Please consider trending #captionthis across the twitter-sphere on June 6th. The movement seeks to build awareness about the lack of captions/subtitles on web video content. The dearth of accessible online video content is a growing concern to the Deaf and hard of hearing communities. A wide range of institutions fail to subtitles the videos on their websites, including ESPN, CBS, Amazon, Apple, and more. You can write to these companies with a template letter and let them know you would like online videos to be accessible to everyone. Subtitles help more than just the deaf: older folks with hearing loss, young children learning to read, and search engines can all benefit from subtitles. Thanks for your support.

We will trend #captionthis across twitter on June 6th, 2012.


Watch a video to learn more about this movement:


Related Posts:

Amara Subtitles Paves the Way

The New Iphone With Bigger Screen: Better Captions

Netflix Has No Captions..Yet



Travel Hearing Aids and Hearing Loss

Here are my tips and tricks for traveling with a hearing loss and hearing aids. Updated for 2012 from my popular post several years ago.

Traveling is as an opportunity worth taking advantage of. Nothing challenges the brain more than completely immersing oneself in a foreign language and culture.

In 2001, I suddenly experienced the urge to break out of my comfort zone and head to a place I’d never been. I picked Peru.
Part of the experience meant coming to grips with my own hearing impairment and doing so on my own, without assistance. I took on the Spanish language and worked through countless moments where I didn’t hear what a person is might normally hear: an announcement for a flight, a question about my background at the bank, a demand for money by a policeman. The world isn’t interested in always being understanding of peoples differences, especially not while demanding a bribe or your wallet. I came out the other end of that experience a little wiser. Here are some tips and tricks for deaf folks that want to travel:

1. Travel Announcements and Assistance from Airlines

I’m often nervous that I won’t make my flight, bus, or train because I won’t hear the announcement for departure. It doesn’t help that the announcements are usually broadcast on low quality PA systems.

I usually set a vibrating alert on my phone for the departure time. You could also use a watch with a vibrating alarm, but I have mixed feelings about how well those work.

Modern airports have TV screens that announce the flight at your gate. You can also ask for assistance when you check in at the airport. Someone might escort you to the gate and make sure you hear the announcement. However, don’t count on assistance from an industry that never makes a profit and is constantly downsizing.

I often find it more productive to approach random citizens and ask if I might get a tap on my shoulder when the transporting vehicle is leaving. Most people want to help. I’ve grown less and less nervous about missing a flight or bus over the years. It hasn’t happened once. Be willing to approach people you don’t know- there are a lot interesting people in the world to meet. I once met a ex Nazi piano player on a train from Zurich to Bern when I asked for assistance (I’m of half Jewish stock).

2. Learning a Language

No reason why you can’t do this. I recommend immersing yourself completely and ditching your native language. This language hacking guide dishes out some great advice. The best way to get started is to hire a tutor for one on one conversation and practice. I went to an incredibly cheap school in Quetzatanango, Guatemala and spoke with a native speaker for 5 hours every day. I was exhausted at the end of the experience but I came out speaking Spanish.

I’m a very visual learner (like most of those with long term hearing loss) and used several vocabulary and grammar books to assist me on the way. However, speaking ever day with a native speaker was the best way to get started. I also recommend walking up to little kids. Kids love to correct people and have the time and patience to speak with you.

Lip reading in a foreign language is tough to learn. I still can’t lip rid in Spanish anywhere near like I do in English. It takes a lot of time and there are no shortcuts. You just have to be around people.

Learn how to say, “I didn’t you what you just said, could you repeat that? I wear hearing aids”. Practice saying it without a hint of defensiveness or insecurity. Say it matter of fact like you would say, “The weather is nice today”.

3. Protecting your Hearing Aids

Many countries outside the U.S. are hot and humid. The electronics in your hearing aids hate moisture and despite the modern aqua-phobic coatings on hearing aids, you will need to get a small drying kit. This is especially true with CIC and RIC hearing aids.

And I recommend bringing a inexpensive backup hearing aid that can be powered by the sun and rechargeable batteries (because you can’t assume you’ll be around an electrical outlet or have easy access to hearing aid batteries). Speaking of batteries: bring your own for your main set of hearing aids.

Have one or two places tops that you place your hearing aid when you aren’t wearing them. I have two places: a waterproof case and my shirt pocket. A protective case is a must because you want to make sure they don’t get banged up in your bag (or wet).

Also important: extra hearing aid batteries, cleaning brush, extra domes if you need them, and extra wax guards if you use an RIC type hearing aid.

4. Assistive Technology

I like to be able to text or IM people in foreign nations. Cell phones are ubiquitous now, even in broken down industrial cities and poor rural towns. I’ve seen little Guatemalan ladies on the bus in the middle of nowhere attending to their cell phone. Women all over India run their businesses through a phone.

It is best to get a cheap cell phone that you can use replaceable SIM cards with. You’ll also need the appropriate plug adapterfor the country you are visiting. Look for a phone with a good keyboard. If you are texting someone in a foreign language and the alphabet characters are different than here, use a translator.

5. Cultivate Patience

More Resources:

Speak Up Librarian distills some great advice about traveling with CI’s and hearing aids.
Gimp on the Go as some great advice for hard of hearing folks who travel.
Advice from the American Academy of Otolaryngology


According to John Gruber over at Daring Fireball, the new iPhone will have a bigger screen. 4 inches instead of 3.5 inches.

For the sake of argument let’s take it as a given that the next iPhone will sport an 1136 × 640 display, with the same 326 pixels-per-inch resolution as the iPhone 4 and 4S, the same width, but an extra 176 pixels in height, changing the aspect ratio from 3:2 to 16:9.

[read more…]


Amara Subtitles Hearing Impaired

Amara, the free/open subtitling/dubbing project that used to be called Universal Subtitles, landed $1,000,000 in funding from the Knight Foundation and Mozilla. Amara is run by the Participatory Culture Foundation, a charitable nonprofit that produces technologies to increase and deepen the average person’s ability to participate in the online world.

This is potentially great news for the HOH and Deaf communities out there. Video on the web has become increasingly ubiquitous and I find myself watching shows and movies online more than ever. Unfortunately most of those videos still don’t have captioning or subtitles. Amara looks to change that. I still use the web instead of cable for most of my contet these days. I’ve ditched cable because its over-priced, littered with advertising, and doesn’t provide content a la carte.

If I rent a DVD from Netflix I can simply turn the English subtitles on or use Closed Captioning. But more often I will download a movie or show from the web and add English subtitles myself from a site like Its a bit cumbersome, but after I download show I’ll head over to, search for the appropriate .srt file, upload the file to the same folder where the content is, rename the .srt file so that it matches the name of the movie/show content file, and then play it on my open source VLC player. Thats a workable solution but I wish that online videos simply came with an open source subtitle and captioning solution built in. Between the FCC and Amara this vision might take place.

The future portal for video content is clearly the web. This creates a number of challenges for closed captioning. First of all, there seems to be an endless proponderance of different video formats and standards- some free and open source and others proprietary. Try and wrap your head arond this article: Its not going to be easy to come up with one simple solution that puts words on the video screen for all of these formats.

The second problem I see is the sheer volume of content out there. Amara approaches this problem by tapping into a community of people out there to write the subtitles for videos. A currently far-fetched and unreasonbly solution is something like a live and automatic translator. Google is testing out such a feature on YouTube but it really doesn’t work very well.

The good news is that there are huge communities of people out there that happily and on their own time without pay, write up subtitles for a huge number of shows and movies out there. Amara can help to utilize the power of those communities.

I’ll have a lot more to say about this in the future because I’m still frustrated with the overall lack of captioning and subtitles on video content. iTunes does a fairly poor job of providing captioned content (new stuff only) and Netflix has been incredibly slow to implement captioning over years. Some Hulu content comes with captioning but not nearly enough. There is morass of legal, economic, technical issues at play here.

Note: yes, English subitles and Captioning are really two different things. Subtitles simply re-write the dialogue on the screen. Captioning goes a step further by describing backround sound and noises to the viewer. Giving HOH poeple non-verbal but auditory cues.




Imgres 3

“The rental model is a money-driven thing. Some finance person looked at AOL getting paid every month and said, ‘I’d sure like to get some of that recurring subscription revenue. Wouldn’t that be nice?’ It’s certainly not a user-driven thing. Nobody ever went out and asked users, ‘Would you like to keep paying us every month for music that you thought you already bought?'” –Steve Jobs on music subscriptions

I think we are going to see a number of hearing device companies in the future go with the subscription based selling model. In other words, they will sell hard of hearing folks the “service of hearing”. There are a number of companies out there are already subscribing hearing to people: Phonak with their Lyric device (1 year for $3,000-$4,000), the Argentinia based non profit MAH, and iHear.

Its hard for me not to see this as anything but money-driven marketing fluff. Would you find it beneficial to you if I sold you something like a chair and said: ” I’m not selling you a chair, I’m offering you the wonderful service of sitting.” Great. As far as I’m concerned as a customer this is just a twist of words and a different payment system. I’m not excited.

To be fair, hearing is a much more powerful service to offer than a chair. There are also benefits to this situation: One could get continual updates to thier hearing devices as the year goes on. Manufacturers could make tweaks and upgrades that benefit the patient along the way. Someone considering a new pair of hearing aids might also be in a situation where its untenable to plop down $7,000 all at once. Instead they might be able to make a monthly payment that  was affordable. A win-win perhaps.

I’m still extremely skeptical of the hearing subscription model. Its hard for me to see how this really benefits patients. I’d like to see more evidence that the model is helping both revenues and patients alike.

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There is Nothing Wrong.

by dmsiggy on May 8, 2012

Josh Swiller, author of The Unheard: a Memoir of Deafness and Africa, is an excellent wordsmith and always worth listening to. He shares a passage from his new ebook.

Listen, I told all of them, and this, right here at the very beginning of this e-book (which apparently may not be the way to properly structure it) is the thing I most wish you to take from it: there is nothing wrong.  I’m going to bold that.  There is nothing wrong.  Large font: There is nothing wrong.  Happiness, be it yours or your children’s, does not depend on volume.  It does not have a decibel trigger.  If it did, shouldn’t rock stars be living in constant bliss?  Instead, most live with constant tinnitus, brutal hangovers, and deeply-ingrained embarrassingly adolescent behavior patterns.  So first off, before you use this book to begin to help your deaf child (or spouse or sibling or own self) please accept that in the deepest, most profound sense possible, absolutely nothing is wrong.

Couldn’t have said it any better.


Buying New Hearing Aids

by dmsiggy on May 6, 2012

buy new hearing aids

Why New Aids?

After 5 years of wearing my Widex Passion hearing aids, I’m ready for a new pair (Either a newer Widex model or a pair from a different company). My current aids have been unreliable for the past year. I’ve sent the instruments in for repair 3 times in the last year and the same problems keep returning. With new hearing aids I’m looking forward to the new technology out there:

  1. Pairing my iPhone with the hearing aids.
  2. Water resistant casing over sensitive electronics.
  3. More powerful amplification for the higher frequencies that I don’t hear (above 2,000 hz)
  4. Getting a telecoil to set up an FM microphone system in the car. The passenger will have a microphone that pipes sound directly to my hearing aids.
  5. Last and definetly not least: New and improved frequency lowering features.


“..the stockholders as a class are king. Acting as a majority they can hire and fire managements and bend them completely to their will. Though ownership may be widely scattered there is no legal obstacle to many stockholders’ joining forces so as to create an effective majority voice on any issue that may arise.” –Benjamin Graham in the The Intelligent Investor

These things are going to cost me $6,800. If I were to live 75 years, the average male life expectancy in the United States, I will have spent $156,00 on amplifying the sounds around me (If I get new hearing aids as needed every 3-5 years because they don’t last forever). Hearing aids are a basic health care necessity for me and many others. They aren’t covered by health insurance that is supposed to cover for those needs- instead I will pay out of pocket.

Prices should come down as more and more people wear hearing aids. I expected that change 15 years ago. Nothing has budged. Hearing aid manufacturers and salespeople aren’t motivated to bring down those prices anytime soon. That could change if consumers were loud enough. This is part of a larger problem: our broken health care system.

The Models

I’ll be trying out three pairs of hearing aids and testing them over a thirty day period.  All are appropriate for the type of steeply sloping high frequency hearing loss I have. And each has the “frequency lowering” feature that improves my word recognition score from 50% to 80%. No other feature or quality of a hearing aid can do that. The hearing aid models I will try are:

  1. Widex Clear C4-FS.
  2. Phonak Audeo Smart IX.
  3. Starkey Wi Series.

Note: all of these are Reciever-in-the-Canal type hearing aids. There are pluses and minuses to this arrangement that I will explain in future posts. More to come..

Here is a visual (an audiogram) of the “problem” these aids are addressing (thanks to The blue line is my left ear and the red line is my right ear :

Check out my advice on traveling with hearing aids


Does the Rotary Dial Phone Sound Better Than Modern Phones?

Iwas recently listening to a local radio station here in the San Francisco Bay Area KPFA and I heard something that got me thinking about the quality of sound on phones today. The host was mentioning how much attention KPFA pays to sound quality- something you’d expect from a medium that deals entirely in sound. Moreover, the show receives phone calls all the time from guests and the sound quality tends to be anywhere on the poor to lousy side (guests call on their cell phones with frequent poor reception).So one day the the host received a personal call from his wife and was shocked at how clear and vivid the sound of her voice seemed. Outside of talking to his wife in person- he hadn’t ever experienced her voice (or anybody elses) so clearly over the phone before. He asked what she was calling on. It turned out she had bought an old rotary phone from a thrift store and was calling him on that. The analogue sound quality over that rotary phone was far better than any modern touch phone or cell phone in existence…

The Canadian radio broadcast, As It Happens, makes use of old fashioned rotary phones to call people around the world. The quality shows.

Love the raw and warm sound from cigar box guitars.. I’ve been inspired by Mark Frauenfelder over at to make my own guitar one of these days. With the guidance from Bill Jehle’s excellent DVD: How to Build a Guitar: the String Stick Box Method and the social network of cigar box guitar makers at Cigar Box Nation, I’m hoping to take on building one of my own soon.

If you haven’t heard of them- please check out Solar Ear -I’m the voice of their twitter account:

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I’m not as concerned with my voice as I am with my lisp that I have, you know, because I’m partially deaf.  And I was born that way, and it doesn’t mean that I have a speech impediment; it’s just that I don’t hear S’s.  My wife always tells me, when I’m singing “Mood for Love,” I’d say, ‘You give me a smile,’ and it sounds like you’re saying, ‘You give me a mile.’

James Moody, Saxophonist.

James Moody, the prolific saxophonist and flutist, with a killer voice too- passed away last month at the age of 85. NPR recently replayed an old interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air in remembrance. It was interesting to learn that Mr. Moody was born with a hearing impairment and he absolutely hated wearing his hearing aids when playing the Sax. I have to agree with him- but for a slightly different reason. I think a lot of modern DSP processing in hearing aids today get in the way of good music listening- unlike the analogue aids of his day. I also admire his perspective..Here is a snippet of the transcript:

GROSS: How old were you when you realized you had a hearing problem?

Mr. MOODY: I was born that way, and I never realized it. I still haven’t realized it because I hear what I hear, and that’s it. See, if you don’t know what you’re missing, how can you say what I miss, you know what I mean?

They were insistent that I wear a hearing aid because I would hear so much better, and I put this hearing aid on, and I’m telling you, I thought I was going to go nuts with the clanging and banging that I hear, you know, banging, and you could hear the tires of the car. I said: Oh my goodness, if people hear this. I mean, it’s nerve-wracking.

So what I did was I turned it off. And they said: Oh, isn’t that much better? I said: It certainly is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MOODY: You heard that joke, didn’t you, Terry, about the guy says: Oh man, he says, boy, I just spent $4,000 on this wonderful hearing aid, you know. And the guy said: Yeah? What kind is it? The guy said: It’s 12 o’clock.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: It took me a second, right. So did music sound different with the hearing aid?

Mr. MOODY: Oh, I wouldn’t dare do that. I wouldn’t dare put a hearing aide on and play music because if I put the hearing aid in, then it’s banging and clanging again, or clinking, yeah.


Hearing In the New Year

by dmsiggy on February 17, 2011

Hello All- I’ve been away from writing on HearingInformed for too long. Thank You to all the people from around the world who continue to visit my site (a couple of thousand a month). I’m thrilled that visitors are coming in from places like India, Ukraine, Malaysia, Brazil.. almost every continent. This shouldn’t be too surprising considering that WHO estimates there to be 600 million people who worldwide who are hearing impaired. That number will only be growing.

I have several continuing and new projects that I’m excited about:

-Contracting with Apple to help develop very professional online tutorials that show people how to use their products Great to work with so many smart people

-Volunteering with Solar Ear, an amazing NGO that manufactures and designs the worlds first solar rechargeable hearing aid. I assist them with strategic global marketing and social media. I’m exciting to be helping them raise a school for the Deaf and DR Congo:

-Consulting with a real estate company to design an internal GIS mapping database that assists them with investment opportunities and future clients. It’s very fun to apply GIS technology to a field outside of geology.

And for the blog I’m hoping to tackle a couple of big subjects:

-Insurance coverage for hearing aids (the lack of). Arggh. This is a very personal and frustrating area for me. There still isn’t very wide-spread coverage for hearing aids in existence outside of the Veterans Office.

-I’m going to work on setting up an FM system in my car. One of the worst places to hear is in the car and i’m hell bent on trying to use technology thats been around for quite a while. Im hoping to set up microphones and an FM receiver that will directly port sound into my hearing aids through a DAI or telecoil.

-I have more to say about cheap hearing aids vs. expensive ones. In a lot of cases I’m not convinced that more expensive aids are necessarily better. I’m doing a little experiment to compare my pricier aids with cheaper ones in a sound booth and out in the real world.

-Where is the future of hearing aids? There are a lot of exciting changes that lie ahead and I’ll be posting a series of interviews with folks that have lead the way in the hearing aid industry so far.

-Transpositioning. I continue to be a huge fan of the technology and I’ll have more to say about that. As a part of that discussion I’m going to append my review of the Widex Passions that I wear.

It will be a good year.


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