Improving pitch discrimination

28 02 2012

I’ve been taking part in a clinical study over the last few months on factors affecting audio-perception in patients with cochlear implants.

This study was conducted to determine if cochlear implant sound processors can be adapted to improve speech perception.  My processor program on my older processor (now two years old!) was changed to improve pitch discrimination, based on my discrimination abilities during testing, and evaluated with speech perception tests.

During initial testing, the Hearing In Noise Test (HINT) was used. Two lists of ten common, simple sentences (such as “The weather looks good today”) were used in quiet and noise with sentences administered at +10 signal to noise ratio, to give a baseline level of my ability to discriminate.

During the first session I undertook a pitch discrimination task. Two sounds (beeps) were played, and I was asked to say which sound is higher in pitch. Each sound is a separate electrode on my implant being stimulated, and this was continued for all electrodes to work out which ones give the clearest pitch, and if there are electrodes which sound the same.  This went on for 2-3 hours … uggg! I had a new program added to my sound processor to try out, based on the pitch task, and I used this all the time. This meant I had about 6 electrodes switched off and a simpler map.

During session 2, one month later, I underwent the same speech perception tests with the new program and then was given a different program to try based on the results of another pitch discrimination task.

During session 3, one month later, I underwent the same speech perception tests with the latest program and then asked which program I preferred out of the two new programs and the original one that I started with.  I couldn’t tell that there were any major differences between them, they were slightly different in the quality of the sound but I could have lived with any of them. However, the speech discrimination tests told a different story …

HINT testing in quiet :

Bilateral % Left ear only (older CI) %
Nov 2011 57 Dec 2011 48
Dec 2011 84 Feb 2012 70

Out of 26 in this clinical trial group, 4 saw an increase in their speech perception scores. It is likely that a simpler map allowed my brain to ‘sit back’ for a while, take the time to absorb sounds through a simpler map, then start again refreshed. :)

Now, it’s onwards and upwards with more auditory verbal therapy, as I’ve purchased a course of AVT from Pindrop Hearing on Harley Street. This course is ideal for hearing aid users but not quite as effective for cochlear implant users. This new version of LACE training has British accents but the regular testing is done with US accents, as the comparative data is pulled from the US database of other LACE users.

I’m willing to try anything to increase my speech perception scores, so watch this space. I wonder if I will ever be able to hit 100%?





Deaf diplomat denied foreign posting appeals

15 06 2011

I met Jane Cordell last week and we had an interesting chat. The Telegraph updates us on her story. I think it’s totally unfair that she has been denied communication support on the grounds of expense when other diplomats have their children shipped off to expensive boarding schools without any argument. I  know how expensive they are – been there, got the T-shirt. They aren’t worth the money.

So when and where do our equality laws come into force? Is it selective  discrimination now? What happens when someone who is already employed by the FCO acquires deafness and requires communication support – will they be dismissed? I’m keeping a close eye on this one. It’s sure to have ramifications on the employability of people with a hearing loss.

NRCPD : Lipspeakers





Better telephone access for deaf people

2 09 2010

A news release from TAG hit my inbox today, calling for better access to telephones for deaf people. This saga is really dragging on, but it wasn’t easy obtaining captions either. Dan offers a possible solution. Read on …..

NEWS RELEASE

Government call for improved disabled access for 2012 must include better access to the telephone for deaf people

2 September 2010

Government must take the initiative to modernise telephone relay services for deaf and hard-of-hearing people if its call for companies to improve disabled access in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics is to mean anything to deaf people, says TAG, the deaf electronic communications consortium.

The Government-commissioned report 2012 Legacy for Disabled People: Inclusive and Accessible Business shows that almost one-third of disabled people have difficulty in accessing goods and services they want to use. Because of poor access to the telephone network, the percentage of deaf and hard-of hearing people unable to access goods and services is very much higher. As a result the economy suffers and deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens are marginalised.

Ruth Myers, Chairman of TAG, said: “This Government report reflects what TAG has been saying for a very long time: deaf and hard-of-hearing people are excluded from many social and commercial opportunities because of the antiquated way that they must communicate with the hearing world via the voice telephone. Email and texting communications only meet some needs – access to voice telephony is crucial for many employment, commercial and social purposes.

“TAG is campaigning for new types of relay services, such as captioned telephony, video relay and IP relay services, all of which are already available to deaf people in some other countries. Everyone accepts that the provision of additional types of relay service is the way forward, but the trigger for action has to be a Government commitment to find the necessary funding mechanisms. The costs are not high in comparison to the economic and social benefits which will accrue.

“We call on the Government to act now to ensure that modernised telephone relay services for deaf people will be up and running in 2011, ready for use by deaf people to make their booking arrangements for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.”

TAG is a consortium of the main UK deaf organisations concerned with electronic communications and is campaigning for improved electronic communications for deaf, deafened, hard-of-hearing, and deafblind people, and sign language users.

Follow TAG on Twitter @DeafTAG

Telecommunications Action Group

Media Contact

Stephen Fleming at Palam Communications
t 01635 299116 (voice)
e sfleming@palam.co.uk


Dan says this one is a no-brainer to fix - for free.
  • Go to i711.com and sign up. You’ll be prompted to be assigned a relay phone number.
  • You will enter your address (for expanded 911 service); and then choose an open number in the pool from the pop-up. Write this number down.
  • Now, you can make unlimited free outbound relay calls from your web browser.
But Wait, There’s More!
  • Now, minimize the i711.com browser window — We’ll come back to it in a few moments.
  • Next, in a new browser window, go to AIM.com and get a screen name (skip this step if you already have one). Then, either download the free AIM software, or if you already use another IM service (ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, MSN, Google Chat, etc…), download the free Trillian IM software, which will funnel all of your IM services into one small app on your desktop.
  • Install & configure your AIM or Trillian software to automatically launch on startup, and also to autoconnect on launch.
  • Go back to the i711.com window and enter your AIM screen name. You can now close that window.
  • Click back on AIM or Trillian and add i711relay to your buddy list. Send an IM with “Hello” in it and you’ll get an autoreply with a couple lines of text.

You now have two additional ways to handle calls:

  1. You can place a call via AIM by sending an IM with the phone number in it.
  2. You can now also receive voice calls on the free number you received when you signed up a few minutes ago.

Now, you can give out that number to hearing friends, family, & businesses as your voice number. When someone dials this number, they will get a relay operator who will send you an IM, and initiate the call.

But Wait, There’s Still More!

Let’s say that the only internet access you have is on a mobile (Blackberry, Treo, or iPhone) via a $35/month data-only plan for the hearing impaired. Simply load the AIM or Trillian software on your mobile, and you can place and receive relay calls, just like on your PC in your home.

Now, let’s say you live in another country and work for an American company: simply enter the US address when you sign up for the i711.com service. You will now have a free phone number in the United States for your hearing business associates (and friends & family) to reach you via relay.

How is this all possible… And for free when one end of the relay call is in America?

Every phone line in the United States is taxed about 50 cents per month to fund relay services for the hearing impaired, allowing free enterprise services (such as i711.com) to thrive in the open market providing services for us. The simple fact is businesses can leverage internet and telephony technology to provide voice relay and turn a profit while doing so.

What a country!


Personally, I would love to see the return of CapTel to the UK. CapTel uses a CapTel phone handset, and WebCapTel uses the internet and any phone including a mobile phone. I was lucky to be able to use both in my job and I found it fantastic – no one realised I was deaf. Unfortunately the company supplying the CapTel service was unable to continue providing it, as it was too expensive to do this without public or government funding. Hence the campaign by TAG to improve telephone relay services in the UK, by either improving Text Relay (formerly Typetalk) or appropriately financing the provision of services such as CapTel and VRS such as SignVideo. You can see SignVideo in action here, provided by Significan’t in London. I found the screen display very clear and could lipread the person.

In the US, you have more than one CapTel provider. You can even get it for Blackberry!

CapTel
Hamilton CapTel
Sprint CapTel
Ultratec

There is also a service called PhoneCaption.





I want a full head of hearing, not half

3 08 2010

Photobucket

The London Metro reported yesterday that the National Health Service (NHS) pay for hymen repair operations.

You can read the news clip here.

My friend Michele fired off this letter in response and it was published today;

I’m spitting nails after reading “surge in ‘virginity repair’ ops on the NHS. This op is stressed as not being done for cultural reasons? How many other people think otherwise? I was born deaf and was offered a cochlear implant for ONE ear on the NHS as adults in the UK only get offered one and children get two (cochlear implant gives you hearing where hearing aids have failed). So today I have a half a head of hearing, but if I break both legs in an accident is the NHS only going to fix the one leg? Or one arm? If so which arm? The reason the article on the ‘viginity repair’ in today’s Metro, dated July 30, given is for ‘physical or psychological health.’ What about my health? And also all those who with profound to severe hearing loss who NEED a cochlear implant just to survive in the daily scheme of things? Everyday we dodge traffic because we have not heard vehicles/motorbikes/ even cyclists approaching – often at speed from the side of our heads that has no hearing. At work I struggle in meetings as having only half a head of hearing means I don’t hear the whole room of speakers – the list is endless… physical exhaustion and day to day psychological health doesn’t even come close.

I genuinely struggle to understand how people who have been touched by way of choice, whether by tattoos or engaging in sex with men, can get priority on the NHS – they certainly had a choice in the matter. I didn’t have a choice in being born with a severe hearing loss.

NHS expenditure for virginity restoration for one single wedding night…  and a second cochlear implant to last a lifetime – ecomomic sense needs to prevail where you would put your money. On results that can show a lifetime value, not just one night!! In addition to a lifetime paying national insurance and taxes because you can hear better and get a better job. I never knew the NHS were keen to help lie to husbands that their new wife is in fact not a virgin… Shall I start displaying physical or psychological health problems so I can get what I NEED????





The unbearable loudness of hearing

25 04 2010

It has been one month since activation and my world has changed beyond recognition and exploded into a kaleidoscope of sounds. Some are old sounds which sound different, some are completely new. The world sounds different through a cochlear implant and it is starting to sound much better.

Each time I have a mapping, my bionic hearing is adjusted – at the moment we are still focusing on increasing the volume. For the last week I have been listening in awe to the (surprisingly noisy) birds, the crackle and pop of rice krispies, my office clock ticking, the ssss of my perfume atomizer, the jangle of keys and my dog’s clinking collar tag, and all the little sounds my dog makes when he wants something! I am discovering that some things, heretofore silent to me, actually do make a sound. The photocopier touchpad beeps, the door of the room next door squeaks (and now annoys me immensely), my hands rasp when I rub them together and so does moisturiser when rubbed on my skin, running my fingers up my arm makes a soft rasping sound too.

I have been utterly shocked by the cacophonous ssshh of brakes and beeps of doors on public transport, the roar of traffic, people in the street, the sharp crackle of plastic bags and paper, the clatter of crockery, the flushing toilet, the microwave nuking food, and the kill-me-now roar of aeroplanes (unfortunately, I live near Heathrow). Last Saturday was the first day in my life that I was able to hear all the birds so I sat in the garden, in the sunshine, and listened. This also happened to be the first day of the airline stoppages due to the Icelandic volcano eruption and the skies were silent. I only realised how much noise airplanes made this week when the airports re-opened for business. Over the last three days, I have become quite overwhelmed by the loudness of some sounds, now that my implant’s volume is nearing an optimum level.

I went to a social event a few days ago and although noisy, I was able to pick out peoples’ voices more easily which made lipreading easier. I heard this strange sound behind me and turned around to see a woman playing a harp. It sounded totally different from what I expected, like a soft guitar.

The strange thing is that high frequency sounds seem much louder to me than other sounds. A person with a hearing loss cannot screen or ‘filter’ out sounds in the way that hearing people do, so everything seems loud. This is why noisy places are so problematic, as hearing aids and cochlear implants amplify all sounds so that environmental sounds are as loud as voices, and the hearing impaired person is unable to filter out the background noise (the cocktail party effect). Now that the high frequency sounds are so new to my brain, these seem extra loud to me, my brain is going WOW What’s This?, sitting up and taking notice, and is only now listening to low frequency sounds again. The world is starting to sound more normal. Voices still sound tinny so it’s a struggle to understand speech.

I can now hear the dial tone on the phone. I started off by listening to phone sounds (these work on both pc and Mac) and will next try listening to a script I’ll give to a friend.

There are four levels of auditory skill development according to Erber’s model – awareness of sound (presence v absence), discrimination (same v different), recognition (associating sound/word with meaning) and finally, comprehension (using listening for understanding). As I was born deaf and have been deaf for 40 years, I’m going to struggle harder and for longer to climb up this ladder.

It is a common misconception that we hear with our ears. In fact, the auditory system, from the outer ear to the auditory nerve, merely provides the pathway for sound to travel to the brain. It is in the brain that we hear. If a person developed hearing loss after learning language (postlingual hearing loss), the brain will retain an “imprint” of the sounds of spoken language. The longer a person is deaf, the more challenging it is to recall these sounds. In the case of a person who has never heard (hearing loss at birth), or who has had very limited benefit from hearing aids, sound through a cochlear implant will be almost entirely new. That person will need to develop new auditory pathways, along with the memory skills to retain these new sounds. Whatever a person’s history, rehabilitation can be very useful in optimizing experience with a cochlear implant.

Being able to detect sound, even at quiet levels, does not mean that an individual will be able to understand words. Norman Erber developed a simple hierarchy of listening skills that begins with simple detection: being aware that a sound exists. An audiogram indicates detection thresholds. Although thresholds with a cochlear implant may indicate hearing at 20 dB to 40 dB (the range of a mild hearing loss), the ability to understand words can vary greatly. The next level of auditory skill is that of discrimination; that is, being able to determine if two sounds are the same or different. For example, one may detect the vowels oo and ee but not be able to hear a difference between the two sounds. The third level of auditory skill is identification. At this level, one is able to associate a label with the sound or word that is heard. Key words may be clear, such as cloudy or rainy, within the context of listening to a weather report. Erber’s final level of auditory skill is that of comprehension. Words and phrases provide meaningful information rather than just an auditory exercise. At the level of comprehension, a person is able to follow directions, answer questions, and engage in conversation through listening.

(Source: Advanced Bionics)

I’m still at the stage of detecting sounds and trying to move into the next stage of discriminating between sounds.  Two weeks ago, I was unable to tell the difference between PAT and BAT, TIN and DIN, FAN and VAN. With the practice I have done, I am now able to do this with almost no errors. I am now working on listening for the difference between MACE and MICE, and DEAR and GEAR – which is difficult as D and G sound so similar. I don’t know what to listen for so am hoping the brain kicks in at some point!

My speech perception is improving slowly. I have tried to make discrimination practice fun, by listening to Amanda on Skype. She will give me a colour, or a month, or a day of the week, or a number between 1-10. Maybe next I will try tube stations or football teams, whatever I think I can cope with, to keep it fun. We decide which closed set we will do – using Mac to Mac, the in-built sound (and video, for lipreading) quality is very good, aided by my use of a direct-connect lead to my processor. I am trying to work towards ‘open sets’ – unknown sentences – by asking people to put a hand over their mouth and give me a sentence. Patrice gave me my first sentence this week : “Bob and Kirby are waiting for me in the car park” and I got it correct except for the word “car”. She gave me a second sentence and I got that spot on. With practice, I will improve. We tried a discrimination exercise – I am now able to hear the roadworks behind the office – they had been working there for a year and I had missed it all (lucky me). So when they hammered, drilled, or dug with a spade, Patrice told me and I listened for the different sounds.

Music is improving too. I am finding that rock with vocals louder than music wins hands down. Opera sounds good, piano/flute/guitar sound quite good. There are musical resources specifically for CI users. Advanced Bionics offer Musical Atmospheres (free for AB users) and available online or on CD, where new music is discovered through 3 hours of recorded musical examples, each containing increasing levels of complexity in musical appreciation, helping to establish a firm foundation for musical memory. They also offer A Musical Journey, through the Rainforest and Music Time for children. Med El offer Noise Carriers, a musical composition available on CD from hearf@aol.com – see Listen,Hear! newsletter no.20 for further information. Cochlear don’t seem to have any resources but they do offer tips.

I am finding that I am feeling soooo much better than I did with hearing aids. I used to have headaches almost every day, I was always exhausted from the constant effort of lipreading, reading the palantype (CART), concentrating to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and stressed by the thought of any social event.  Now, I’m not exhausted every evening, I’ve had one headache since activation, lipreading is somehow easier as I’m getting more audio input even though people still sound like Donald Duck, and I feel much more relaxed overall, and more positive about communicating with ducks people.

I’ve finally discovered the noisy world that everyone lives in. This noisy world should get a bit quieter this week when I get ClearVoice, which will automatically reduce background sounds so I can concentrate on voices. It’s almost a magic wand for hearing loss. All I will then need is to be able to comprehend speech, and I’ll do a convincing fake of a Hearing Person.

I’ve lost the clouds but I’m gaining the sky. And the sun will shine. You’ll find me out there, in the Hearing World, shining brightly with happiness. And as the video below nicely demonstrates, I want to kick your butt!





Bus problems?

15 04 2009

If you have problems getting access to buses because you have a hearing dog with you or simply because of your hearing loss (I do get some offensive drivers), here’s a useful site called Bus Users UK, which you can complain to.





Trying to be co-operative?

12 04 2009

I went into a supermarket which is part of a national chain called The Co-Operative Group. I had my hearing dog with me. He was wearing his official purple working coat which says “Hearing Dog for Deaf People” on both sides and has the Assistance Dogs UK logo on the top. I went to the till to pay for a loaf of bread. The shop assistant told me repeatedly that a dog was not allowed into the store, that it is a food shop. I kept explaining that my dog is a hearing dog, an assistance dog for deaf people, and that he therefore is entitled to the same access benefits as a guide dog for the blind. Unfortunately, the assistant clearly did not want to listen to what I had to say, and he refused to serve me. In the end, I asked to speak to the store manager.

A young man came out and he was incredibly rude and offensive towards me. Other customers in the queue were visibly shocked. He told me he was the junior manager and refused to listen to my explanations and kept talking over me and interrupting me. I explained that my hearing dog is an assistance dog, which is one of six different kinds of assistance dogs; there are not only guide dogs for the blind which most people are familiar with but other types of assistance dogs too. I showed the manager the official identity cards which I carry for my dog: one certifying that he is a trained hearing dog, and one from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People (the organisation which trained him) with a statement from the Institute of Environmental Health Officers, stating that;

“Hearing Dogs are allowed entry to restaurants, supermarkets and other food premises. Their very special training means they are not a risk to hygiene in such premises”

The manager said he was not interested, he did not want to see them, and told me to go outside the store. I refused to go outside as I know my rights and I was very offended by the manner in which he spoke to me. As a customer, I expected a certain level of courtesy and professionalism, but I was met with an unwillingness to listen, rudeness, and an offensive attitude towards my disabled status.

I was humiliated.

I joined the queue of customers at the till and the manager came over to me and asked to see the cards. He snatched the cards out of my hand, read them and then apologised. He then told the shop assistant that I was right and that he was to serve me. I asked both of them for an apology. I asked the manager why he had not listened to my explanation. His reply was that he had never seen a hearing dog before. Well, pardon me! Before I left Ireland, I had never seen a black person, but I still knew that people can’t be treated differently on account of their colour. I had never seen a guide dog for the blind either, but I also knew that they are allowed to go into places selling and serving food because of their special training. So no, that poor excuse didn’t wash with me.

Ignorantia legis neminem excusats.

Ignorance of the law excuses no one: this is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because he or she was unaware of its content.

I visited The Co-Op again later that day with a leaflet for the manager, which explained the different types of assistance dogs. He said he would put this up on the wall behind the till counter. When you think about it, it’s a good way to cut training costs, just stick a poster on the wall and hope everyone reads it. That’s what I call lazy, passive ‘training’. Or is it my responsibility to train their staff in diversity awareness?!

A few days later I visited The Co-Op again. There was a different assistant at the till. As soon as he saw me, he told me to leave the store. The manager happened to be nearby and said it was ok, my hearing dog was allowed. Clearly, the other staff still had not been trained. Or should I say, no one had bothered to read the leaflet stuck on the wall.

I was disappointed.

To make matters worse, I was very surprised, and disappointed, to see The Co-Op were displaying posters around the store stating that the RNID (Royal National Intsitute for the Deaf) is their charity of the year, with large RNID-branded collection buckets at the tills. My guess is that this was just a token PR exercise.

Does RNID = Really Not Interested in Deaf?

Recently, I went into The Co-Op again (I don’t scare easily), accompanied by my hearing dog, as always, wearing his official purple working coat. I was immediately approached by a shop assistant who told me that dogs were not allowed in the shop. I explained (again. YAWN) that my dog is a hearing dog. He clearly did not understand what I was talking about and went over to his colleague.

I was annoyed.

A few minutes later, I was approached by his colleague who also told me dogs were not allowed in the shop, citing the reason that there is food on the shop shelves. I explained – yet again – that my dog is a hearing dog, a type of assistance dog, therefore he was allowed into the shop. I asked him how many times he had to be told? His poor excuse was that he had never seen a hearing dog before. They trot this one out on a regular basis! The manager was not present so I was unable to discover why the staff had not been given training, a whole month after the original incident in January when I had been promised that staff would be given the appropriate diversity training.

I am disgusted.

I did some research and discovered that The Co-Op is a member of the Employer’s Forum on Disability (EFD). The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Policy and top level commitment’;

“Service to disabled customers will form an integral part of the company’s product and service standards. A company-wide policy will be agreed by the top team and communicated to the rest of the company.”

The service to disabled customers at this particular branch of The Co-Op is clearly not up to the expected high standards of service given to non-disabled customers. I wonder why their company policy on services to disabled customers was not communicated to this branch’s staff? Was such policy communicated to other branches? Or, dare I say it, was a company-wide policy on service to disabled customers never agreed in the first place?

I am dismayed.

The EFD’s agenda on customers states, under ‘Staff training and disability awareness’;

“Specific steps will be taken to raise awareness of disability among employees involved in developing, marketing and delivering products and services to customers. Training will be made available to communicate service standards and to equip employees to achieve these.”

Eh? HELLO? I would be most interested to know why specific steps had not been taken to raise awareness of deafness and hearing dogs among the employees involved in delivering products to customers. Clearly, no deaf awareness training had been delivered to staff. Never mind that they were supporting RNID for a whole year …. Who Are They When They’re At Home?

I am frustrated.

Making the store accessible is as straightforward as informing all the staff that work there about access rights for disabled people and their assistance dogs, whether those dogs be a guide dog for the blind, a hearing dog for deaf people, a dog for the disabled, a support dog, a canine partner, or a dual purpose guide and hearing dog.

I am tired of explaining my rights.

Looking at The Co-Op’s website, I discovered that 2009 marks their Disability step-change programme, and they are Two Ticks accredited for being positive about disabled people;

“We will also continue to pay attention to customers, and the audits to ensure that all our branches and stores are accessible as they can be for customers with disabilities.”

“By diversity, we mean we value the attributes and the experiences of every individual, be they employee, member or customer. These attributes include, but are certainly not limited to … physical ability”

“Externally, we mean that we will provide easy access to goods, services and facilities and actively seek to engage diverse elements of society.
Therefore:
• We value people for their contribution and will encourage their diversity in all aspects of our business.
• We will not tolerate bullying or harassment in any form.
• We recognise that we need to support the needs of our diverse customer and community base and will work to ensure that we exceed their expectations of us.”

Huh.

However, The Co-Op have tried to make good. They sent me a letter of apology, stating they would be giving their staff training in disability awareness. They also enclosed vouchers to the value of £50.

I had told RNID’s Legal Casework Service Team what had happened. Their response? Zip.

I had also informed the Co-Op charity of the year project manager at the RNID. Zip response.

I had copied in my local Member of Parliament and I received a letter the next day; his response was one of incredulity at the lack of common sense of these shop assistants.

Most helpful were Royal Association for Deaf people Legal Services (RAD) who responded promptly and advised me on my course of action. Kudos to them!

I had (note: past tense) a deaf friend who always said I shouldn’t complain when I came across discrimination in shops and restaurants but should just leave and go elsewhere. How would that improve access for disabled people? We need to fight for our rights. Why should we be treated as second class citizens? Why does he think the Disability Discrimination Act was set up in the first place? Just to make the government look good? Just so companies can say, “Oh yes, of course we’re accessible!”.

Let’s make it simple. Just substitute the word ‘disability’ for ‘black’ and the discrimination becomes clearer.

It pays to complain.

It pays to stand up for your rights and be counted.

I might be deaf, but I’m not invisible.

Hell, no.





Telephony campaign : parliamentary reception

16 10 2008

TAG held a parliamentary reception last night in Westminster to highlight the need for modern telephony services for deaf, Deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK, with the aim of raising this vital issue in the House of Commons.

Malcolm Bruce MP who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Deafness and who hosted the reception, said, “Four decades after telephones became commonplace in British households, many deaf people still struggle to use the telephone network and some cannot use it at all. Deaf people are bereft of key telephone services that could help them gain social, educational and professional equality with the rest of society. Modernised phone relay systems can dramatically improve their telecommunications, but the powers that be are dragging their feet in ensuring that they are available and affordable. This is an increasing and unintended form of discrimination that must be rectified. The sorts of services that are required are already available at no extra cost to individuals in countries such as Sweden, the USA and Australia.”

The new services were displayed at the reception and everyone was able to try them out.

Text Relay

Text relay has been around in the UK since the 1980s but has not been developed due to funding issues, it still uses analogue phone lines and is too slow. (I can’t tell you how many times hearing people have hung up on me – I now ask hearing colleagues to make my phone calls for me). RNID’s new TalkByText service works a bit like msn to msn, on Windows and over the broadband networks. This service means a deaf person can use their computer to call a hearing person’s phone, and their reply will be displayed on the computer as text. This service is aimed at companies who want to comply with the DDA and handle textphone calls over the broadband networks. Calls can also be made pc to pc. The deaf person will see real-time, character by character text. A TalkByText program is installed on each computer being used for text conversation. The service is routed through BT TextDirect / Typetalk. This service is also ideal for home users who don’t wish to have a phone at home. For about £30/month they can have this service on their pc at home. I tried this one out and thought it was ideal for those who don’t speak on the phone. For more information, see RNID TalkByText.

Video Relay

Video relay allows sign language users to use an online interpreter to communicate using a webcam or videophone. In the UK, two services operate – Sign Video by Significan’t, and a small Scottish service. The handset looked like a really funky piece of equipment.

The larger photo is of the interpreter. He listens to the hearing person on the other end of the phone through his headphones, and signs their reply back to the deaf person. The deaf person is shown on the small in-screen photo. The sizes of both images can be moved around and resized. Have you spotted the glass bits on the top? Those are lights, which flash when the phone rings. Cool!

Captioned Telephony

This uses two communication channels and speech recognition software so it’s very fast. The hearing person’s speech can be read on the deaf person’s computer/PDA/telephone screen and the deaf person simply speaks back directly to the hearing person. The captioned telephony service closed in the UK in December 2007 due to lack of funding. For more information, email acceque @ btinternet .com

I had captioned telephony for a year and fooled SO many hearing people into thinking I was a hearing person, as they couldn’t tell they were talking to a deaf person. Yay. I decided to call Vic and give him a surprise. He was completely bowled over that I could call him and talk to him on the phone … yep, total surprise there!

TAG’s demands

TAG wants the Government and Ofcom to commit to delivering promptly on the following before the end of 2008:
– Interoperable, affordable real-time text communication on mobile and IP networks
– Interoperable, open-standards based captioned relay services at no extra cost
– A UK national open standards video relay service for fixed, mobile and Internet users
– Open-standards based IP access to text relay services
– Suitable text and video tariffs on all mobile networks.

Please help to support TAG’s campaign for equal telephony access for deaf people. It really does need to be dragged into the 21st century. There are over 9 million people in the UK who could benefit from this technology.

Just think. You might become a little hard of hearing one day and want to be able to continue using the phone. You might be a BSL user and be sick of using minicoms which people don’t know how to use, or sick of asking hearing people to make phone calls for you. You might be deaf with speech and miss having access to an efficient, modern, professional telephone service – JUST LIKE HEARING PEOPLE.

WHERE’S THE EQUALITY?

How can you help the campaign?

# You can join the campaign group on FACEBOOK called “Campaign : deaf people want greater access to modern phone technology.
# Contact TAG (tagenquiries @ hotmail.c om)
# LOBBY YOUR LOCAL MP. You can find your local MP at Write to Them. Explain how a 24 hour captioned or video relay phone service at NO extra cost would help you.
# TELL YOUR FRIENDS and ask them to write to their MP.
# PUBLICISE THIS CAMPAIGN and tell everyone about it.
# ASK FOR A DEMONSTRATION – contact TAG. Once people have seen it, they will want it!

Media Contact:
Stephen Fleming at Palam Communications
t: 01635 299116
e: sfleming @ palam.c o.uk





Music to (deaf) ears

10 09 2008

Photobucket Image Hosting

Do you like going to concerts, festivals and other venues where they play music? Do you find that you’re given rotten or unfair treatment because you’re deaf or disabled? An organisation called Attitude is Everything is doing something about this. They actively improve access to live music, clubs and festivals by providing feedback on venues and deliver disability awareness training.

You can get involved too. If you’re deaf or disabled and have experience of access issues, attitude barriers or have witnessed models of excellent practice, why not join their team of Mystery Shoppers? Or you might have time and skills which you can donate in other ways.

If you’re a venue, promoter or festival in need of assistance with understanding how you might improve deaf and disabled access at your events, and wish to ensure you are implementing the Disability Discrimination Act, look at services which can assist you to reach the standard of their Charter Of Best Practice venues.

Alternatively, you can give a donation or find out about other ways in which you can support Attitude Is Everything.

Attitude is Everything run regular Club Attitude nights to showcase the talents of disabled and non-disabled musicians and DJ’s, and to promote best practice by demonstrating to the industry how to put on a fully accessible club night, occasionally including Sign Language Interpreters and Audio Description. They are always on the lookout for disabled artists and DJs to perform at future events, so if you know of any performers or bands, do get in touch with them. They’re hip enough to have a Facebook group and MySpace page. But how strange, no minicom number…





A thumbs up to Marks & Spencer

3 02 2007

I popped into a M&S branch at London Bridge on my way home yesterday, just to get a bottle of wine. Hah. Of course, I ended up with an armful of goodies. I was standing in a long queue, tired from a long day at work, my Hearing Dog Smudge was being bolshie, I had a couple of bags and my armful of goodies. A burly security guard came over to me and said something,

- ‘mumble, mumble, mutter’

- ‘errr…. what?’ (me)

- ‘mutter, mumble’

I shrugged my shoulders, expecting to be showed the exit as I had Smudge with me, and I’m used to being asked to leave various shops. The guard unhooked the elastic queue guides and waved me out of the queue. I thought, ‘here we go.’ He waved me over to the end of the shop, where the checkout tills finished, and said something unintelligible to the checkout girl. She smiled at me and the guard nodded at me, so I stood there, not sure what to expect. The checkout operator finished serving a customer, and started serving me instead of asking for the next customer in the queue. Ooops. She even pointed at the register when it totalled the bill, instead of expecting me to understand what she had said.

I’ll certainly go back there again! :-)