Who Knew Technology Was Our Friend?

June 16, 2017. A few weeks ago, my husband brought out an old movie on VHS we’d never gotten around to watching, ‘A Chorus Line’, filmed in 1985.  For someone who uses subtitles for any programming, this was painful.  There are no subtitles on VHS format tape, and as the tape was so old, it wasn’t the best in sound quality either.  I understood perhaps 1 word in 20!

I’m not big on technology.  I still write snail mail letters.  I read paper books.  I prefer face-to-face conversations, and am always ready to chat over a cup of coffee.  That being said, when you are hard of hearing, you embrace and celebrate technological advances.  Remember the days BEFORE email, texting, captioning services, improvements in hearing aids, cochlear implants?  I marvel at how life with hearing loss has improved!

These days there are many technology-based options that can help the hard of hearing to maintain independence and active lives.  With the large number of portable devices used, such as smart phones, and tablets, did you know that there are even apps that can be downloaded on to these devices?

One such app is a live captioning tool that works with voice recognition, available for a modest price of about $7 (see http://www.livecaptionapp.com/). Here’s an example of its use…you’re in a restaurant, but can’t hear what your server is saying.  Turn on the app, and ask the server to speak directly into your smart phone.  Whatever is said then shows up on your screen.  It’s that easy to use.

I’ve tried a number of voice recognition software.  Most of the time, what comes out is unrecognizable, so I was dubious about this inexpensive app.  However, when we tried it in a legal office, what the lawyer said was captured onscreen, with only a few errors. The text is editable, which is an advantage.

The software works on android phones and tablets, as well as iphones and ipads, and most Bluetooth devices.  It can be adjusted to different languages, and the size of text showing up on your screen can also be altered.

The app is not usable for transcribing phone calls, and may have difficulty correctly transcribing children’s voices and accents.  Because it’s designed to help you identify what is being said, there is no option to directly save the text.  While you can copy and paste it to another format, that adds a bit more work and may not be practical.

The app works with an internet connection.  This isn’t a problem in cities, where most places have wifi, but a challenge in areas, such as rural PEI, where internet is spotty.  The website states there is an offline capability, but I have not tried it.

Do you have an app that helps you communicate more effectively?  Have you tried the live caption app?  Don’t be shy!  Tell us about it.

“911 Connect” Emergency Response Exercise Tested 911 Protocols

June 4, 2017. Imagine this.  You have an emergency and call 911. Simple enough, right?  But what if you can’t HEAR the 911 operator?  Many people do not hear well enough to have simple conversations on the telephone, let alone one in a stressful situation. This is why there are two protocols on Prince Edward Island for dialing 911 for the hard of hearing, ‘Dial 911’ and ‘Text with 911’.

Recently, members of the PEI Chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, in cooperation with the province of PEI’s 911 Provincial Coordinator, 911 Operators, and managers from Island EMS, conducted a live exercise, “911 Connect” to test the two protocols to see if they worked as planned.

EMS responders also tried out a pocket talker to help communicate with the hard of hearing.  A pocket talker is a portable device that amplifies sounds, when the hard of hearing person wears the headphones. It is useful for one-on-one conversation, and can be used with or without hearing aids.

Two volunteers from the PEI Chapter were the “patients”:  One who wears a hearing aid and has a cochlear implant, was the ‘Text with 911’ patient.  Another, who wears two hearing aids, was the ‘Dial 911 patient’.  Two Operations Managers from Island EMS were the responders.  Observers of the exercise were the Acting 911 Coordinator from the Province of P.E.I., an Operations Manager from Island EMS, and two executive members from the PEI Chapter.

The exercise began with ‘Text with 911’.  The texting was by a first time texter, and it took 6 minutes to text what a prolific texter could have done much quicker.  In comparison, the ‘Dial 911’ call took 1 minute and 21 seconds. Our volunteer counted to 5 aloud after dialling, then repeated her name, address, emergency, and that she was hard of hearing three times before hanging up.

The scenario for both exercises was the same: the caller had symptoms similar to a heart attack.  During the ‘Text with 911’ exercise, EMS responders were astonished at how well our volunteer could hear with her cochlear implant, which she wouldn’t have on if an emergency happened at night.  When it was removed, her only way of understanding the EMS responder was by speech reading.

Next, ‘Dial 911’ began.  Our volunteer had removed her hearing aids prior to the exercise, making it a challenge for the EMS responders.  The pocket talker proved its worth here!  Our volunteer also used speech reading techniques to follow the conversation between herself and the EMS responder speaking to her.

The PEI Chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association was grateful for the opportunity to test the 911 protocols to be assured that they do work.

CHHA PEI Receives Grant To Publish Booklet For Better Communication

May 7, 2017.  As a small chapter, we don’t always have the funds to do the outreach and advocacy projects that we would like.  So we were thrilled to learn that we were one of the recipients of a New Horizons for Seniors Program grant to help us develop a project that focuses on seniors, who studies show tend to become socially isolated due to hearing loss.

We already know that it’s exhausting and can be both embarrassing and frustrating to constantly ask people to repeat themselves.  Going to events such as concerts, church services, parties, can be a nightmare when it’s difficult to understand what is being said.  In many instances therefore, it’s easier to stay home, no matter how lonely.  Social isolation can lead to other health related issues, including depression.

While there are various solutions, one way forward is education:  Hard of hearing people can learn strategies to help them communicate and be able to be active participants in social events and conversations.  As well, those who interact with the hard of hearing, including family, friends, and professionals, can learn tips for better communication with the hard of hearing.

While these tips can help anyone who is hard of hearing, this particular project is focusing on seniors.  As Brenda Porter, CHHA PEI Vice-President explains:  “Our CHHA PEI Chapter has heard officially that we have received a $12,115 federal New Horizons for Seniors Program grant for our proposed project “Pardon, What Did You Say?” – A Guide for Navigating Our Hard of Hearing World. Wonderful news!

Our plan includes producing a user-friendly, large print, and inspirational booklet that will be a valuable tool for those who are hard of hearing and for the people with whom they communicate in their homes and communities. The booklet will include a range of simple tips and strategies for communicating in a variety of settings and also personal experiences that readers can identify with. During Fall 2017 there will be community-based seminars across the island at seniors’ centres, etc. as part of the launch.

Having a hearing disability is a key reason why people, many of whom are seniors, withdraw from social activities in the community and become isolated. This island-wide project is designed to give them, and those with whom they interact, simple strategies for talking with others – both in their homes and in their communities.”

So we are busy with developing this booklet at the moment, and collecting stories, tips, and challenges that have been overcome.  Do you have a tip or story to share?  Let us know!

See also:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-seniors-new-horizons-1.4099202

and http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/community/2017/5/5/p-e-i–seniors-organizations-receive-nearly–100k-in-federal-fun.html

Upcoming Event – Ceilidh to Benefit CHHA PEI

April 26, 2017.  You may be surprised to learn that hard of hearing people tend to love music.  Many of us took music lessons as children, learning to play instruments.  Others were members of choirs or musical groups.  Or maybe we just were music aficionados.  And some of us still are active musicians.  Whatever the reason for a musical connection, the love is still there, even if our hearing isn’t quite what it once was.

This love of music is one reason why we were excited when we heard that Bonshaw Hall was having its May Ceilidh as a fundraiser for CHHA PEI.  The fun begins on Sunday afternoon at 2 pm, on May 28, 2017 in Bonshaw, as per the poster…..Ceilidh at Bonshaw Hall May 28 2017

Join us in celebrating the love of music, island style, and at the same time you’ll be helping CHHA PEI raise some funds to continue our outreach and advocacy activities.  See you there!

Calling 911 when you are hard of hearing

April 12, 2017.  If you’ve ever had to call 911 in an emergency, you know how stressful that is.  You try to stay calm so the 911 Operator will be able to understand you and send help.  You have to concentrate on the questions being asked so that you get the right sort of help – whether you need an ambulance, a fire truck, or the police.  In an emergency, you need to focus on giving out the right information, sometimes in a panic situation, or in the midst of a lot of noise and commotion.

How do you deal with a 911 call if you are hard of hearing?  Sometimes you are the only person able to make the call!  Luckily, technology has helped to improve 911 protocols for the hard of hearing.  Since December 1, 2016, a pan-Canadian wide system called Text 911, or T-911, is available in many (not all) Canadian localities.  Only P.E.I., Nova Scotia and New Brunswick have this service province-wide, though.

Recently, the PEI Chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, the Province’s 911 Service, and Island EMS tested the protocols for 911 access by the hard of hearing to ensure it works.  It does!  You have two options: to dial 911 or to use the new Text 911, also called T-911.

Step by step instructions for both options are available here: Dial 911 text 911 guidelines

During the exercise to test the system, a few suggestions for better communication emerged:

  • Let the 911 Operator know if you are alone, or if someone is in the house with you. For example, if you are babysitting a grandchild, or you have a family member who is asleep or ill and may not be aware of your call, it’s important to pass along that information.  You wouldn’t want to be taken to the hospital and leave someone behind!
  • If you call from a cell phone or an internet based phone system (such as Ooma), tell the operator your location! Otherwise, 911 will not know where you are.
  • Let the operator know of any allergies, or if there are animals in the house. Always keep a list of medications on hand.
  • Make sure you have a plan in place to let emergency responders into the house.

Do you have further tips for Dial 911 or Text 911?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

“Listen To This” prize awarded at PEI Science Fair

April 7, 2017.  On Tuesday, April 4, 2017, we were honoured to judge a specialty prize at the PEI Science Fair, the “Listen To This” Award, which comes with a $25 prize.  This is presented annually to a student whose project best demonstrates awareness of hearing loss and associated issues, in an effort to encourage young scientists in the making to consider issues of concern to the hard of hearing.

CIMG7409 Apr 4 2017 PEI Science Fair Can Shapes Be Produced by Sound entry

PEI Science Fair project by Mariana Reyes Mejia (Photo: Daria Valkenburg)

This year, the award went to Grade 6 Parkdale Elementary School student Mariana Reyes Mejia for her project “Can Shapes Be Produced By Sound?”  Mariana’s project tested whether one could actually see sound.  The project drew upon the principle of cymatics (the study of periodic and symmetrical patterns caused by vibrations).  Using a PVC tube and pipe, with a balloon for a membrane that went over the tube, she poured salt onto the balloon.  Experiment in place, she made various sounds over the other end of the tube.  With sound, the balloon vibrated, and the salt formed different shapes.  To her delight, she was able to prove that shapes could be produced by sound, and found that the best frequency for seeing shapes was at higher sound frequencies,” notes Mariana.

You may be wondering what this project has to do with hearing loss.  Modern pocket talkers, technological tools to help amplify sound for the hard of hearing, have a tone function in which sound can be altered to resonate at a higher or lower frequency, depending on the hearing loss one has.  Mariana’s project is a simplified version of this.  She found that shapes were best seen at higher sound frequencies.  Similarly, changes in frequency can make hearing more audible.

There is lots of potential for innovative scientific studies on hearing loss, and Mariana’s project could be enlarged upon and studied further.  Did you know that, according to the Stats Canada 2012 and 2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey (CHMS), 20% of adults aged 19 to 79 years had at least mild hearing loss in at least one ear?  Hearing loss is more common as we get older, and results show that 47% of those 60 to 79 having hearing problems.  (See http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-625-x/2015001/article/14156-eng.htm).

Upcoming Event – Sound Off on Hearing Issues

April 5, 2017. Here’s an upcoming event you may find of interest.  Join members of CHHA PEI at the Crapaud Library on Wednesday, April 19, 2017 between 5:30 and 6:30 pm and bring any questions/issues you might have on topics and issues dealing with hearing loss, such as:

  • Technology
  • Speechreading
  • Communication tips
  • Improving your hearing environment

We look forward to meeting you.  Bring a friend or family member, they are also welcome. See attached poster: Sound Off On HOH Issues Apr 19 2017

Introduction to this blog

April 5, 2017.   As a tool to help promote the Public Relations and Advocacy activities of the Prince Edward Island Chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, this new venture into blogging about life when one is hard of hearing, and about the work of the Chapter, is an adventure and a journey into the unknown.

First, here is a short summary about the Chapter:   The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association, PEI Chapter

  • Was formed in 2001
  • Engages in advocacy for the hard of hearing
  • Holds regular meetings with guest speakers on hearing related topics
  • Fosters speech-reading classes
  • Encourages hearing accessibility in public places

The blog will let you know about some of the activities – as they happen, rather than waiting for the semi-annual newsletter.  It will also let you know about upcoming events.  And it gives readers a chance to let the Chapter know about their challenges, successes, tips, and activities regarding hearing loss and our ability to lead active and happy lives.

To get you familiar with the Chapter, below is our most recent newsletter: CHHA PEI Newsletter Winter Spring 2017