If you’re relatively new to the world of hearing loss, or if (like me) you’re sort of a latecomer in embracing your identity as someone with hearing loss, there can be a lot to learn about the community itself. You may have seen Deaf or deaf, or D/deaf to refer to both. It’s a simple difference, but a big one.

Deaf, with a capitalized D, refers to a specific deaf culture. Someone who identifies themselves as Deaf likely goes to or went to a school for the deaf, and remains in that cultural and social circle with a lot of pride. The Deaf community correlates with users that rely primarily on sign language; that said, it’s not a requirement for the term at all, but rather their attitude toward their own hearing loss and their passion for the community itself.

With a lowercase “d,” deaf is more of a technical descriptor for significant hearing loss and not a signifier for the cultural belonging seen in the Deaf community. Someone who uses “deaf” may not have strong ties to other deaf community members and may not have attended a school for the deaf. You may find that some people prefer to use the phrase “hard of hearing” rather than deaf, as a way to distance themselves from the social/cultural associations.

As for me (I wear a hearing aid in my “good” ear and am nearing total deafness in the other), I’m not sure which of these I fit into. I was placed into a mainstream school, use hearing aids, haven’t used sign language since I was a small child, don’t spend time with other deaf people, and shied away from my hearing loss as part of my identity for a long time. But I have become more involved and passionate about the unique needs of deaf people with the creation of my website. For now, I stick with lowercase deaf, because I still have a lot to learn. I do tell people in passing that I’m hard of hearing to keep explanations simple, because most hearing people will assume I sign if I throw out “deaf.”

Ultimately, it’s a choice, and if you’re worried, you can always ask someone, especially if you suspect they have strong ties to the deaf community and may prefer the Deaf distinction. Online, you’ll often see people refer to the “D/deaf” community as a way of being inclusive to all those with hearing loss regardless of their social and cultural ties, but don’t stress too much about always capitalizing that D.

If you’d like to do a deeper dive into this discussion, this page from the National Association for the Deaf has a great breakdown of varying terminology.

Side note: it’s been a busy spring for me over here, but happily getting back into the swing of things and more posts will come down the pipeline soon. Thanks for sticking around!

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show just wrapped up in Las Vegas, and several hearing aid manufacturers released some new technology.

Oticon, one of the big six hearing aid manufacturers, announced the world’s first hearing fitness tracking tech with their new HearingFitness app, meant to be used with their Opn line of hearing aids. This actually won an Innovation Award for this year’s CES! My general impression is that the app is meant to positively reinforce the benefit of wearing their aids, as tracking tends to improve mental acuity and keep users socially engaged.

The new app will track hearing aid use, listening environments and other behavior, gathering and collating data with measurements of heart rate, sleep patterns and other health markers for other wearable devices. The new technology is designed to give Opn users advice and encouragement on ways to hear better, protect their hearing and stay healthier. (source)

This is especially important for the elderly population with age-related loss, and regular use of hearing aids is shown to stave off dementia.

Another big manufacturer, ReSound, did not announce brand-new tech, but won 3 Innovation Awards at CES this year, mainly due to their newest aids, the LiNX 3D and the ENZO 3D. You can read a little more about these on my hearing aid breakdown, but the honor comes from ReSound committing to providing the same smart connectivity in their ENZO aids for severe-to-profound loss that you see in their “lighter” models. That’s a HUGE benefit, as I’ve never gotten to enjoy bluetooth connectivity in the aids I need and currently wear.

No new tech from Starkey at CES, but they did host the Starkey Hearing Innovation Expo immediately before the CES weekend in Las Vegas and it was a big hit with a lot of VIP guests and speakers. Let me know if you’d like a write up on this kind of thing as well!

So far, I haven’t seen any CES news from the other main hearing aid manufacturers, but there were several other interesting product ideas that were presented.

Bragi, a company that specializes in wireless earbuds, announced they were partnering up with Mimi Hearing Technologies to create “Project Ears;” the details are scarce but it seems like the ear buds will auto-adapt to a user’s hearing for a personalized enhancement WITHOUT being a hearing aid. This would be interesting if it was able to combat tinnitus issues or actually help protect hearing in some environments.

In a similar vein, Nuheara announced their hybrid ear bud/amplification device specifically for voice enhancement, with a “hearing test” in the app.

The reason we’re seeing more companies branch into the hearing side of audio technology is due to the FDA’s deregulation of hearing aids last spring. This is an exciting new arena, but of course, I’m curious to see how closely regulated these are to avoid damage to hearing, as the companies seem mostly motivated to carve out a niche in a saturated market of wireless audio options.

What are your thoughts on some of the new announcements?

If you’ve followed my site for awhile, you know that one of my main crusades is for a reliable baby monitor for deaf and HoH parents. It’s a depressingly short list, so I’m going outside the box this month and looking into smartphone and smart watch integration. I’ll build my findings into my baby monitor list.

I’m sure MANY deaf and HoH people love their smartphone just as I do—my iPhone lies under my pillow at night and the alarm vibrations wake me.

My newest find is the Baby Monitor 3G app. Not even a physical purchase! And it’s cheap—only $3-5 depending on what device you set it up on. But you do need to have a smart device like a phone, tablet,or a laptop continually acting as the camera for monitoring baby. Your phone, acting as the parent unit, will vibrate upon alert. The interface is really cute, too, noting the last time baby made a noise. There is, of course, live video.

Has anyone tried this app out? I’m hoping to get a promotional download soon so I can properly review it, but haven’t gotten a response from the developer just yet. If I do, then I’ll be sure to update things.

My website is one year old! A lot has happened since, to include the birth of my son in March. He is now 8 months old and doing great.

I created this site after I was frustrated looking for a baby monitor for me, a BTE aid user that cannot hear without my aid and was worried about hearing my baby’s cries at night. As someone who exists MOSTLY outside the deaf community, I felt like this was a good way to embrace my identity as someone with hearing loss, and possibly help others. I wanted a comprehensive list in one spot, so I set out to make it myself.

Unfortunately, I learned, it’s not a very long list at all, and my monitor that I love has already been discontinued. That leaves deaf American parents without a single video baby monitor with vibration options. There are monitors for deaf parents, but shouldn’t a new parent not have to settle on there being no video? Every night, multiple times a night, I check on my son via the video screen of our monitor.

I’m passionate about the subject, but unsure of how to really try and convince the right person to make the monitor that deaf parents need. I have Twitter and have slowly learned how to use it over the past year, but I’m sure I could get a little better at it.

I ended up making my website as MORE than just a list of monitors for deaf and HoH parents, but that is actually what most people come to my site for! It’s by far my most popular page, as it’s now on the front page of Google search results for “baby monitors for deaf parents”. When I started only one year ago, I was lucky to get two hits a week, and now I’d ballpark there’s over a hundred searches every week JUST from people looking for baby monitors for deaf parents. The other pages of my website do get views, but usually from those that arrived via their monitor search.

So, my plan is to keep at it, keep that list updated and see if I can get a little better at figuring out how to make a product that is very much wanted and needed.

Thanks for sticking around!

I have a few little side things to make some pocket change while I’m at home with my son. I take family/maternity/baby portraits here and there to keep my photography portfolio going, and I’ve made approximately a whopping Hamilton through Amazon links on this site (hey, I’ll take it). But recently, I also started doing some freelance captioning for videos.

You may be thinking WAIT A MINUTE! True, I do have to wear a hearing aid in my good ear to get by, but I do well with it! Turns out, growing up watching the TV with captions makes me kind of a natural in typing out captions in terms of speaker labeling, atmospherics, and natural sentence and speech breaks. That said, there is the huge caveat that I do not caption a video with ANY poor audio quality. Fortunately, the platform I work on allows for me to throw back a video if I’ve had it under an hour, so if I come across a bad section, I don’t work on it. I got into a tricky spot once where I had a great video in terms of audio quality and then it cut to an awful clip of David Beckham mumbling into a static-y microphone. Phewwww. I’ve gotten pretty good at determining my capabilities, and there’s a strong community forum for troublesome audio clips, because ear fatigue happens to even those with excellent hearing and they just can’t make out that word.

Funnily enough, when I watch something on TV or the like, I’ll sometimes laugh at very specific descriptions like (intense piano music slowly intensifies) but really I’ve learned it is HARD to describe some sounds accurately! It’s like trying to be a reverse Foley artist at times.

I always turn on captions, and it’s great to find them on short videos that you see on social media, YouTube, and so on. It seems like with so many people scrolling through social media, ads are often captioned to transit their message when the sound is off, so I feel like caption work is becoming much more prevalent nowadays. I feel fortunate to be able to do so well despite my significant hearing loss, and I feel like I’m doing good work for other deaf/HoH people, because I know what it’s like to miss out on things without captions.

In other news, my site is coming up on its first birthday already! By far the most traffic is to my page on baby monitors for deaf/HoH people, which is great because that was the whole drive behind starting this site in the first place. Unfortunately, it looks like the monitor I use is being discontinued, so I’ll have to dig back into what’s available and update the page soon.

Initially, it doesn’t seem like hearing loss would have any impact on someone’s physical fitness, but I’m curious to know if others find that they’re less inclined to exercise because of deafness or wearing a hearing aid.

For me, as you know from my strangely specific quest of finding a waterproof hearing aid, I’d love to be able to swim and hear, especially for safety purposes like lifeguard announcements, but also just to be more comfortable in a group setting at the pool, or swimming lanes for exercise. I feel pretty discouraged by swimming as exercise.

In 2015, I decided to do the Couch to 5K program, and signed up for a Halloween 5K as my goal. (And may I just brag, I won the bronze in my age group, but I should probably tell you there were only 5 women in the 20-29 bracket…)

But, I did have to do several things differently to train for this 5K, and if I hadn’t been as determined as I was, I can see how I would have felt discouraged by the limitations of my hearing aid.

Firstly, I wanted to listen to my 5K app prompts for walking/running and to hear my mile splits. And listen to music too! But I can’t wear in-ear buds and over the ear headphones are way too cumbersome to run in. What I did was I used a T-coil hook, which worked well, but I still wasn’t ever totally comfortable cutting out all surrounding noise like cars or other people, so I’d switch off telecoil whenever I was crossing a road or anything. Furthermore, it didn’t always stay put in the best spot behind my ear, which sometimes led to a rapid bobbing of audio coming in and out as I ran… not ideal, but it worked.

The next issue was sweat, especially since I had started my training in the summer. My new aid seems to be pretty moisture-resistant, but I had to be a lot more careful with my previous one. I found that wearing the T-coil hook kept the aid off my head enough, and since it was only a 5K, I wasn’t sweating for too long before I could remove it and wipe it down.

Now that I’m 6 months postpartum, I’m thinking about these things again and might revisit what accessories I use.

Do you feel like there’s anything that keeps you from your fitness goals?

So on Twitter, I try every month to participate in #HearingLossHour. Like it implies, it’s an hour-long Twitter chat with some question prompts—mostly based in the UK but I’m up early with the baby anyways so I like to think I provide the American perspective.

Anyways, September’s topic was about single-sided hearing loss, and that was a broad term, to encompass the fact that some people only have one “good ear.” For me, I can’t hear anything in my right (well, maybe I once faintly heard a fighter jet flying over) and wear a BTE aid in my “good ear.”

Amazingly, during the course of the chat, I learned something new that a LOT of other people know about, which goes to show that even though I do my best to stay on top of technology, there’s usually gaps in your niche knowledge, which is why things like Twitter conversations are so great. I learned that CROS (which stands for Contralateral Routing Of Signals) is like a hearing aid supplement for your “bad side,” carrying the audio picked up in a BTE receiver and throwing it into your main workhorse aid that you wear. Here’s the image from Phonak’s brochure to show what I mean:


What does that mean for me? It means I could wear it and have a MUCH easier time when I’m the driver in a car, because the passenger is on my bad ear. It’s hard to glance over to try and hear/lipread for a second, and maintain safe focus on the road, especially on the Beltway in DC… It means I wouldn’t have to try and arrange myself so specifically at every table in a group setting.

Phonak (who sponsors the monthly chat) has a CROS aid option that you can look into here. Starkey also has the Muse CROS, which you can look into here.

So I JUST got a new hearing aid fully covered by insurance in February, so it’ll be a few years before I can take advantage again and try to get a CROS system, because it seems like Oticon doesn’t manufacture CROS aids. Why did my audiologist not suggest it? I have no idea and fully intend to ask next time I go in. I do think it’d be weird to wear an aid of sorts on my right side again, as I haven’t done that since early childhood.

Do you use a CROS and love it?

So, I wear a hearing aid in one ear and nothing in the other, but I was raised speaking despite a rather significant impairment. When I was 16, my mom made me go to a job fair, where I promptly got my first job working retail in a local museum gift shop with a high volume of tourists. I think at the time, I was so young that I didn’t really consider that… maybe I’d have some difficulties?!

But, lo and behold, I held that job for six years, working summers and weekends in high school, and when I was home from college. Later on when I was about 25/26 years old, I worked at Crate & Barrel for 6 months to make some extra holiday money. I got so good at quickly wrapping glassware in tissue paper that when I moved to Germany the movers just let me pack the kitchen!

So much of a conversation is about context. I was always ready for a customer to ask questions about pricing, color, size, etc. I think everyone does this to some degree mostly unconsciously—ever been thrown off by someone asking a question out of left field because your brain isn’t catching onto what they’re getting at? So, in person, I never struggled much, but I know some customers could tell I was lip-reading on occasion.

So what were my troubles? By FAR the biggest obstacle was the telephone. My first job, the phone was loud and clear. At Crate & Barrel, the phones I had to answer were pretty bad. It gave me a lot of anxiety, and the extremely loud store music didn’t help. There was enough staff that varied day-to-day that not all of them knew or remembered that I was hard of hearing, and I didn’t want to NOT answer the phone when I was the closest one. So many times, I had to get a co-worker to help take the call. I knew I wasn’t in the job for the long haul, so I didn’t push for better accommodation, but in hindsight, I should have. I will if I go back to work there again someday!

Getting customer emails to sign them up for marketing materials was tough sometimes. Most people have straightforward email addresses, but every once in a while it’d be something like “bdzcdt at…” and I’d really have to strain to catch the right letter sound. Also, because I can only hear in one ear, if someone started asking me something from behind me or on my bad side, I sometimes wouldn’t hear them. Once or twice a customer would start lecturing me about being rude, and I would (as politely as I could muster) shut them down on that by explaining my hearing loss. My stores never had walkie-talkie systems, but I know I’d struggle with that too.

On the whole though, retail was a really positive experience, and as someone with hearing loss that is naturally shy, it really forced to me to interact with a ton of different people, so it was a huge factor that shaped my life.

Has your hearing loss affected your job choices?

With the rise of smart home technology, it naturally follows that there are a few of us out there wondering what it can do for those with hearing loss. It’s such a new arena though, that there’s a long way to go before the deaf and HoH community isn’t an afterthought in the process.

That said, a lot of the possibilities with these smart products do work nicely for the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. So, I’ve decided to start a little series featuring one or two of these products at a time. I’ll also build a list into my equipment pages as I go. I’d love to hear if you use any of these or other products in your life!

Canary

This month, I’m featuring the Canary security camera, which is a motion-activated security camera that sends push notifications of movement or abnormal environmental factors such as temperature and air quality. I actually have their main all-in-one model, and while I mostly get alerts when my dog barks at the mailman, it does give me peace of mind when I’m away from the home (and checking in on my dog, as you can see from the photo below).

Screenshot of Canary security footage

Integration with a smartphone is the main benefit to those D/deaf and hard of hearing users. If you’re like me and sleep with your phone under the pillow on vibrate, you can get an instant notification of motion detected if you want; this one in particular is a relief to me when my (hearing) husband is out of town and my brain goes crazy with burglar scenarios while lying in bed at night. I usually turn on the “do not disturb” feature on my iPhone at night which mutes Canary alerts, but I leave it off when I’m home alone overnight.

For deaf users that may live in an area where they’re worried about outside activity, you can also purchase the Canary Flex, which is a weatherproof outdoor security camera. This all integrates together in the app, which is easy to use.

I have to say, my series on smart home tech for the deaf and hard of hearing might be shorter than I thought, because there’s not a lot out there. That said, I do appreciate that Canary addresses this specific user group in an FAQ on their website:

Are options available for customers who are deaf or hard of hearing?

This is something we are considering and hope to address more fully in the future. As the system is designed now, alerts are sent directly to your smartphone via push notification and do not rely on sound. The device itself has a subtle LED light that indicates if its recording. The siren, which can be triggered remotely from the app, serves as an intruder deterrent if you choose to use it. We welcome feedback, feature requests, and insights that might help us make Canary more universally accessible and usable for those with hearing difficulties. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch. (source)

When there IS activity, you can choose to sound a loud siren on the Canary device, and/or call emergency services from within the app. I’m assuming that button simply dials 911. I speak, so this wouldn’t be an issue for me, but it would slow down an emergency response for a deaf user. Where I live in Fairfax County, texting 911 is a pretty new cutting-edge feature, and I hope in the future, apps like this will be able to take a deaf user into consideration in preferences and initiate texting or a TTY/relay service immediately for quicker response.

What do you think might be a good feature? Would it be good if there was a subtle light that indicated there had been activity, prompting you to review the log on your phone? Is this something you have and feel it benefits you?

With the rise of smart home technology, it naturally follows that there are a few of us out there wondering what it can do for those with hearing loss. It’s such a new arena though, that there’s a long way to go before the deaf and HoH community isn’t an afterthought in the process.

That said, a lot of the possibilities with these smart products do work nicely for the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. So, I’ve decided to start a little series featuring one or two of these products at a time. I’ll also build a list into my equipment pages as I go. I’d love to hear if you use any of these or other products in your life!

Philips Hue lightbulbs

My first featured product is the Philips Hue, a wireless LED bulb. These are popular for their integration with smartphones and devices like the Amazon Echo, most notably for the ability to set the lighting color and dimness just from your device. For those with hearing loss, the Hue bulbs can be linked into conditional situations—for example, if the doorbell rings, the lights can flash to alert someone. There are products for the deaf that already do this, but don’t have the smart wireless integration that can be customized pretty finely.

Specifically, let’s say you have the Ring smart doorbell, and Philips Hue lights. Using an IFTTT (if this then that) simple chain, you can have your home lights flash purple when someone’s at the door. This is definitely something I could take advantage of! The Hue bulbs are still pretty pricey, so this is certainly an investment but a fantastic one.

Furthermore, Philips allowed their Hue bulbs to be part of an open-source platform, and because of this, makers of products and software for the deaf are able to integrate with Hue bulbs. Convo, a business that provides video calling and translation services for the deaf, was able to create a Hue lights feature in their Convo Relay app, which allows for the Hue bulbs to flash when there is an incoming call. Not only that, but it can be customized for specific callers with “light ringtones.” Lights can also notify of missed calls.

Side note: when it comes to safety, definitely rely on the non-smart things. You don’t want to be depending on your Hue bulbs flashing if your smoke alarm is going off, for example. Stick with the specialty strobe products for that one.

Do any of you use the Hue features? I’d love to try this someday. And if you have another smart home product you’d like me to discuss in the future, let me know!