearing-Loss
Photo cred: https://captionpros.net/cart-captioning/

 

Despite having to be a bit assertive in the initial planning stages, this whole experience was outstanding.  I learned a lot and hope you learned something, too.   Planning ahead is key.

Happy (accessible) cruising!

20200103_230421

 

 

 

 

Using my SmartMike+ system

SmartMike+

This past summer, I came upon a Kickstarter project for a Bluetooth remote microphone system called the SmartMike+ that boasted short latency (i.e., very minimal lag time) and the ability to use two microphones at the same time.  I was intrigued so I decided to take the plunge and be a backer for their TWS (True Wireless Stereo) Package at Early Bird pricing which gave me two mics.  These mics were mostly advertised to be used with vloggers and people that record video and audio – my intended purpose was to use them with the various speech-to-text (STT) apps that I use on my portable devices.

For a resource that looks at the various Speech-to-Text apps that I have evaluated, click here.

After reading this post and if you want to order your own package, you can get it on the Sabinetek website here (please note that this is an affiliate link).  If you sign up for their mailing list, they sometimes have promo codes. You can also find several vendors on Amazon.

What I love about the SmartMike+ system:

  • Easy-to-use, lapel-worn, Bluetooth remote microphone system that can be used for speech-to-text apps on your mobile phone, tablet or computer
  • If your device is not Bluetooth compatible, you can connect one of the mics (SmartMike+ A) to the headphone jack with the supplied connector, pair SmartMike+ B to A and then can use SmartMike+ B as your remote microphone.  This is known as Master/Slave (M/S) mode.  Examples in the directions showed this being used for things like DSLR and video cameras when people are vlogging or recording video/audio.   Since all the devices that I use have Bluetooth, I never had to use this.
  • Another feature with the SmartMike+ system is that you can plug in earbuds or headphones into the 3.5 mm jack to listen to your audio.   As a person with hearing loss, I tried listening to the mics this way and it was way too soft for me (there is no way to adjust this monitor feature).  If you pair two mics together, you can even use both SmartMike+s to talk to another person (e.g., while recording).
  • I found the company to be receptive to my emails and messages though some people have found this not to be true.

What can be improved:

  • The user manual has super tiny print that was hard to read with my old eyes.   I found a PDF online that I could magnify.
  • There also were not a lot of directions included with the box and product – I had to email the company to ask for more information (which they sent within a couple of days via email).
  • I found this out by trial and error and wish they had included this in the user manual, too – you want to DISCONNECT ALL OTHER BLUETOOTH devices before you try pairing the SmartMike+.   This means things like your smartwatch, keyboard, external speakers, etc.

Ok, time for some screenshots from my Samsung Note 9 mobile phone with some tips:


Screenshot_20191220-110404_Settings.jpg
You connect just like you would any other Bluetooth device.

Screenshot_20191220-105936_Live Transcribe.jpg

Screenshot_20191220-105948_Live Transcribe.jpg

Screenshot_20191220-105953_Live Transcribe.jpg
This is with the Android app called Live Transcribe.   If you go to “More settings”, you can designate which microphone you want to use. 

Screenshot_20191220-110146_Live Transcribe.jpg


Next are some screenshots from my iPad.

IMG_0512.png
IMG_0513.png


IMG_0515.png
In the Ava (iOS / Android) app, you can select the microphone input. You can only use one SmartMike+ at a time.


IMG_0516.png
In the Otter (iOS / Android) app, make sure “Record via Bluetooth” is on.

Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 2.02.49 PM.png
This is a screenshot from my computer pairing the SmartMike+.

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Screen Shot 2019-12-20 at 2.12.09 PM.png
These are screenshots of using a SmartMike+ with the live captions/subtitles feature on Google Slides and Microsoft PowerPoint, respectively.

Easy peasy!

As someone with hearing loss, I appreciate having the option to have a Bluetooth remote mic so that the person talking doesn’t have to be shoulder-to-shoulder to me as I read the captions on my mobile phone, tablet or computer.   Remember to disconnect any other Bluetooth devices first.

Happy connecting!

Confessions of a late-deafened adult

Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media outlets have been an interesting intersection of people in my life…those that have only known me as hearing, only known me as deaf and those that have known me throughout this whole hearing loss journey.  Recently, I’ve felt this tug to discuss the emotional and social barriers that come with having hearing loss.

Being late-deafened, I have the perspective of having had normal hearing, being hard of hearing and now deaf.   Just like the Kübler-Ross model for the stages of grieving the death of a loved one, there are Stages of Grieving Hearing Loss. This process not only affects the individual but also the family. Just as someone grieves the loss of a loved one, people who experience some sort of illness grieves the loss of their healthy self. Even now, eighteen years later, I sit here and think, “Wow. I’ve been deaf for eighteen years now.”

The purpose of this blog post is to address those unasked and unanswered questions, those awkward-away glances and yes, even those looks of pity or yearning for days when I was still hearing…those things that I know others have always wanted to ask but felt uncomfortable in doing so. I guess this is my way of expressing myself because I’ve had difficulty in acknowledging that elephant in the room…

No need to say, “I’M SORRY!”

I realize that some people say this automatically in response to certain situations.  I find that this is a similar reaction that people might have when they find out someone has died, or gotten cancer, or lost their job, or…_______. Look through social media and if someone posts with sad/bad news, there are often apologies abound.  I know that you know that it’s not your “fault”.

Along the same vein, to my friends with hearing loss: We don’t need to start our sentences with, “I’m sorry” either. As a female, I am very attuned to the fact that I often start sentences with this phrase (and I’m not the only one according to this article) and I’m trying not to. As a double-whammy, I used to say, “I’m sorry…I’m hard of hearing, can you please repeat what you said?” This is a habit that’s hard for me to break but I keep at it!

Do say, “What can I do so you can hear better?”

Here are some strategies that help me:

  • Going someplace quiet(er) – Noise is the inherent enemy of all people with hearing loss (and even people with normal hearing). Look around a noisy restaurant and you see people more intently staring at each others’ faces, leaning in closer or even trying to block out noise with their menu. For those of us with hearing loss, it takes a lot of work to hear in these situations. Some people are good lipreaders and some are not. Some people try to compensate in noise by changing programs on their amplification or even using hearing assistive technology (consists of a microphone worn by the talker and a receiver worn by the person with hearing loss). I love my friends who ask the manager to turn down the music! If we’re still struggling, consider moving tables, locations or even going to quiet hallway when you need to have a conversation.
  • Having good lighting – It’s hard lipreading in the dark!
  • Repeating what you said – Sometimes I just wasn’t ready to hear what you said or I heard the end but not the beginning. Also, there are some words that I might not hear so well in a noisy place so using different words can help (e.g., the office –> the room in the school where you work). Please be patient.
  • Let me know if the topic changes – If I miss something (because I didn’t hear it or because I looked away, etc.) which causes me to miss part of the conversation, I may never get back to the topic. LOL  I really appreciate my friends who often start their narratives with “changing topic now…”.
  • Face-to-face communication – Please don’t try whispering (or shouting) in my ear. One of my favorite sayings is, “Eye contact before ear contact.” I need to be able to see your face/eyes for speechreading and this doesn’t happen if you’re blindsiding me. If you’re holding something in front of your face (like a menu) or you’re not facing me, then I get lost, too. Have you ever heard someone say, “I can’t hear you! I don’t have my glasses on!” It seems somewhat counterintuitive but actually, this statement goes to point out how we need visual cues (including using our glasses) to understand someone better.
  • Indicating who is talking – I love it when I’m in a group and someone nods, waves or raises their hand when they want to say something. That makes it easier for me to know who is talking rather than looking for whose lips are moving.
  • If you talk fast, please slow down – You don’t have to talk super slow but just not really, really fast.
  • Knowing sign language – I learned sign language as an audiology student not knowing that I would need it to survive later when I became a late-deafened adult. If you know it, let’s use it! If you want to learn it, let me know and I’ll point you in the right direction.  This is my preferred method of communicating in loud environments.

What does it sound like for me in noise?

I really like the sound simulations (and accompanying visual representation) on this site.   If you listen to “Restaurant” –> “Mild” or “Moderate”, then  you can get a sense of what it’s like.  It’s hard work hearing and listening!

More visual representations!

I really, really love these Deaf Awareness posters from Action Deafness.   So much so that I purchased a few sets of them (since they had to be shipped from the UK anyway) and had them framed in the hard-to-find A3 frame size.   So simple, yet so profound in the way they represent what living with hearing loss is like!

ActionDeafness Posters

Sometimes I act like I heard you when I didn’t, really.

My good friend, Karen Putz, talks about social bluffing especially as it pertains to children (she has three deaf/hard of hearing kids).  It can definitely apply to adults, too…

I might pretend like I heard you because I don’t want you to know that I’m deaf (though THAT cover is blown now that you’re reading this blog post). When I meet someone for the first time or I think that I’m only going to have casual conversations with them, I don’t introduce myself as, “Hi! I’m Tina Childress…and-I’m-deaf-and-I-have-cochlear-implants-that-help-me-hear-so-please-face-me-when-you-talk.” TMI. The facts that my speech is largely unaffected and you can’t see my cochlear implants (because I’ve had essentially the same haircut since I was 12) help me “pass” as a normal hearing person. Most people never even know that I’m deaf.  Someone once compared it to having “hearing privilege”.  So true.

I think this strategy has a few purposes:

1) I don’t want you to judge me and my intellect based on my deafness but rather my accomplishments.  Unfortunately, there are too many negative stereotypes of people who are deaf as being “less than”.

2) I don’t want to have to go into my personal story.

3) I don’t want to feel pity (people get a “look” that I immediately recognize as this) nor do I want to be seen as inspiration porn.

4) Asking for you and others to repeat gets tiresome (for both you and me)

I would rather be known as “Maddy and Mia’s mommy” or “Matt’s wife” or “_______’s friend” or “that educational audiologist” as opposed to being “Deaf Tina” but I know that this is unrealistic because that is who I am, too….but it doesn’t define me other than my communication needs but it has shaped me in terms of my experiences.

So, yeah, sometimes I’ll nod my head in agreement, smile or laugh (just a half second later than when everyone else is smiling or laughing) so I don’t get called out for my bluffing because unless I am purposefully included, it is what it is. I don’t expect special treatment all the time, especially if I don’t disclose, but I do find myself gravitating towards friends who do this automatically and don’t have to be reminded.

Oh, and sometimes, I act like I heard you when I actually misheard what you said because, well, #Ihavehearingloss. 🙂

“Never mind” and “I’ll tell you later” are phrases that hurt.

“Never mind” implies that even though something was said, you are making the judgment for me that you don’t think it is something I would want to know.

“Later” is too late usually.  The moment is gone.

How well do I hear with my cochlear implants anyway?

So much better than I did with my hearing aids but I’m not cured – they are tools to help me hear. Noise is hard. Music is hard. I can do it but I just have to work at it.

What I hear sounds “normal” just sometimes it seems muffled or soft or distorted. My mom sounds like my mom.   If I’ve known you a long time, I hear in my head what I remember you sounding like.  It didn’t start out that way automatically…it was also like learning a new language, like I learned ASL.  I had to work hard to train my brain to make sense out of the very new sounds.

Can I talk on the phone?

Yassssss!  For short to medium length conversations, if it’s quiet on my end and quiet on your end and we have a good, strong signal, I do pretty well.  Throw in some adverse listening conditions, poor phone connection or multiple people talking at a time and it becomes exponentially harder.  It’s not my favorite way of communicating because I’m always afraid I’m going to miss or misunderstand something (also known as “phone anxiety”, a common feeling amongst people with hearing loss) so I’m glad that so much of the world has transitioned to text based communication (e.g., text, email).

Why do I use sign language so much when I have excellent speech and can hear well?

…because I can!  I feel very fortunate that I learned ASL, kept up with my skills, embraced the Deaf community, can sign with my hubby and kids and became fluent. I know learning a new language does not happen easily for others.

Using ASL really depends on the situation and who I’m with.   When I’m with my hearing families (e.g., my parents) who don’t sign, obviously I won’t sign with them.   When I’m with my hubby and kids, we sign because we all can sign and we all recognize the benefit of signing in noisy places, at a distance, when we don’t want someone else to understand what we’re saying…

I also use sign language interpreters in situations where there are groups of people that I want/need to hear and events like conferences.   Listening in noise and listening to speech amplified through speakers is difficult.  If I sit close, lipread, maybe even use assistive technology, I can probably get 85-90% of what was said.

That’s not good enough for me.  I want to get it all and I want to know who is talking and I want the information almost simultaneous with the speech and I want to be able to interact with my communication facilitator (i.e., interpreter).

I have also used CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation), also known as captioning, for events and appreciate the access it affords me, too.  It’s really a matter or preference depending on the situation and what’s available sometimes.

The devices that help me to hear

AB HarmonyThese things <pointing at my cochlear implant processors> stick to my head with magnets. Yes, I take them off when I sleep or shower or don’t want to hear babies crying on an airplane or my kids arguing.   There’s an inside part that was surgically implanted and an external part which is what you see.

Please don’t call them “cochlear transplants”.  😳   Though I have to admit that my daughter used to call them “cochlear eggplants”.🍆

If you have a question, please ask.

I am happy to share my feelings, my experiences and my knowledge. It’s not macabre to ask. I am sure there are always questions. I would rather we talk about it (even if it’s strained) rather than make assumptions about each other. I’m pretty much an open book. LOL

Yes, I sometimes feel sorry for myself and get frustrated..

…usually when it deals with my family. Like if I didn’t understand something they said the first time which escalates into mayhem when it didn’t need to. Or I can’t understand their teacher. Or I know I’m not fully appreciating what they’re doing musically (though this gets better each time I hear them).  Sometimes this frustration also extends into social situations and work situations.

…sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if I hadn’t lost my hearing.

This is something that is COMPLETELY normal when looking at the Stages of Grieving Hearing Loss and just because you feel like you got through one stage, it doesn’t mean that it won’t come back and bite you again. (FYI – the stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.)

Deaf o’clock is my favorite time of the day sometimes!

This is when I take off my cochlear implants and the result is SILENCE.  Like pressing the mute button.   Silence to think, to ponder, to wonder, to process…and to give my brain a listening break.   We ALL need these during the day, especially if it’s stressful.

It’s not all bad. I can also have the best of both worlds!

Being deaf has given me a whole new appreciation, empathy and understanding of what it is like to work with the children and adults that I do in my role as an audiologist.

I LOVE the fact that I can go back and forth between the Deaf world and the Hearing world because I can speak and because I can sign.  The addition of Deaf culture adds beliefs and ideals to hold onto, to cherish, to share…and for that, I am grateful.

So, if you see me using a sign language interpreter one minute and then later see me talking on the phone, now you know why.

You like music?!? But you’re DEAF!

(DISCLAIMER:  The views below are mine and are not intended to represent how ALL people who are deaf and hard of hearing enjoy music)

An acquaintance recently asked me how I was able to enjoy myself doing things like going to all the musicals that I do, hearing my kids sing or play instruments.  I told him that while I might approach how I experience music in a different way than him, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t also enjoy it.

I grew up very musical…I started piano at age 4 (and continued with lessons through high school), eventually added cello, clarinet, the bassoon (ok – only for 3 months) in elementary school and then percussion by the time I was in high school.   I got to play in various bands and orchestras, sing in choirs and support musicals by playing in the pit.   When it came time to apply to college, I was accepted at one school for Engineering and one for Music.  I chose the former.

In college, I joined chorus where I sang alto and sometimes was piano accompaniment and even met my then-boyfriend-now-husband-who-sang-bass in that chorus.  We went to concerts, saw shows and listened to bands.  I ended up switching my major from Engineering to Audiology because I wanted to use my tech savviness to help deaf/hard of hearing people enjoy music.  As part of my coursework in Audiology, I also was required to take a sign language class (which I eventually taught as a grad student). So many ironies, huh?

At age 29, I started losing my hearing due to Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease.   Over the course of the next 9 months, I became completely deaf.   I used powerful hearing aids for about a year and when those weren’t enough, I got my first cochlear implant and five years later, my second cochlear implant.   My CIs have given me back so much of what I was missing including being able to hear soft sounds and understand most speech without lipreading – in ideal listening situations.

Listening in noise is difficult for people with hearing loss in general and while I often appear to be quite successful, I have to work really, really, really hard in those situations.

Another area that is challenging is enjoying music…I can hear music, I can listen to music but enjoying it is NOT automatic.  (NOTE: people with normal hearing don’t always enjoy music that is presented to them either.)

 

What does music sound like to me?

Music is so much more than melodies, harmonies, rhythms, timbres and dynamics.  Music is something to be experienced not only by the ears and the brain but also by the eyes, the heart and the soul.  Enjoying music is time spent alone with your thoughts and memories or time spent together with friends and family.

Enjoying music

My children have been involved with musical theater, choir, band and lately, we have enjoyed listening to live music at outdoor and indoor venues.  With my cochlear-implant-aided hearing, do I hear everything like I used to?  No.  Am I still able to enjoy myself?  Absolutely.

Because everyone has different levels of auditory memory and experiences, what I hear can be very different compared to what someone else hears.  I was hearing for most of my life and had a very musical background.   My ability to hear and process music would be very different than someone, for example, who was born deaf and received a CI as an adult (NOTE: anyone has the potential to enjoy music…we just might enjoy it in different ways).

Here’s a decent sound simulation of what it’s like for me to go hear a rock band:

Normal hearing – https://www.hear-it.org/sites/default/files/sound_files/NORMAL.mp3

*What I feel like I hear with my CIs* – https://www.hear-it.org/sites/default/files/sound_files/Sensorineural_Mild.mp3

In the above example, I tried to demonstrate how I can hear an awful lot but there are parts that are missing or distorted.   Add lots of instruments, really loud levels that cause my CIs to go into compression (which distorts sounds even more) and it will sound even worse.

As with many people with CIs, being able to discern melodies is the most difficult.   My favorite analogy to use is that while people with normal hearing might be able to hear all 88 keys on a keyboard as someone plays it wearing gloves, what I hear is more akin to someone playing all 88 keys while wearing mittens…I can definitely tell low notes vs. high notes but if the notes are close together or there is a chord, it might sound all jumbled together or one discordant pitch.

piano keyboard

Below is a visual representation of what I feel like I hear:

Music with my CI

(If the GIF above does not play automatically, go to https://imgflip.com/gif/2h2rxa)

What it represents is what I feel like I am experiencing as I walk into a music venue.   At first, nothing makes sense and sounds like noise and I might have no idea what’s playing.   As my ears and brain start to warm up and my other senses kick in, things might become more clear.   Most of the time, I’m so totally almost there but not quite.  Every once in a while though, my ears/brain will catch on and I will be able to identify a song or hear brilliant and clear notes and harmonies.

 

Tips for Multi-modal Music Enjoyment

Rather than lament the fact that I do not hear music the way I used to, I embrace practices that allow me to enjoy music the way I hear it NOW.

AUDITORY CONSIDERATIONS:

  • Talk to your audiologist about getting a “music program”. There are settings that can be adjusted to allow you to access more of the information you need to hear music.   If there’s a piece of music that’s especially frustrating for you or you have a favorite piece of music, try bringing a recording to your appointment so you can hear how changes to your program affect how you process it.
  • If a venue is especially reverberant or you’re sitting in the back and the sound is distorted by the time it reaches your amplification, consider using hearing assistive technology (a/k/a assistive listening devices). Some venues have designated areas that have a hearing loop and others have personal systems.  By using either of these methods, anything that has a mic (i.e., voices or instruments) will directly be transmitted to your amplification, bypassing any echo or reverberation effect.
  • Use other hearing assistive technology such as good quality supra-aural headphones, amplified neckloops or streamers to send music directly from your sound source to your amplification. This method can also help to block out competing background noise.
  • If you feel like you’re having an especially difficult time even hearing the beat, consider holding an inflated balloon in between your hands and next to your chest so you can “feel” the beat.
  • If you have residual hearing, you want to protect it. This gets tricky because you might need louder volumes to hear better. In certain cases though, too much volume will cause you to lose more hearing.   Hearing aids and cochlear implants are set so there is a ceiling to how loud something will go but in dangerously loud environments, if you’re not using hearing protection, loudness levels can surpass these ceilings and cause more damage the louder and longer that you listen to it.  If your ears are ringing or sounds are muffled after you leave a loud venue, chances are that you have affected your hearing –this can be temporary but with prolonged exposure, it can become permanent.   There are also apps that can estimate how loud an environment is and even having warnings when you’re someplace that’s too loud.  Go to the tab for Sound Level Meters on “Apps for Kids (and Adults) with Hearing Loss” page (http://bit.ly/Apps4HL-iOS and http://bit.ly/Apps4HL-Android) for some suggestions.

 

VISUAL CONSIDERATIONS:

  • As a musician, I benefit from being able to read sheet music to follow along. If my daughter is in a musical, I often ask to see the score so I know what it’s supposed to sound like.
  • If possible, try and sit close to the music source. I do better when I am able to lipread actors and singers and see their facial expressions.  For live music, I can better tell where the melody is going when I can see things like their fingers moving up and down a keyboard or guitar or see how the bows of stringed instruments move up and down.
  • Find lyrics online so you don’t have to work so hard on understanding the words and can focus more on melodies and harmonies.
  • Use apps on your mobile device like SoundHound, Shazam and MusixMatch to identify artists, songs, albums and lyrics – this works best with recorded music but can sometimes work in live venues.
  • If watching something with a lot of dialogue or lyrics, go to or request accommodations such as open or closed captioning, or sign language interpreter(s). (ASIDE: As a signer, I appreciate going with others that sign because not only do we have ease of communication in noisy places or at a distance but we often have fun signing along with the music!)

 

LISTEN WITH YOUR BRAIN AND YOUR HEART:

  • Start with familiar music first. This is already part of your auditory memory – you don’t have to hear every note to recognize this music.
    • Did you know that there’s a term for why you love music from the era when you were age 12-22 (i.e., middle school, high school and college)? It’s called “neural nostalgia” and it happens because during that timeframe, your brain is already rapidly developing so what you hear and the emotions that you feel are imprinted in different parts of your cortex.
  • When you’re ready to listen to unfamiliar music, try music with strong vocals or primary instruments, and not too many instruments playing at the same time.

 

Most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself.  Just like learning a new language, hearing music in a different way takes time.   With patience and practice, listening to and/or playing music can be enjoyable again.

 

 

RESOURCES:

Article about Neural Nostalgia

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2014/08/musical_nostalgia_the_psychology_and_neuroscience_for_song_preference_and.html

Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss

http://aamhl.org

https://www.facebook.com/aamhl/

Musicians’ Clinics of Canada

http://www.musiciansclinics.com/

Noisy Planet

https://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/kids-preteens/listen-up-infographic

Sound simulations

https://www.hear-it.org/Impressions-of-hearing-loss-and-Tinnitus-