Category Archives: apps

So you have hearing loss too? Soundz Off can help

Welcome to a very large club – 11 million of us in the UK have hearing loss (that’s one in six people) predicted to rise to more than 14.5 million by 2031 (Action on Hearing Loss 2015).  Add this to the 360 million people worldwide with hearing loss and that’s a very big club!

Like all clubs we have something in common – similar interests, ideas, problems and difficulties to overcome. Like all clubs, there’s lots of information out there relating to our speciality interest, yet only 1% of medical research spending goes on hearing loss and it’s surprisingly difficult to find the information we need.  So where do you find that information?

Many people deny they have hearing loss for up to 10 years and, for most of us, our only experience with a hearing professional is being referred to audiology for a hearing test and hearing aids.  Then we get waved off from the hospital and left to our own devices – not helpful when we’re usually reeling with shock at the diagnosis, baffled by the technology and unaware of how to help ourselves (and others) to cope better with this invisible disability.

That’s why I created Soundz Off in 2014 http://www.soundzoff.org – an independent website which brings together hundreds of links to useful websites related to hearing loss: equipment, support organisations, technology, social media, forums, apps, research, events … the list goes on.

As someone with hearing loss myself (I have moderate sensorineural hearing loss in both ears and wear two digital hearing aids), I was amazed to discover this didn’t exist before. Over the years I found hundreds of organisations which exist to support people with hearing loss but nobody ever told me about them – I had to support myself and find them myself one by one. Nobody ever brought that information together in one place … until now.  Soundz Off does the legwork so you don’t have to!  We also have an active Facebook page updated daily with the latest information and news on hearing loss http://www.facebook.com/soundzoff  – how I wish this had existed 20 years ago when I was just starting out on my own hearing loss journey.

Hearing loss affects people in different ways and most of us struggle with this challenging disability.  You’ll probably recognise where you are in your own journey represented by this graph of the different stages of grief:

stages of grief

As someone who’s travelled right though every stage of the curve and eventually adjusted to my own hearing loss – even to the stage where I’m now working as an advocate and welfare officer for people with hearing loss – Soundz Off is my gift to you, whether you’re new to hearing loss or you’ve been coping with hearing loss for a long time.  Discover new information, make new contacts and friends, learn about what’s being doing to cure hearing loss and tell us about organisations you think we should add to our Directory http://www.soundzoff.org/directory

The good news (there’s always good news!) is that for every stage of your journey there are organisations and people out there who can help you.  Soundz Off ensures you don’t have to travel that journey alone and we can all learn to cope better with hearing loss in a hearing world.

So, as I said at the beginning, welcome to the club!  Good to meet you.

Tania Le Marinel

 

The challenges and joys of learning BSL (British Sign Language)

As somebody who’s always loved languages and hates being flummoxed by a word they don’t know (I have to rush and look it up in a dictionary), learning BSL has been an interesting experience.  I’m fascinated with this expressive, visual language and how the signs representing words can be either very obvious or completely obscure.  For example ‘tea’ (lifting your forefingers up to your mouth with your little finger sticking up in the air – the universal sign for tea) is really easy to remember.  But signs which bear no resemblance at all to the words they’re supposed to represent, such as ‘hotel’ (the nearest I can describe this to is taking your cap off and putting it sideways onto the table) require a feat of memory power which has been really challenging.  It certainly gets the sludge moving in my brain in a way that it hasn’t done for years!

People were signing as early as the 16th century, but BSL is an unwritten language so it’s difficult to know exactly how and when it began.  When Thomas Braidwood’s ‘Academy for Deaf and Dumb’ opened in 1760, this was the first school in Britain to include sign language in education.  Then, as more people moved to the cities, BSL became standardised and used for teaching internationally.

Today there are apps to help us learn BSL, for example I use the SignBSL app (an online BSL dictionary) to remind me if I can’t get the sign correct.  But then I hit another barrier – there are so many different signs for different geographical locations.  In my first year alone I’ve had 3 teachers (for various reasons) – the first taught me signs from Newcastle, the second taught me signs from Darlington and my current teacher is teaching me signs from Durham.  That’s 3 different signs for every single word just in the first year – I know that this is the same as different dialects and different regions, and I can appreciate the rich variety and history of language evolution, but that’s still a lot for a beginner to learn!

Just like any language, BSL is constantly evolving and new signs are being created all the time.   Using the letters ‘P’ + ‘W’ is easy to remember as the sign for ‘Prince William’, but BSL seems much harder to me than learning French, German or Spanish, mainly because it’s difficult to actually write down a description of what the sign looks like.  For example, this week for the word ‘party’ I wrote: “cross wrists facing away from me, turn fists over, open fists and move hands apart then splay fingers wide” – that’s a long description for just one word!  By the time I’ve finished an hour’s lesson I’ve got pages of notes!

I’m now revising for my Level 1 exam so it’s still early days but I’m starting to get the hang of it and to chat (albeit in very simple fashion) to the deaf clients I support at work.  And the rewards are far more than just learning a new language … it’s seeing the surprise and appreciation in the eyes of my deaf clients as they realise I’m starting to communicate with them in their own language, rather than me expecting them to adapt to mine.  I get smiles, encouragement and laughter as we connect for the first time in a totally new way which is absolutely brilliant.  That, in itself, makes all the hard work worthwhile.  Wish me luck!

bsl

 

 

 

 

 

Great app for deaf kids who love wildlife – Project Noah

I’m always on the look-out for ways to get involved in ‘normal’ activities even if I can’t hear everything that’s going on.  That’s why I was fascinated to come across Project Noah, an international wildlife project which allows kids to upload photos of plants and wildlife in their area to help create a map of the natural world and contribute to scientific research in the process.

Project Noah is for all kids everywhere but has an inclusive app for deaf and hard-of-hearing young people (relying entirely on images and text communication) who can get involved in exactly the same way their peers do.

As a community volunteer myself, this will be hugely useful for a 2km nature trail we’re creating around our homes during the next few months.  Working closely with our local Wildlife Trust, we’re getting residents and kids involved in identifying flowers, trees, plants, birds, bats and bugs so we can tell everyone about the wildlife that lives in our area.  This app will be ideal as the kids can not only find the wildlife, but they can take photos and add information to an international database of species, becoming ‘citizen scientists’ in the bargain!  Wow, what a great way for kids, parents, and teachers to learn about wildlife!

If you want more info check out http://www.projectnoah.org/and find out about the app on http://www.projectnoah.org/

project noah

Travelling with hearing loss – it’s a pain!

Well I’m just back from almost a month away on holiday in America visiting two national parks in California and flying to the beautiful island of O’ahu in Hawaii.  Wow, did we have a good time!  Travelling the world – particularly the USA – is just my favourite thing.  A few days in San Francisco, a snow-covered lodge in Sequoia National Park, Christmas in a log cabin in Yosemite National Park and New Year in a fabulous private house in Hawaii – truly memories to cherish and remember forever.

A great experience of course but there are so many things which negatively affect the whole experience when you’re hard of hearing.  Not being able to hear announcements on the plane, not knowing what’s happening when flights are delayed and being unable to hear announcements in the airport – that’s just for starters.  Add to that the terrible background noise at check-in desks, being unable to hear bus drivers on courtesy coaches when they ask which hotel you’re staying at, trying to hire a car in a deafeningly loud rental office …. it makes travelling so much more stressful.

I’ve also become a keen critic of architects who design marble hotel reception areas with no soft furnishings, terrible acoustics and waterfall features which drown out speech.  Then there’s waiters in restaurants who have strange accents and mumble while they tell you about unfamiliar food you’ve never heard of, plus tours around tourist attractions with no loop system for guided talks …. well it’s just a real pain.

One thing that made the journey slightly easier was a new app – Flightview – a flight tracker and airport diary.  You can track your flight number and it updates you on any delays, changes to arrival/departure times and your departure-gate number.  It was a real help, although you need to keep an eye on the airport information just in case as our flight departure gate changed at the last minute and Flightview didn’t update us.  At least it reduced the stress of having to listen to garbled announcements or fighting the queue to get to the check-in desk  for more information!

Delayed-Airline-passengers

 

 

It’s a work of art! Soundz Off looks fantastic!

Wow! Just two of many lovely comments I’ve received since Soundz Off was featured in the 100th issue of ‘Action on Hearing Loss’ magazine which came out yesterday.  The site was very positively reviewed by Jean Straus in the “Time In” section on page 36 and described as: “just what the doctor ordered”.  Great publicity!

It means a huge amount to me that other people are finding the site useful.  One lady (deaf since the age of 2 and knows a huge amount about hearing loss) still founds lots of new information to help her which makes me feel a huge sense of satisfaction.  Another lady said that it will be a constant source of reference to help herself and her daughter ….. RESULT!!  If my site is already helping people, then it’s doing its job!

Another benefit of the site is that it’s not just helping other people but it’s also hugely helping me.  I’m more informed and empowered about the latest news on hearing loss than I’ve ever been before – keeping an eye on news sites every day (looking for titbits and scoops for the Soundz Off Facebook page www.facebook.com/soundzoff) is opening my eyes to the massive amount of work being done by people all over the world.  There suddenly seems to be a tsunami of effort, determination and innovation heading our way!  Not sure whether this was already there and I hadn’t realised it or that it’s the perfect example of serendipity – whichever, it’s great news either way!

Unfortunately the AOHL magazine isn’t online yet but the review is shown below, page 36.  And remember to like and share our Facebook page too – thank you!!

AOHL article Nov 2014

Shake it Off! They’re looking at me like I’m cray cray crazy!

Every now and again something makes me stop and laugh, usually a daft clip of kittens doing something ridiculous on Youtube.  But this week saw me dancing about to a great clip of pimped hearing aids which has been set to the catchy Taylor Swift song: “Shake It Off”.

“Pimped hearing aids, what’s that?” I hear you cry.  Well a young lady named Aimee-Louise Paddock has created a fab song to go with hundreds of photos on a Facebook page called “Pimp my hearing aids and CIs”.  It is mind-blowing!  You’ve never seen funky hearing aids like this before – coloured tubing, glitter and covered in nail foils, wraps, sparkles and ribbons, plus hundreds of hearing aid charms – for boys, girls and adults – of all sorts of animals, flowers and cartoon characters. Even Swarovski Crystals are getting in on the act!

Aimee-Louise is promoting the great message that parents shouldn’t have to teach children to hide their hearing aids …. they should decorate them and wear them with pride as it definitely improves the kids’ confidence levels.  What a great message! Considering 80% of people currently say they want a hearing aid that’s invisible (due to the outdated ‘stigma’ of being thought of as disabled) this message obviously still has quite a way to go in reaching the public consciousness but this is a great start.  It’s made me smile …. and start thinking about how I’d like to pimp MY hearing aids!

VoxSciences gets my vote!

When you’re hard of hearing, not being able to hear on the telephone can have all sorts of unexpected consequences, most of them frustrating!  Having struggled for years to hear voices clearly on phone calls, I’d finally given up and resorted to using text messages only – it got the message across yet I missed chatting to family and friends like I used to.

However, good news was on the horizon.  There’s a free app called VoxSciences which uses voice recognition software to translate phone conversations into text messages.  The person leaves a message on your voicemail, then the app translates it and sends it as a text message a few minutes later.  At last!  A way to avoid misunderstandings, missed meetings and urgent messages.

This really saved my bacon recently with a family emergency that involved a mad dash to the local Accident & Emergency department and frantic phone calls.  VoxSciences made it possible for people to let me know what was happening and for me to keep in touch with people at a time when we were all under great stress.

Without this app, the experience would have been even worse – so they get my vote as App of the Week!!

http://www.voxsci.com/

“There was an old lady who swallowed a fly …..

….. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die”.  I never thought I’d be sitting in a community centre with six other grown women singing children’s songs on Friday afternoons, but this is a new and rather enjoyable habit of which I’m becoming rather fond.  No, we’re not singing children’s songs just for the fun of it but because it’s an extremely effective way to learn BSL (British Sign Language).

I’ve been attending a weekly course for about 12 weeks now and it’s been a revelation.  I’ve always enjoyed learning languages – I learned Pitman Shorthand at secretarial college and thoroughly enjoyed being able to write in lines and squiggles which nobody else could understand yet which made perfect sense to me – so learning yet another ‘different’ language is a wonderful experience.  So far we’ve learned letters, numbers, days of the week, the weather, colours, food, seasons, animals, different greetings …. and I’m fascinated by the rich context between signs and language.  I seem to learn better if I understand how each sign links to the word – for example, wafting your hands gently from side to side like leaves falling from trees seems an extraordinarily imaginative invention for the word “Autumn”, yet it makes total sense at the same time.  I’m lapping it up!

We spend 90 minutes learning our new signs for the week then the tutor helps embed that learning by incorporating them into songs we all know such as “the Lion Sleeps Tonight” (from the Lion King), or “Old McDonald had a Farm”.  Honestly, it’s not often that I sit in a room giggling like a child but to do it in such good company, knowing that I’m learning something so useful as well as interesting, is a real joy.

Sign language isn’t something I specifically need to use right now but it’s always at the back of mind that, one day, this is the language I will need to know in order to communicate with other people.  Nobody can predict how far my hearing loss will deteriorate but it’s better to be a good Girl Scout and “be prepared” so I’m starting early!

There are very useful apps out there which can help too.  “Sign It Lite” has short video clips of more than 700 common BSL signs so there’s no excuses for forgetting or not completing my homework!  “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly ……..”

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/sign-it-lite/id578750713?mt=8

sign it lite

 

Amazing apps in the pipeline

One of the things I do as part of keeping the Soundz Off website up-to-date is to trawl through the latest news on hearing loss every day to keep up with what’s happening with new technology.  It’s amazing what you find!  This week I’ve found two really useful apps which will make it possible for deaf or hard-of-hearing people to have conversations with other people again – both on the phone and in group situations.

My inability to hear on the phone has been a real bugbear for about 18 months now but, fingers crossed, this problem looks like it’s going to evaporate into thin air in the next couple of years thanks to a great new app which has just raised funding through Kickstarter to launch a prototype in early 2015.

RogerVoice is the first worldwide app to transcribe live telephone conversations into text (using voice recognition software) allowing deaf and hard-of-hearing people to read the other person’s comments on their phone, tablet or PC almost simultaneously.  No more delay while a third-party human relay assistant transcribes the call … I find this absolutely mind-blowing!  Plus it already translates into 150 different languages, wow!

Most people take telephones for granted but, for me, the freedom to pick up the phone and call a friend, chat with my Mum, ring for a take-away or complain about my internet service (that’s another story) has long been a distant memory.  To think that I can soon re-join the world of the telephonically connected has me dancing up and down with joy.  Check it out at www.rogervoice.com

Another interesting app is transcence which acts as a speakerphone and transcribes group conversations into text so you can see which member of the group said what.  There’s nothing more dispiriting than sitting in a group and feeling left out as you fail to keep up with the conversational ball while people laugh and joke (I always miss the punchlines).  This will make it possible to feel like one of the ‘gang’ again – yayhay! www.transcence.com

These modern aids to technology are amazing – created by and for people who are deaf or have deaf friends or family – and I’m so grateful that I live in an age where these technological advances are possible.

grateful