Mark Rejhon's Frequently Asked Questions about Hearing Impairment & Deafness!
This FAQ has existed for more than 20 years (see Internet Archive), with only minor modifications!
My ability to hear
How to speak to me
How do I communicate over the phone line?
How do I watch television and movies?
How do I wake up to go to work?
Links to other related pages
Since birth, I have had a profound hearing loss which means I have a 90% loss of hearing ability. That's a bigger loss than the average hearing impaired individual. I was born this way. By definition, the term 'hearing impaired' does not necessarily mean completely deaf. Not all hearing impaired people are 100% deaf! It is worth noting that some people think 'hearing impaired' is more Politically Correct than the word 'deaf', in certain countries in the world. However, in other countries, and in some Deaf Communities, the word 'deaf' is fully accepted and is actually preferred over the phrase 'hearing impairment'!
I can talk and lipread. I am also a very fast typist, with a conversation typing speed of about 90 up to 120 WPM. I do not know sign language (ASL), since my parents decided to concentrate on teaching me to talk instead. We used cued speech, a hand language based on sounds. Cued speech uses hand symbols for each sound, and is used in conjunction with lipreading. Sign language (ASL) uses the arms and hands for each word, phrase or letter.
The higher the frequency of the sound, the louder the sound has to be, in order for me to hear it. At a frequency of 500 Hertz, I require about 80 decibels for me to be able to hear the sound. At a frequency of 1000 Hertz, I require about 100 decibels. At about 2500 Hertz and above, I cannot hear anything unless it hurts my ears. It is possible for me to hear a faint 4000 Hertz sound (which would be earsplittingly loud for you), that also hurts my ear. That's because the sound is not loud enough for me to hear it, but loud enough to hurt my ears! In scientific terms, my minimum-threshold and the pain-threshold overlap! Weird, eh?
To help me hear better, I wear my behind-the-ear hearing aids. They are essentially wearable miniature amplifiers. They give me an amplification of approximately +40 decibels, using only a hearing aid battery. This means I can hear sounds as quiet as 40 decibels, which is about the same volume as a newspaper rustling a few feet away in a quiet room. However, that doesn't enable me to hear high sounds above about 1500 Hertz, because higher sounds require more amplification for me to hear them and due to my limited ability to hear them.
Back in the late 1970's the only hearing instruments powerful enough for my level of hearing loss were Phonic Ear units that strapped to my chest. They were approximately the size of a walkman! Since the late 1980's as technology progressed, I have been wearing powerful miniaturized behind-the-ear hearing aids. I am looking forward to the time when fully digital hearing aids are available for my level of hearing loss!
My hearing impairment is such that I can hear the first 70 keys of a regular 88-key piano very well. As I press piano keys sequentially from the left end of a piano to the right end of a piano, the sounds of the higher-pitched keys are progressively fainter and fainter to my ears, until around the 70th key where I can hear almost nothing at all. In addition to this, I can barely hear the difference between sounds that are less than 5 keys apart on a regular 88-key piano. That means my ability to distinguish different sound frequencies is not as good as an average hearing person. For technically minded people, this is just like a low "signal-to-noise" ratio. Another way to picture my hearing loss is that this sentence:
"Hello, this is Mark Rejhon"
Sounds exactly the same to my ears as:
"eh-oh ih iz ah ay-awn"
This is because I hear the vowels well enough, but not the consonants, due to the nature of my hearing. As another example of my hearing, a banging pot sometimes sounds exactly the same as a person calling my name. Different hearing impaired people hear differently. Not all hearing impaired people hear the same sounds in the same way!
At the moment, I don't yet use a Cochlear Implant, because the success rate for certain kinds of deaf people like me is not high enough for me yet to be worth the risk and money involved. There are now lots of new amazing technologies available that are much cheaper too, at this present moment in time, that keeps me happy for now, too!
I can lipread and speak. However, at my level of hearing loss, it is very difficult for me to follow people when they speak to me. If other people speak too quickly, it is nearly impossible for me to keep up, such as a professor at a lecture. They move around, don't face me, talk too fast, and/or are too far away for me to lipread. Even during ideal conditions it is still extremely difficult for me to follow people because some sounds in speech can go as high as 5000 Hertz, well beyond my hearing limits. If you tried to talk in a deep voice, it does not help much since certain sounds are pratically inaudible to me. Such sounds include the "ss" in "hiss", the "th" in "this", the "f" and "sh" in "fish". Another problem is that some words look the same on the lips (and also sound almost exactly the same). For example, it is hard for me to hear the difference between the words "bat", "mat" and "pat".
These things makes speech communications easier for me:
Little background noise.
Facing me directly.
Don't move your head around.
Talking slowly, preferably one phrase at a time.
Correct distance from me. (between 1 and 2 meters)
Sometimes it is easier for some people to use a notepad or a keyboard to communicate with me. If you have chatted to other people via the Internet by typing, you will find it very easy to communicate to me through this means!
Throughout the 1990s before smartphones and smartwatches, I relied on many possible ways for me to communicate with other people over the telephone line, including:
This is a very popular way of getting in contact with me.
Blackberry E-Mail Cell Phone
This is one of the main ways that people get in touch with me these days. It is a wireless email-capable device that uses the cell phone network to transmit emails. This device behaves just an pager to me, since it simply vibrates whenever I receive an email message. It immediately displays incoming email messages on its screen, just like an old-fashioned pager. I carry it around in my pocket wherever I go, and emails will always reach me wherever I am. This device has excellent battery life -- it can run continuously for several days without being turned off. The Blackberry device can be programmed to only vibrate only when I receive an important email message from somebody I know. I also have wireless instant messaging using www.webmessenger.com which connects to MSN, AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo instant messaging networks too. I also use Idokorro Telnet/SSH so I can connect to my Linux machine remotely using a secure connection. This allows me to run software such as IRC, talk, and TDD services on my Blackberry, also using MCI Wireless IP-Relay. Yes, that means my Blackberry doubles as a wireless TDD/TTY too!
Voice-To-Text Phone Service
I now use a special voice mail service called Dict-o-Mail which automatically converts all my voicemail messages into email text messages that are subsequently emailed to me or to my Blackberry pager. That way, I simply read my voicemail instead of listen to voicemail! It's just like an alphanumeric pager dispatch service, except that I get a personal phone number that behaves exactly like voicemail. People don't need special instructions on how to leave a voicemail message -- all I have to do is give people my phone number. This is an amazingly useful service for deaf business owners like me -- I don't need to put special instructions on a business card to tell people how to reach me! I just put a phone number on my business card, and people can now easily reach me without needing special instructions! I am able to use it with any email address, including my wireless Blackberry device. Also, there is also another similar service called PhoneWire that is a competitor of Dict-o-Mail, but I have not tried it.
Text-To-Voice Phone Service
I now use a service called IMBot that allows me to send email messages to phone numbers. The IMBot service automatically calls these phones numbers and reads out my email message by voice to the person (or answering machine) that answers the phone line. I can send these emails wirelessly from my Blackberry, anywhere I am presently. This saves me a lot of time for simple responses like "I will be home at 6" which I don't need a relay service for. (More information about relay services below).
There are many ways to reach me this way. I now use a software program called Trillian, which connects me to all four major messaging networks, including MSN, AIM, ICQ, and Yahoo IM networks.
Internet Video Teleconferencing
One of the most popular software for video teleconferencing is Microsoft NetMeeting. This allows video telephone connections over the Internet using inexpensive web cams now available at local computer stores.
Text Telephone (TDD/TTY)
This special telephone is also called a Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) or a TeleTypewriter (TTY). A TDD is a portable keyboard telephone used by the hearing impaired to call other TDD's. Instead of speaking and listening, you type on the TDD keyboard and read incoming messages on a tiny screen. A typical old-fashioned TDD looks like a small white electric typwriter with a tiny one-line screen and a built-in acoustic coupler (two black cups that attaches to the ends of a telephone handset. This means that the TDD can be used with any telephone, including coin telephones). My newest TDD is the size of a videotape and folds open to reveal a touch-typeable keyboard. It can call computers with modems, has an 80 character backlit LCD screen, and lasts for 15 hours on battery power. I can type 100WPM on it. More information can be found on the TTY FAQ.
Bell Relay Service (BRS)
This is an phone operator service that translates voice to text and vice versa. These operators read out what I type to them, and the operator types back to me, what you say. This enables me to speak to anyone from my computer or TDD to anybody, including you. Relay Services are free services provided by your phone company, reached at phone number 711 virtually anywhere in North America! There are many relay services throughout the world in technologically competent countries, but I use Bell Canada Relay Service here in Canada. You need a computer or a TDD to call a Relay Service. Since the relay service involves a third party for relaying messages between voice and text, it is a slow way of communicating over the phone, and is harder to have private conversations.
Internet Relay Service
This behaves just like Bell Relay service, except that you connect to the Relay operator using a web browser. These Internet Relay services include AT&T RelayCall, MCI IP-Relay, Sprint Relay Online, Hamilton IP-Relay, NexTalk. They provide unlimited free long distance for deaf callers to phone numbers in the United States!
Voice Carry Over (VCO)
This is provided through the Relay Service above, and enables me to speak one way while the operator types out to me what the other person is saying. This way, you can hear my voice directly. This requires a TDD, because there is no modem carrier tone (sounds like a fax tone) to interfere with speaking over the telephone on the same call. I can pick up the telephone handset off my TDD to speak, and then put the handset back onto my TDD in order to read what the other person is saying in response.
CapTel - Captioned Telephone
This is the only service I don't use yet because it is not available to Canadians yet. This is a new Captioned Telephone service. I am anxiously waiting for this amazing new service to become available in Canada. You place a phone call normally with a phone handset, except that the telephone automatically captions everything that you say onto a screen built into a special telephone! It's exactly like having Real-Time Closed Captioning for all your telephone calls!
Bulletin Board System (BBS)
In the early 90s before the Internet really became popular, I ran a Bulletin Board System called ViDDiBBS. A BBS is an old fashioned online service that can be run at home on a simple computer system with modem, as a hobby by a computer literate person. When people called my Bulletin Board System, I used a split-screen chatting application that I programmed myself!
I use a Closed Caption Decoder to put subtitles at the bottom of the TV screen. Closed Captions are invisible text signals that are encoded in a television or videotape signal. A lot of popular television shows and videotapes are encoded with closed captions. I have a tiny decoder that is the size of a pack of cards, which I bring along to friends' places. For more information, see the The Closed Caption FAQ!
Even though I cannot understand the dialogue, I still enjoy going to the movie theatre! My favourite types of movies are science fiction, but I also like action, thrillers, adventures, comedies, and several other types of movies. Sometimes I bring a small, dim pen-flashlight so that my company can occasionally communicate essential dialogue during the movie, without disturbing surrounding movie-goers. However, my company often prefer to type small bits of movie dialogue on my battery-powered Ultratec Compact TDD, which has a backlit 80-character LCD display that can be seen in the dark.
I use a smartwatch as a portable vibrating alarm so I can easily wake up anywhere I travel.
Formerly, I had a very nice alarm clock with a built-in halogen reading lamp and a bed vibrator. When it is time for me to get up from bed, the halogen lamp flashes and the bed vibrator vibrates. The vibrator is a small block that slips under the matress or the pillow, and connects to the alarm clock via a cable.
I went through a few different brands of bed vibrator alarm clocks, and I had found this one to be the most useful and durable. They are sold by Global Assistive Devices.
These are some of the pages that I have found the most interesting and useful to me in the past.
AllDeaf Forums: Popular discussion forum for deaf people.
DeafOnline Forums: Another popular discussion forum for deaf people.
The Closed Caption FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Closed Captioning.
The TTY FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions about Text Telephones.
The DEAF-L FAQ: Another Hearing Impairment FAQ and a deafness mailing list.
Ameritech Products Catalog: Online ordering for gadgets for the hearing impaired.
Global Assistive's Devices' great bed vibrator alarm clock!
DigiFocus Hearing Aids: The first fully digital behind-the-ear hearing aids.
Cochlear USA: Multichannel cochlear implant with tiny behind-ear processor!
Deafness on About.com: A hearing impaired community on the Internet.
www.deafqueer.org: The Internet even has a site for deaf gays and lesbians!
Gallaudet University: The world's only four-year university exclusively for the deaf.