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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Human Factor

Today I had planned to use an assistive listening device to help me hear at a special meeting for work. The meeting took place at another university and I did all the right preparation. Two weeks ahead of time, I contacted the event organizer through email and asked him about the meeting room and whether there would be a single speaker or a panel of speakers. I was relieved when he told me it would be one speaker at a time with everyone in the same room listening. (I hate those meetings when people break up into groups and they all talk at once!) I told him about the small microphone I would bring and he said he would let the speakers know ahead of time about my request for them to wear it. Last night I carefully charged my Oticon Connectline microphone and streamer (the receiver unit which is worn like a necklace).

But I forgot to count in the human factor. Yep, that's me I'm referring to here. It took me longer than I expected to drive to the meeting's location. Instead of arriving early with time to introduce myself to the organizer and demonstrate my equipment, I came in to find the other attendees were already gathered in the auditorium and the lights were turned off in anticipation of the first PowerPoint presentation. I managed to make my way in the darkened room to the front row and grab an empty seat.

Fortunately, this auditorium was designed well for acoustics. Also in my favor, the first three people who spoke were men with strong voices that projected well. I could hear them from where I was sitting, perhaps ten to twelve feet away. There was a short break before the fourth speaker. When I saw that she was a woman, I decided I needed to approach her. While she was setting up her presentation, I asked her if she would be willing to wear my microphone. She graciously said yes and put it on immediately. Then I thought, I should test it while I'm still up here with her. So I put on my streamer and turned it on. Immediately my hearing aids switched over to their Bluetooth program. The woman spoke, but I could not hear her at all. I got flustered and decided to simply move to an empty seat closer to the podium. I retrieved my microphone and beat a hasty retreat.

I claimed a seat directly in front of the podium. I figured she already knew I couldn't hear well, so it wouldn't bother her to have me there. I was now within 6 feet of her. I learned at the HLAA convention, that 6 feet is about the maximum distance where hearing aids are effective (but I don't have a source for that, so please don't quote me).

When I looked down at the microphone, still clenched in my hand, I realized what I had done wrong. I had forgotten to tell the speaker to turn the microphone on. Oops. To compensate for my error, I turned my hearing aid volume up a notch and then one more and listened closely (eyes fixed on her mouth) as the presenter talked. She was followed by another woman. This presenter spoke a little more slowly and I followed her easily enough. After that, I was finished for the day. It had been two hours of intense listening, about the same amount of time as it took me to drive there and back home. It might have been made easier with an assistive listening device, if not for the human factor. But what can I say, I'm only human.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cleo's Pool Party

Cleo's pool party is an annual ALDA Chicago tradition dating back to 1987. I consider it one of our group's signature events. There are three gatherings each year that our members really come out in force for - the holiday party in December, the birthday party in the spring, and Cleo's pool party in the summer. Last year I missed out on it, so I was bound and determined to make it this year.

Pool during one of the rare moments it was empty.
The morning of the pool party, the Chicago area received heavy rains. Not a good sign, but the party is on rain or shine. Fortunately, the storm moved off by early afternoon. But I didn't realize that because I had dozed off while waiting for the storm to pass. As a result, I got to the party rather late so the socializing was in full swing when I arrived. I filled a plate of food and started mingling. It sure felt good to be around my deaf and hard of hearing friends again, giving and receiving hugs, sharing stories, and signing as best as we can.

My dear friend Cleo and me
I got to know Cleo when I was brand new to ALDA Chicago through working on a project together. Cleo is one of the charter members who got the group going 25+ years ago. Cleo and I are email buddies and my day is always brightened when a message from her comes to my in-box. She likes to include bright yellow smiley-face emoticons in her notes. I am so blessed to know her and just want to take a moment to say publicly: 

Thank you, Cleo, for all of your hospitality and friendship to ALDA Chicagoans over the years. We love you, Cleo!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Frustrated by Hearing Loss? 5 Keys to Communication Success

Today, it is my pleasure to tell you about this outstanding book by Dusty Ann Jessen, Au.D. Oh, how I wish I had received a copy of this book from my audiologist when I got my first pair of hearing aids eight years ago. It would have made such a difference as I adjusted to life with hearing aids. I think every new hearing aid buyer ought to go home with her list of common sense hearing aid expectations (see p. 17).

After getting my first pair, I had a coworker cross the room stopping at intervals to whisper "Can you hear me now?" like he was the Verizon Guy. Ugh. Another time while eating in a restaurant, someone asked if I could eavesdrop on a conversation at the next table. As if! I've had other people tell me "just turn them up" when I missed something they said. Most people see my hearing aids as the answer to all my hearing problems. I felt validated by Dr. Jessen when I read, "Hearing aids do not give people 'super human' hearing! But often times this what is expected of them."

I really liked that Dr. Jessen said her book is "less about hearing loss, and more about communication.” I had to nod my head in agreement when I read "we tend to communicate least effectively with those we are with the most." To address the communication breakdowns we experience in our daily life, Dr. Jessen provides tips for communicating better during normal activities such as spending time at home, riding in a car, eating at a restaurant, talking on the telephone, and attending a public event. For each of these situations, she applies her five keys of communication success: environment, speaker, listener, technology, and practice.

Featured on the cover of the book, Henry, the healthy hearing hound, appears in light-hearted illustrations throughout the book. Available in paperback, as well as for Kindle, iPad, and Nook, the book is 72 pages and includes a few pages for you to make your own notes on challenging communication situations you encounter.

You can order it online at Dr. Jessen's website Cut to the Chase Communication where you can also sign up for Henry's Weekly Successful Communication eTips delivered to your email. If you are an audiologist who wants to purchase multiple copies of the book to distribute to your patients, a discount price for bulk orders is available.

Friday, July 11, 2014

HLAA Convention: Day Four

On the final day of the convention, which is on Sunday, HLAA provides an accessible Christian worship service for all who wish to participate. This gathering had been one of the highlights of my convention experience in Milwaukee and I was happy to be able to attend again.

I was one of the first to arrive and I saw Ahme Stone getting our church bulletins ready. Ahme is the widow of Rocky Stone who founded Self Help for Hard of Hearing (SHHH) which later became the Hearing Loss Association of America. You could tell this special time set apart for prayer, songs, and worship meant a great deal to her. She was assisted by a man named Max McCarthy who led the singing. There was also a CART writer typing everything said onto a large screen. According to Max,  she "had the Spirit in her fingertips that morning". The worship service uplifted me and set the right tone for my day. Later on, I had the chance to quietly express my thanks to Ahme Stone. I'm grateful I had the chance to tell her how much her tradition means to me too.

The final event of the convention was an Awards Breakfast and Ceremony. Being new to HLAA, I was curious to learn more about the people who had contributed to the organization's success. One of the highlights for me was seeing Jacob Landis being honored with the Service Award. Last summer Jacob began a coast-to-coast 11,000 mile bike ride to visit every ball park in the U.S. Jacob, who has a cochlear implant, did this to raise funds for those who could benefit from a cochlear implant but cannot afford one. Unfortunately, he was hit by a semi truck and seriously injured on the way to his final stadium. Once he healed, he completed his trip this spring. What an inspiring young man! You can read more about him on the Jacob's Ride website.

Jacob Landis gives his acceptance speech
while emcee Michael Eury looking on
Many awards were given out, but eventually the program was over. Or so our emcee thought until a woman in a cowboy hat rushed onto the stage. As he stepped aside from the mic, he said, "This wasn't in the script." The woman announced there was one final award to present. She called Anna Gilmore Hall, Executive Director of HLAA, to the platform. When she arrived, the woman representing Texas HLAA, said with a drawl, "I'm looking forward to next year's convention in St. Louis so it's time for me to give you the boot!" Then she handed her a crystal cowboy boot with a bottle inside. What a great line and closing to the convention.

Anna Gilmore Hall gets the "boot"
Before I finish this post, I want to mention that it was my great pleasure to have met Alan Kutner, who organized the Show Us the Captions campaign participation in Pennsylvania and Jim DeCaro, board member of both HLAA and Discovering Deaf Worlds. I want to thank Jim Saunders, board member of HLAA, for helping me meet Anna Gilmore Hall and thank Anna for the time she made for me in her busy schedule at the convention. I also want to give a shout out to the new friends I made who weren't mentioned in these convention posts: Carolyn, Cynthia, Gloria, KarenMarcy, Patricia, and Vicki. I also want to share photos of two special ladies I met, Elise De Papp and Nancy Williams. I plan to stay in touch with all of you!

Elise De Papp and me
Me and Nancy Williams
Finally, I'd like to conclude my convention coverage with the message of Rocky Stone and HLAA that was included in our program books: Hearing loss is a daily challenge you can overcome. You do not have to hide your hearing loss. You do not have to face hearing loss alone.

Become a member or make a donation to HLAA at

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

HLAA Convention: Day Three

Saturday, What a Day!
- Happy Days theme song 

My last full day at the convention was packed full of information and fun. The morning began for me with the workshop "Finding Your Calling...Despite Hearing Loss". This seminar was taught by Nancy Williams of Grand Piano Passion. She told us her story about returning to playing the piano after 25 years. She led us in private reflections on possible childhood passions we may have abandoned as adults. Then we considered how we might overcome challenges to participating in those activities today. Finally, we made a commitment to ourselves on what our first steps would be to reclaiming those pursuits.

While we were completing these written exercises in our handouts, Nancy played her music for us, not on a grand piano, but on a more portable instrument, a keyboard. To further inspire us during this thoughtful time, she had Power Point slides of beautiful paintings for us to enjoy. It wasn't all solitary though. She asked us to talk over our discoveries with the person sitting beside us. She also invited people to share at the microphone if they were comfortable. I really liked the way Nancy organized this workshop and I learned more about public speaking from experiencing her presentation style. In case you're curious, the passion that surfaced for me, surprisingly, was my love for learning foreign languages.

Next, I attended a panel discussion with Heroes with Hearing Loss. You may be unaware of this, but hearing loss is the number one service-related injury affecting veterans. In 2011 alone, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs documented hearing loss related treatment for 1.5 million service men and women. Often overshadowed by the other challenges our service men and women face, hearing loss is nevertheless intertwined both physically and emotionally — as a trigger, a constant reminder or an every day frustration. It is a very unique and personal challenge for many veterans. [Text source: Heroes with Hearing Loss website]

The panel featured a moderator, an audiologist, and several men with military service. I found it fascinating to learn how these servicemen have turned their traumatic experiences into a benefit to other military families by sharing information on the resources available for veterans. They said that military personnel believe they are indestructible and it can be difficult for them to seek help when they need it. If they seem unwilling to have a discussion about their hearing loss with concerned family members or friends, they may be more open to listening to "one of their own". As you and I know, being public about your hearing loss requires courage. I salute these men who are real heroes on and off the battlefield.

After this presentation, I met with Valerie, my new friend from Florida. The two of us ventured outside the hotel for lunch. We walked over to a nearby restaurant called Z'Tejas. I'm giving this restaurant a plug on my blog because the food and service were excellent. We were seated on the outdoor covered patio where we had a beautiful view of the Texas hillside. Our waiter brought us cornbread in a mini cast iron skillet. My entree was a grilled vegetable torta: portobello mushroom, zucchini, yellow squash, roasted red bell pepper, spinach and tomato with cilantro pesto and roasted green chile vinaigrette on a telera bun. Absolutely delicious. It was nice having some down time from the conference to kick back, relax, and get to know someone new. This was Valerie's first time at HLAA and I confided to her that I had felt overwhelmed in Milwaukee and that this second time around was a whole different experience.

While we were still at the restaurant, I received a text message from Leslie, the woman I had met on the plane to Austin. She and her boyfriend Sam had come to the expo at HLAA and wanted to meet up with me. As soon as I got back to the convention and parted company with Valerie, I saw them. It was like greeting old friends. I was so thrilled to show them around the wonders of the vendors' exhibits. They were especially interested in the Hamilton CapTel and Caption Call booths as they had not known about captioned phones. All too soon, I had to leave them to attend my next workshop. I'm so glad they took me up on the invitation to come over to the HLAA vendor hall. I hope they stay in touch and perhaps we will meet again in St. Louis, the site of next year's convention.

Sam Trychin, Ph.D.
The next workshop I went to was "Conflict Resolution: A Positive Approach" presented by Dr. Sam Trychin. I was excited to learn from this man who is well known in the hearing loss community for his teaching and writing on communication strategies for coping with hearing loss. My last grad school class was a whole semester on conflict management. What I had been expecting to learn there, but didn't, I learned from Sam in just over an hour. He presented a step by step approach to resolving conflicts. "Where has this man been all my life?" I thought. I could have used this information decades ago. Better late than never, I suppose. I didn't leave until I had purchased the two books he had for sale: Problem Solving in Families: Suggestions and Procedures for Negotiating Behavior Changes Related to Hearing Loss (which contains the content presented in this workshop) and Living with Hearing Loss Workbook, 4th ed. If you would like to read these books yourself, you can order them through his website.

My final workshop of the convention was "Managing Hearing Loss with a Smile on Your Face" presented by Rose Minette of Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. She talked to us about signal to noise ratio. People with normal hearing need a +6 stronger signal than noise, but people with hearing loss can require a +15 to +20 stronger signal than noise. So there you have proof that it's really hard for us to hear in noise. I know I have almost felt as if I were "drowning" in noise at times.

Despite the difficulties hearing loss presents, there are ways you can advocate for yourself and help others understand your needs better. Rose gave everyone who attended a DVD called Let's Make It Clear produced by Texas DARS and starring Gael Hannan. You can find it on YouTube at or watch it below if you have the time. I highly recommend this nearly 20 minute captioned video. I could certainly relate to Louise's experiences and I need to use her technique of stopping a conversation gone wrong and starting over again.

The final event of my day was the Fiesta Banquet held in the conference hotel ballroom. The meal was delicious and the entertainer for the evening was comedienne Gael Hannen! She did a hilarious impersonation of the strategies us hard of hearing folk use to try to hear just that little bit better. I thought to myself, "Has she been spying on me?" I felt completely exposed but since I had never met her and people all around me were nodding their heads in agreement, I guess that's just how it is when you're hard of hearing. Pretty soon everyone in the room was laughing at how ridiculous we can be when we think we are fitting in and fooling everyone around us (not). Gael even put several of the moves into a lahn* dance routine and had us following along in our seats. At the end of the evening, she brought down the house with her declaration that we are all hohs - which of course sounds the same as the less flattering hos. I really can't explain why this was as funny as it was. You had to be there for that. This had been a day to remember, that's for sure.

*That's the Texas pronunciation of line. Gael is Canadian so it was quite funny hearing her speak in a fake Texas accent.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

HLAA Convention: Day Two

Photo from the HLAA Emerging Technology Symposium
This is what communication access looks like: There is a speaker at a microphone, in a looped room, with the spoken words projected on a large overhead screen in real-time, as well as an American Sign Language interpreter. Well done, HLAA!

Day two of the HLAA Convention featured a symposium on emerging technologies.  The first speaker, Bruce Borenstein,  represented a company called AfterShokz. This company sells headphones that use bone conduction. The way they work is their headphones fit around the back of your neck instead of over your head and the parts that usually sit in your ears rest instead on your cheekbones. Bruce, who is the President and CEO of the company, said these headphones were designed with runners in mind so they could keep their ears open to environmental noise (such as an approaching car).

During a question and answer session with the audience, I learned that these headphones are not intended for sensorineural hearing loss such as I have. But I was intrigued and thought I would like to try them out anyway. There was a long line forming of other people with the same idea so we were directed outside the auditorium. When it was my turn, I was amazed at what I heard through bone conduction. The music sounded so rich and full. I had not heard music sound like that before. You can learn more about the company and their products on their website at

The next company that presented was Etymotic Research, Inc. Mead Killon, founder, Chief Technology Officer, and President, and Gail Gudmundsen, Managing Director of Audiology demonstrated the next generation of Companion Mics® which allow four people at a time to be linked up as both listeners and speakers. This product is still in production and is not yet available for sale. I was interested in learning that the company has created a home hearing test with results that are comparable to the ones you get at the audiologist's office. You can learn more at their website

There was more to the symposium, but I had listened enough to have the wow factor. I left to explore the vendors' displays in the exhibit hall. I'll write more on that in another post.

Before coming to the convention, I had made plans to meet Dr. Dusty Jessen, workshop presenter and author of Frustrated by Hearing Loss: 5 Keys to Communication Success. I had purchased and read her book ahead of time and was interested in meeting her in person. We ended up having lunch together with her mom in the exhibit hall before her afternoon workshop. It was a pleasure meeting both of them. Dr. Jessen autographed my book and posed with me for a photo which her mom took of us. I will post a separate book review once I've finished this series on the HLAA convention. In the meantime, you can learn more by visiting her website at

Dr. Dusty Jessen and me with the book she wrote

After lunch I attended her workshop where I learned the following 5 facts:
  • 20% of Americans have hearing loss
  • 30% of Americans 65 and older have hearing loss
  • 50% of Americans 75 and older have hearing loss
  • Hearing loss is the 3rd most common health problem in America, following arthritis and heart disease
  • 100% of Americans are affected by hearing loss because it affects everyone around the people who have it.

Dr. Jessen said hearing aids are only one piece of the communication puzzle. She emphasized the importance of anticipation as the listener. She has seen her mom use this technique successfully. She also mentioned that you can get a car program for your hearing aids. This was news to me. I am going to ask my audiologist about that at my next visit as I often turn down the volume on my hearing aids to reduce unpleasant road noise.

After this, I returned to my hotel for a nap. I wanted to rest up because HLAA had an exciting outing planned for us that evening. At 5:30 p.m. we boarded buses and went to the historic Scholz Biergarten, a German barbecue place that offered Texas swing and line dancing.

I was amused by this sign at the entrance and couldn't resist snapping a photo of it. Perhaps HLAA should consider changing its name?

I had a wonderful time at the barbecue. My new friend Velda and I grabbed a seat at a picnic table in the outdoor patio area. Before long we were joined by other ladies and we soon had a successful group conversation going. I want to highlight this because it is not something I typically experience when I'm in a group situation. Each of us were careful to be sure everyone could hear and follow what we said. We took turns with only one of us speaking at a time. I enjoyed our conversation very much and will treasure the memory of these women and our socializing.

As much fun as I was having outside, the line dancing indoors was calling me. I had never line danced before but had always wanted to give it a try. I danced three songs with a song in between each to sit down and catch my breath. I had no idea line dancing was so strenuous. It was fun because most of us were terrible. When we changed directions, we often ran into each other. The instructor failed to show up, so one of the conference attendees stepped in to guide us. I didn't get her name, but you can see a little bit of her in the photo above. She is wearing a blue and white checkered shirt, cowboy hat, and boots. We would have been totally lost without her. She held her hand up high and used her fingers to count off the steps.

Here's a photo of the band that played for us. I bet they were pretty amused by our line dancing prowess. All in all, that night in Texas was a fun evening of food, friendship, music, and laughs. I am so glad I went.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

HLAA Convention: Day One

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Hearing Loss Association of America's convention June 26-29 in Austin, Texas. This was my second time attending their convention as I had been to the one in Milwaukee in 2010. When I went that time, I had gone with a group of friends from my local support group. This time I was on my own, but I had a great time meeting new people and making friends who share the hearing loss experience.

The first new friends I made were a couple I met while on the plane travelling from Chicago to Austin. I flew on Southwest Airlines which allows passengers to choose their own seats. Believe it or not, the seat I chose was next to a deaf woman and her hard of hearing boyfriend. Naturally, I assumed they were going to the convention as well. But they weren't and had not heard of HLAA before. I shared my latest issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, which I had brought to read on the plane, with Leslie and she read it from cover to cover. I invited the couple to come over to the vendor expo in the convention and we exchanged contact information. What a great start to my trip.

The next amazing thing that happened to me was on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel. A man sat next to me and said I looked familiar. I did not remember meeting him before, so I mentioned that I write an online blog. He asked me what the name of the blog was. I said, "Speak Up Librarian" and he said, "Yes, that's it." I have never been recognized from my blog before so that was pretty thrilling for me. He asked me what I've been blogging about lately and I told him the story about SoundBite. He told me his name was Richard Einhorn and that he was the keynote speaker for the conference. I felt a little embarrassed that I hadn't recognized him! I mentioned that I was interested in talking with HLAA staff and he told me he would introduce me. We had a lovely time chatting during the half hour ride from the airport to the convention hotel, the Renaissance Austin.

Photo of me & Richard Einhorn taken during the convention.
I had arranged my hotel room too late to get into the convention hotel, so I was booked in at a nearby hotel called Staybridge Suites Arboretum. I'm giving this hotel a shout-out on my blog because their guest service was incredible. The hotel staff ran a shuttle van service back and forth throughout the day to the convention hotel. All guests needed to do was send them a text message. I really appreciated the way they never made me feel like a bother and were quick to respond to my messages. 

A half hour after arriving at the hotel, I took the shuttle over to the convention. I registered and received my conference bag and T-shirt. Then I headed up to my first workshop, Pat Dobb's presentation on The Hearing Loss Revolution: Empowering People with Hearing Loss through the Nine Guiding Principles. Pat organized her workshop around telling her own story. She was a very interesting speaker. She gave her audience a bookmark with the 9 principles printed on it. If you are curious to learn what those are, please visit her website where you can find them and much more.

The next workshop I went to was Brian Patrick Jensen's talk on Perserverance to Triumph. At 48 years of age, Brian suffered a sudden hearing loss which cost him his job as a vice president of human resources. When this happened, he talked to the contacts in his job network and asked them to tell him honestly what his chances were of obtaining a similar position. They all told him no, it wouldn't happen. Brian's workshop acknowledged that employment bias against the deaf is real. He talked about how humans are hardwired to be overly optimistic and how that can be a trap. He said that people who persevere are "cynically wise".  Brian is now employed with Communication Services for the Deaf. I really appreciated what he had to say because I had never considered life from that perspective before. You can learn more about his perseverance beliefs at this blog post on his website. 

Then it was time for Richard Einhorn's keynote address. I found a seat near the front of the large auditorium. The room was looped so I switched my hearing aid to the T-coil setting which delivered the audio from the sound system directly to my hearing aids. Richard showed us a short video from "Voices of Light". He composed the music for this silent film about Joan of Arc. You can hear a small sample here. I was glad he added this to his presentation as I was unfamiliar with his work. Richard is a tech wizard who uses many gadgets to deliver the sound quality he needs in difficult hearing environments like restaurants. He spoke of PSAPs - personal sound amplifiers and wireless multi-mic assistive listening systems. He said that we need to get over our embarrassment about hearing aids which leads the manufacturers to make them smaller and less visible. He reminded us that larger devices are more powerful and will give us better sound quality. Most memorable of all, he stated that the smart phone is a "Swiss army knife for hearing loss". Alas, I do not own a smart phone so that part of his talk was lost on me. You can learn more about Richard's approach to dealing with hearing loss on this NPR interview. You can find the transcript of the NPR broadcast here.

My exciting day ended that evening with a Get Acquainted Party which featured a western theme. Caption Call sponsored this event and offered raffle prizes and a Wild West photo booth to add to the fun. I put on a western shirt and had my photo taken against a plain backdrop. The photographer selected a Wild West background for my photo and printed out a copy for me. I scanned the photo and some of the sepia color is gone but you can get the general idea. It was really fun to watch other people try out the various costumes provided and take their turns posing. I enjoyed chatting with the women I had met throughout the day and getting to know them better.

On the shuttle ride back to my hotel, I had the pleasure of meeting another one of the conference speakers, Nancy Williams. It was marvelous to connect with her ahead of her presentation which is one I had picked out to attend with great anticipation. 

I can't imagine a better first day at a convention. I knew I had come to the right place even if I had to come on my own. I will share more about my convention experiences in additional posts to come.