Monday, December 29, 2008

The Dimmer-Switch

Scientists say there's a dimmer-switch in the brain that tells the ears to slow the flow of signals when hearing becomes difficult because of outside noise. That prevents distortion, like you would hear when a radio is turned up too loud. That circuitry begins to fail with age and Robert Frisina of New York's University of Rochester is trying to figure out why.

Frisina and his fellow researchers published material about the so-called cocktail party problem
about 6 years ago that showed the drop off begins to happen between the ages of 38 and 52. It becomes much worse in people past age 62.

Frisina hopes to use mice that are genetically altered mice to explore evidence that problems in this wiring harm the inner ear. He hopes to find a way to intervene to slow down the age-related hearing problem.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Born with Partial Hearing, Teen Now Plays at Kennedy Center

Grace Yu was born with less than half her hearing intact. At the age of four her disability was discovered. That same year, she began playing the violin by feeling the sounds through vibrations. A decade later, she performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Grace won a competition to earn the right to perform at the event last month. She now attends Louisville Collegiate School and plays in the Louisville Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Grace used hearing aids early in life but gained 70% hearing in one ear at the age of nine. Last year, she had a second sugery and now has 90% hearing.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Texas Carjacking

Houston police are on the look out for two men who carjacked a 1990 Windstar van in the southwest part of the city. Two women, three children and older deaf man were inside at the time. They were found safe a half-hour after the attack. No one was injured but the men are still on the loose.

Teaching Baby Signs

Fox News reports on the value of teaching sign language to babies.

Missing Girl

Police are looking for a 12-year-old deaf girl who’s been missing since last week from her home in Union City, California. Sabrina Ramirez had been depressed, according to her mother. She may have run away – not only has she run away before, Sabrina’s backpack and some clothing were missing. Police are asking the public for help in locating her.

Monday, December 22, 2008


This Friday’s episode of the ABC show Supernanny will feature a deaf couple. Dorothy and Kip Baulisch of Papillion, Nebraska, are deaf parents raising four hearing children. Their eldest daughter is at odds with her parents over their dependence on her to serve as an ever-present interpreter for the other children. They’ve nearly given up giving any discipline to the children. The show first aired in October.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Signing Santa

Deaf kids in Topeka, Kansas are getting the chance to tell Santa exactly what they want for Christmas. KTKA-TV reports.

Gallaudet's Sorenson Building

The new communications center on Gallaudet’s campus has a deliberate green design and its space encourages visual interaction – perfect for using sign language. The James Lee Sorenson Language and Communications Center will be certified through the US Green Building Council. At a cost of $22 million the 87,000-square-foot center opened this fall showing a design put together with the help of deaf architect George Balsley. The space, natural light, form, composition and material are all eco-friendly and deaf-friendly. Inside the Sorenson building is the school’s Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning along with several educational departments, the student media center and the hearing and speech center.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Implant Numbers

About 38,500 people in the have cochlear implants and about 15,500 received them as children, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

New Banking Technology

KRIV-TV has the story of how a bank in Houston is trying new technology to better work with deaf and hard-of-hearing customers (no captioning).

Cochlear Upgrade

The latest cochlear technical upgrade is a speech processor. It’s designed to improve music quality for users. The privately owned Austrian firm Med-El introduced the thumb-size device that hooks on the ear this summer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Father and Daughter Get Implants

A Missouri father and daughter both received cochlear implants. KMOV-TV St Louis has the story.

Deaf Man Will Stand Trial

Alex Smith has been ordered to stand trial in Chattanooga, Tennessee for killing a man who Smith says tormented him for years. Smith is deaf and confessed to the crime four years ago. But the court waited until doctors could determine whether he was competent to stand trial for killing Demond Foster. Smith has an IQ of only 64. The judge has already turned aside defense claims that his confession should not be admissible because of misunderstandings that arose during police questioning because of his deafness. Smith will now receive training in sign language and education on court proceedings to ensure he can follow the trial.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

In Search of a Gallaudet President

Gallaudet University’s Board of Trustees is starting the process of looking for a new president again. Only this time, members are preceding cautiously. The selection of Jane Fernandes two years ago lead to campus protests. Eventually, her nomination was withdrawn. But even after the controversy died down, the school faced accreditation problems and falling enrollment.

This time around, a series of town halls meetings and gatherings with alumni groups will pepper the presidential selection process. Finalists will meet with students, faculty and staff on campus next fall. Interim President Robert Davila will then step down at the end of the year, making way for the new Gallaudet leader.

Here’s the make up of the search committee: Seven of the 11 members are deaf, seven are women, five are people of color, four are trustees. There is an administrator, an undergrad professor, a graduate school professor, and an undergraduate student. The fact there is no graduate student on the committee was not lost on the students. Many of them showed up at last week’s campus town hall meeting with T-shirts of hands signing graduate student. In response, the board has agreed to put a graduate student on the search committee.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Raising the Bar at Gallaudet

The figures from a national survey of colleges is out and Gallaudet University is paying close attention. The Washington, DC school is using information from the National Survey of Student Engagement to rework its undergraduate curriculum and institutional mission.

Gallaudet came in close to the national average on questions like, “Did you discuss grades or assignments with an instructor”? And “did you received prompt written or oral feedback from faculty on your academic performance?”

But Gallaudet wants to improve its numbers, given the institution’s recent run-in with accreditation officials that threatened its status as a school. Each of Gallaudet’s departments will turn in to administrators an “action plan” that will explain how they will make greater effects to connect and support students. For instance, faculty members teaching remedial math courses have committed to meeting outside of the classroom with student with low grades at midterm. Many students are failing these courses and a plan to to improve their grades at the halfway mark could make the difference.

Silent Sleigh

KGPE-TV in Fresno reports on Christmas festivities for deaf children (no captioning provided).

Friday, December 12, 2008

Brain Cells May Restore Hearing

Some US scientists say a transplant of brain cells might be used to repair damaged hearing in the elderly. These stem cells act like inner ear hair cells and can reproduce. About a tenth of aging hearing loss comes from damage to inner hair cells. Details are in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The BBC has more information on the research in this article.

Major Leaguer At Gallaudet

Gallaudet University has a new baseball coach. Former major leaguer Curtis Pride has taken the job. He was the first full-season deaf player in the major leagues. Pride was born deaf but never learned sign language. Instead, he can lip read. He’ll learn ASL from the players and probably take some classes. Pride also plans to offer baseball camps for high school students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Although hopes are high for the season that starts in February, Pride says he wants to teach, not just the fundamentals of baseball but the fundamentals of life.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Deaflympics Documentary

National Geographic plans to chronicle the 21st Summer Deaflympics taking place in Taipei, Taiwan during September of 2009. The Deaflympics documentary will premiere in 2010 at Gallaudet University.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Radio Captioning

National Public Radio plans to offer captions for its main radio programs by the end of 2009. NPR Labs is using new digital radio technology to deliver signals to new captioned radio receivers. NPR’s goal is to generate captions for about 100 hours of live programs per week. The HD radio technology was tested during the election, to allow the deaf to enjoy NPR’s coverage that evening.

The plan is to combine the radio with an IBM speech-to-text program that's under development. That would give listeners real-time translation, rather than a typical 20 minute delay. The NPR researchers developing the technology will meet with receiver makers next month to encourage them to produce units capable of decoding and displaying the captions. Harris Broadcast has contributed $50,000 to the effort along with engineering support.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Interpreter Denied By Medical Office

A deaf patient denied an ASL interpreter by a medical office has agreed to a settlement. Medbrook Medical Associates in Bridgeport, West Virginia required his sick wife to serve as an interpreter for him. He was told the office would never hire interpreters. The US Justice Department says office will pay $8000 in damages and $1000 in civil penalties. The doctors at Medbrook have agreed to make a new policy in line with ADA law, post it in waiting rooms and train their staff on how to deal with deaf patients.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Extreme Makeover Family May Lose Home

Four years after a deaf couple form Michigan appeared on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, they are in danger of losing their home. The ABC show made renovations to their Detroit-area home that helped them better deal with their blind and autistic son. The broadcast set a ratings record for the show. After their appearance on the show, Larry was laid off and they remortgaged their home.

Now Judy and Larry Vardon face foreclosure. Their mortgage has nearly doubled while Larry fears losing his job in the auto industry because of trouble in the industry. At the same time, insurance doesn’t cover their son’s therapy, so medical bills are piling up.

Friday, December 5, 2008

ASL Credit at Boston School

Tufts University near Boston may soon offer credit to students taking American Sign Language classes as a foreign language requirement. A committee of students has approved the idea and made a recommendation to the Arts and Sciences faculty. They’ll vote on the idea next week. Tufts now offers three ASL courses and the school has had no trouble filling up seats in those classes.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Phones for Gallaudet

The student academic center at Gallaudet University will open four videophone booths with free video relay service tomorrow. The equipment comes from relay service provider Sorenson Communications. The new videophones come with an enhanced 911 feature that allows an emergency dispatcher to verify the caller's address through the 10-digit phone number when the caller dials 911. That will also help VRS users receive phone calls. Instead of dialing two numbers, one for the relay operator and one for the person they are trying to call, now a caller can reach a VRS user directly, using the 10-digit phone number. An interpreter will answer the call and provide assistance to both the caller and the receiver.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Signing Santa

KCNC-TV reports on a signing Santa Claus spoke with hundreds of Denver area children (no captioning).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

School in Lockdown

The California School for the Deaf in Fremont went into lockdown today at lunchtime after police alerted the school of a gunman in the area. School officials brought the students inside where they remained for several hours until the lockdown was lifted. Police had surrounded an apartment a few blocks from the school. About 450 children attend the school. Several hundred live on campus.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Deaf Community

KPHO-TV in Phoenix explain why there is an effort to create a deaf community in the area. (no captioning provided).

Babies with Implants

Researchers at Bowling Green State University are looking at the way mothers talk to their babies with cochlear implants and how those infants respond. They say most of these children are way behind their peers in their understanding of sounds because the implant distorts noise, making it difficult to for them to distinguish one from another. This makes their mothers' speech patterns very important. The researchers are also looking at whether mothers talk differently once they know the child has a hearing loss and how that may impact the baby. Some research suggests that mothers will change their speech patterns and this may impact a child’s learning ability.

The study is being conducted with the help of the Indiana University School of Medicine and a nearly $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Team of the Year

The eight-man South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind football team has been given the title of team of the year by DeafDigest Sports. The private e-mail newsletter also named Wisconsin as a team of the year. This is the first time the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind has been recognized. The team won seven games and only lost one time, against Alabama School for the Deaf.