Pocket Talker Pilot Project With PEI’s Legal Community

July 22, 2017.  A few days ago, CHHA PEI Chapter President Annie Lee MacDonald and I were interviewed for CBC’s Island Morning radio broadcast on the pocket talker project for lawyers to improve communication with the hard of hearing, a project funded by the Law Foundation of PEI.  Lawyer Robin Aitken, one of the project participants, was also interviewed.  To access the radio interview, the link is below, as is an accompanying article on the CBC website that follows our blog entry explaining the project.

Radio interview:


annie-lee-macdonald-with-pocketalker sarah macmillan cbc

Photo: Annie Lee MacDonald with pocket talker.  (Photo credit: Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

When you are hard of hearing and have to deal with professional services, such as a lawyer, it can be difficult. The voices are unfamiliar to your ear, terminology may be a barrier, and no one goes to a lawyer just to socialize. Do you admit you can’t really hear what is being said? Should you take along a friend or family member to act as your pair of ears?

With financial support from the Law Foundation of PEI, CHHA PEI is helping to remove some of the stress and barriers to communication when dealing with the legal community, through a pilot project of using assistive listening devices, commonly known as pocket talkers. This device makes it easier for the hard of hearing to communicate.

Lawyers across the island are volunteering to participate in the pilot project, and actively encourage hard of hearing clients to help test this technology. “Confidentiality is very important,” noted several lawyers. Other positive (there have not been any negative ones) comments include: “A technological tool that helps us to communicate better is important.” “It’s a great idea. I can see the need.”

One lawyer noted that he uses the pocket talker himself, as well as for his hard of hearing clients. “I never realized that I myself had a hearing loss!” Another lawyer commented, “I had stopped going to hospitals and nursing homes to see clients, because of the lack of privacy and me having to shout to be heard. Now that my clients in hospitals and nursing homes can put on the pocket talker and we can have a quiet conversation, I am holding meetings there again.”

So far, this has been a win-win project for Island lawyers and for the hard of hearing. As the Chief Justice of PEI notes, “Effective sharing of legal information and opportunity for participation in legal proceedings are integral components to access to justice. This initiative to facilitate a better understanding of the law and improved communication for people who are hard of hearing is to be commended.”

TIP!  Bill Droogendyk of Better Hearing Solutions gave us this tip for using a pocket talker: “If you use the Pocketalker with a Neckloop (https://www.williamssound.com/catalog/nkl-001, instead of headphones), then you can hear the Pocket Talker through the hearing aid telecoils – for better sound!”  Thanks Bill!

Do you use a pocket talker?  Have you taken it to a meeting with your lawyer or doctor? Are you a lawyer who has participated in the project?  Let us know!  We need your feedback.  You can comment through this blog, or send us an email to hearpei@gmail.com .

See below for the text of a CBC article that accompanied the radio broadcast:

CBC website article:


Hard of hearing clients get help talking with lawyers

Pilot project offers lawyers trial with assistive device

By Kevin Yarr, CBC News

Some Island lawyers now have a tool to help them better communicate with people who have hearing loss.

As part of a pilot project, the P.E.I. Chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association has distributed 10 assistive listening devices to interested lawyers.

‘This is a very important time in a person’s life.’ – Annie Lee MacDonald

The Pocketalkers allow a person to wear a headset, and amplify a person’s voice.

“If you’re hard of hearing, which I am, you have to depend on assistive devices to ensure that you have the best communication possible when you are chatting with different people,” said P.E.I. Chapter president Annie Lee MacDonald.

“We saw a need there, because this is a very important time in a person’s life, when they’re making some personal decisions regarding the future of their estates, or future of their lives.”

The lawyers will get to use the devices for about three months, and then decide if they would like to buy one.

MacDonald said she has received a lot of positive feedback, and several lawyers have already decided to buy a device. She hopes eventually all Island lawyers will have a Pocketalker.

© Daria Valkenburg


Calling Cochlear Implant Users

July 22, 2017.  Do you have a cochlear implant?  If so, we want to hear from you! One of the projects we are looking at for next year is to develop an information booklet for Islanders who have cochlear implants and for those in the process of deciding whether they should have, or would qualify for, cochlear implant surgery.

The first phase of the project is to identify the questions you may have regarding cochlear implants, any concerns you may have regarding surgery, and any experiences you wish to share.

Are you willing to help get this project started?  You can send your comments through this blog, by email to hearpei@gmail.com or by snail mail to CHHA PEI, Augustine Cove PE C0B 1X0.

© Daria Valkenburg

911 for hard of hearing working well

July 6, 2017.  Last week Annie Lee MacDonald, CHHA PEI’s President, and I were photographed using text and phone to illustrate an article written by Beth Johnston of the province of PEI’s Public Safety Department.  Our thanks to Beth for the excellent article and to the province who has been so helpful in ensuring that the 911 system works.The link to the article is here, and the text follows below:  https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/news/911-hard-hearing-working-well .

An emergency is not a good time to test whether a system is working properly.

The PEI Chapter of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) wanted to make sure the province’s Text with 911 program, which began last fall, was working like a well-oiled machine. Turns out it is.

Members of CHHA contacted the province’s acting 911 Coordinator Pat Kelly, who went to their monthly meeting to explain the process. Then they went a step further and tested it in a boardroom exercise, and again using testing protocols during Emergency Preparedness week with two more people who are hard of hearing.

“Living on a small island is a blessing. Public Safety and Island EMS listened to our concerns, and offered a live exercise,” said CHHA PEI’s Advocacy and Public Relations Officer Daria Valkenburg.

“Now we are convinced it works, and it’s eased everyone’s mind.”

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, fire response, or the police,” Valkenburg explained.

“In an emergency, you need to focus on giving the right information, sometimes in a panic situation, or in the midst of a lot of noise and commotion. When you have a problem hearing what is being said, your anxiety levels go up even more. Having protocols in place that offer two additional methods of accessibility is important.”

Kelly went above and beyond the call of duty, Valkenburg said, explaining that he helped Chapter members who had trouble registering their cell phones for the Text with 911 service. In one case, the phone was outdated and couldn’t access the service. In the other situations, he called the phone companies that the cell phones were with, and made sure registration worked for them, she said.

“We’ve been told that we’re the only hard of hearing group in Canada to have been allowed to test the protocols — it’s a testament to the cooperation that we have received on this project,” she said.

The group gave Island EMS a “pocket talker” a portable device that amplifies sound.

“We are grateful to the province for providing the 911 protocols pamphlets for us. As a small organization, this was a project we would have had to raise funds for otherwise,” she said. “Everyone we have dealt with has been receptive and accommodating in listening to our concerns and suggestions.”

Learn more about the Text to 911 service available only to those with hearing or speech impairments.

© Daria Valkenburg

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.

© Daria Valkenburg

“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.

© Daria Valkenburg

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

© Daria Valkenburg

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.

© Daria Valkenburg

“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).

© Daria Valkenburg

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