Stanford Article: Seeing at the Speed of Sound

I love “Seeing at the Speed of Sound,” a long article by Rachel Kolb that could’ve very well been written by me. I can relate to dealing with mumblers, people with accents, spy comments, darkness and encounters with the deaf community.

Not only is it hard to lipread mumblers and people with accent, but others as she lists them. “People with thin lips; people who mumble; people who speak from the back of their throats; people with dead-fish, unexpressive faces; people who talk too fast; people who laugh a lot; tired people who slur their words; children with high, babyish voices; men with moustaches or beards; people with any sort of accent.”

My older son, 15 years old, wears his hair long. And it gets to the point where his bangs cover his eyes. I can’t talk to him like that. It feels like a barrier to communication even though it has nothing to do with his lips. Like Kolb says, people with unexpressive faces are harder to understand. So not being able to see his eyes is probably part of that.

Response to Viewpoint about Deaf Community

Hunger Games captionsI appreciate Kayla Davis sharing her experience as the child of parents who are deaf in January 4’s Viewpoints. However, readers need to hear (no pun intended) another person’s perspective. When my parents found out I was born profoundly deaf, they chose to raise me orally. As a result, I learned how to communicate by reading lips and speaking instead of using sign language.

Like Davis’ parents, I’ve run into awkward situations like being offered a wheelchair. While riding an elevator, my husband’s co-worker asked him if I could read Braille on the elevator’s buttons. When my husband first told his mother about me, she asked if I can talk. “Yes, in three languages,” he said.

Yes, some people misjudge us deaf folks. It’s often because they have little experience with us and need a little education; even well-educated people like Vice President Al Gore. After I talked to him, he said thanks in sign language. I thanked him and revealed that I didn’t know sign language. It wasn’t to embarrass him – it was to teach him and those listening to our conversation that not all deaf people are the same. Helen Keller said it well: “The highest result of education is tolerance.”

Davis rightfully expressed frustration with her parents’ neighborhood theater, which stopped providing captions. She also explained they had to wear bulky caption glasses to view movies. Maybe she’s not aware, but Cinemark offers a different captioning technology.

Hunger Games captionsCinemark has a bendable arm with that fits into the theater seat cup holder. Attached to the arm is a small display with the captions. It allows me to see most movies with family and friends without the uncomfortable glasses. Sure, the device is noticeable, but no one has given me strange looks.

I also take issue with her disappointment in ABC Family’s Switched at Birth. The show’s writers have done an excellent job of educating the audience on the diversity of the deaf population. The writers compromised by having the main deaf character speak, read lips and use sign language. They have introduced deaf characters with a variety of communication traits. For example, one regular deaf character uses sign language and never speaks. Because Davis quit viewing the show after a season and a half, she missed a few insightful episodes, one of which was entirely in sign language.

It’s ironic that Davis writes, “They [deaf people] are unique individuals, and they are just like us.” This is what Switched at Birth is about — unique individuals who communicate in different ways and come from families where some know sign language and some don’t. It’s not a perfect show, but it’s a great resource for educating people about the deaf.

Another valuable resource is the Special Needs Partnership of Dallas Jewish Family Services’ “Inclusion Experience: Taking a Walk in Different Shoes,” an educational program for schools, youth groups and organizations. Its interactive, multi-sensory curriculum simulates the effects of a variety of developmental and physical disabilities to build awareness and create an environment of inclusion and empathy.

Closed-Captioned Video Examples

Char James Tanny put together a great list of resources on captioned videos. I wanted to capture it here so I could embed videos, share a few notes and post screen shots from YouTube.

They are examples showing how the following types of videos differ:

No Captions

Only people with no visual or hearing impairments can enjoy a video without captions, transcripts, or audio descriptions.

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Basic Captions (Built-in)

Captions help those who cannot hear for any reason. They could be deaf or hard-of-hearing or they could work in a quiet or a noisy environment where they can’t listen.

Note: The problem with videos having built-in captions is they won’t show up on YouTube when searching for cc videos. This video does not appear in the search when filtering for cc videos.

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Basic Captions (Turn on/off)
This one also has captions, but you need to click the CC symbol to turn them on. This gives the user control over closed-captions. This way you don’t have to create two separate videos. You create one video and let the user decide.

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Transcripts display the words being spoken. In addition to the same benefits as captions, they also add search engine optimization benefits. (On YouTube, click Show More under the video to find the transcript.)

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Audio descriptions
Audio descriptions further enhance the video by explaining what is happening. It’s like having someone read the script to the person who is listening. For example: [Gibbs slaps Tony on the back of the head.] Tony: Hey!

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ASL / sign language
Videos with sign language are specifically designed for those who understand sign language. (Remember not all deaf and hard of hearing people know sign language. Yet most know English, so closed-captions can reach a broader audience.) YouTube has more than 40,000 ASL videos. The IRS has posted several videos to provide tax information.

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Search for CC Videos

To search for videos with captions:

  1. Enter a search term.
  2. Press Enter or Return.
  3. Select CC (closed caption) from the Filter drop-down menu.
YouTube Search Filter

How to filter cc videos on YouTube

This screen shot shows the result after filtering videos by cc. Notice the cc symbol in the entry. A video with built-in captions will most likely not make the cut or have the symbol like the example.

YouTube Search Results for CC

Results of YouTube search using cc filter

Google also allows you to filter for closed captioned videos.

Search Google for CC videos

Filter closed-captioned videos in Google

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What Do Hearing Loss, Hearing Aids and Cochlear Implants Sound Like?


Image from user Ambrozjo

I had been looking for resources that show those with normal hearing what it’s like to hear with different levels of hearing loss, hearing aids and cochlear implants. I had two resources in an old blog post and found three more today, so I’m combining them in this post.

As I come across more resources, I’ll add them. The bottom half of this post has an explanation on what it’s like for me to hear.

Hearing simulations

Hearing loss demos demonstrates what various degrees of hearing loss sound like. It has a variety of sound clips (singing, birds, telephone, musical instruments, etc.) and how they sound to someone with normal hearing, mild to moderate hearing loss and moderate to severe hearing loss.

How I Hear is an interactive tool that lets you press play on the clip and then toggle to configure severity.

What it sounds like demonstrates what a simple sentence sounds with a hearing aid, cochlear implant hook up day, a few days later and two weeks later. To me, “normal” sounds best — full, strong sound. Hearing aids sounds softer. Beeps and blips sounds like … beeps and blips. Interesting, the “quacky voice” sounds better than the “clearer” voice.

This PowerPoint file is a simulation of what a cochlear implant sounds like. Be sure to play the presentation to see it work.

The following clever video from “The Flintstones” changes the sound to show you how someone with normal hearing, mild hearing loss and moderate hearing loss hears the show. (Source: wunderlife)


This “Cochlear implant: simulation on speech and music” video is a simulation of what users of a cochlear implant hear for speech and music. (Source: wunderlife)

Hearing Loss Simulation through “Hear the World” song

Hear Loss Simulation with Dinah Shore

What it’s like to be hearing impaired


What it’s like for me to hear

I was born profoundly deaf, started wearing hearing aids at age 1, attended roughly 10 years of speech therapy and received a cochlear implant in my early 30s. I’ve always been able to recognize human voices. Most of the time, I could tell you if it was a man, woman or child. But I could not translate the speech into understandable English.

It’s like this image.

French clip

The following questions don’t apply if you’re fluent in the language shown in the image.

  • Can you tell what the image is? If yes, that’s like my ability to figure out I’m hearing someone talking as opposed to animal and other sounds.
  • Can you tell what language it is? If so, that’s like my ability to figure out if it’s a man, woman or child talking.
  • Can you figure out a few of the words? If yes, that’s like my ability to recognize words — people saying my name or a common word like “Hello.”
  • Can you translate the paragraph and memorize it? If yes, add music and it’s like my learning the lyrics to a song and being able to follow it.

This applies to both hearing aids and the cochlear implant. The only difference is that I pick up more sounds and from further away with the cochlear implant. However, it didn’t increase (not noticeable anyway) my ability to translate human speech into English.