Cochlear Implants

http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/coch.aspx

What is a cochlear implant?

Illustration of cochlear implant.

Ear with cochlear implant.
Credit: NIH Medical Arts

A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin (see figure). An implant has the following parts:

  • A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
  • A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone.
  • A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses.
  • An electrode array, which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve.

An implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her to understand speech.

How does a cochlear implant work?

A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn. However, it allows many people to recognize warning signals, understand other sounds in the environment, and enjoy a conversation in person or by telephone.

How does someone receive a cochlear implant?

Use of a cochlear implant requires both a surgical procedure and significant therapy to learn or relearn the sense of hearing. Not everyone performs at the same level with this device. The decision to receive an implant should involve discussions with medical specialists, including an experienced cochlear-implant surgeon. The process can be expensive. For example, a person’s health insurance may cover the expense, but not always. Some individuals may choose not to have a cochlear implant for a variety of personal reasons. Surgical implantations are almost always safe, although complications are a risk factor, just as with any kind of surgery. An additional consideration is learning to interpret the sounds created by an implant. This process takes time and practice. Speech-language pathologists and audiologists are frequently involved in this learning process. Prior to implantation, all of these factors need to be considered.

Hearing Aids

http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/pages/hearingaid.aspx

What is a hearing aid?

A hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear. It makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities. A hearing aid can help people hear more in both quiet and noisy situations. However, only about one out of five people who would benefit from a hearing aid actually uses one.

How do hearing aids work?

A hearing aid has three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The hearing aid receives sound through a microphone, which converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.

Analog aids convert sound waves into electrical signals, which are amplified. Analog/adjustable hearing aids are custom built to meet the needs of each user. The aid is programmed by the manufacturer according to the specifications recommended by your audiologist. Analog/programmable hearing aids have more than one program or setting. An audiologist can program the aid using a computer, and you can change the program for different listening environments—from a small, quiet room to a crowded restaurant to large, open areas, such as a theater or stadium. Analog/programmable circuitry can be used in all types of hearing aids. Analog aids usually are less expensive than digital aids.

Digital aids convert sound waves into numerical codes, similar to the binary code of a computer, before amplifying them. Because the code also includes information about a sound’s pitch or loudness, the aid can be specially programmed to amplify some frequencies more than others. Digital circuitry gives an audiologist more flexibility in adjusting the aid to a user’s needs and to certain listening environments. These aids also can be programmed to focus on sounds coming from a specific direction. Digital circuitry can be used in all types of hearing aids.

Technology + Deaf Community

I was asked a question about how technology has benefited the Deaf community, so I did some research: 

Deaf Alarm Clock:
(http://www.start-american-sign-language.com/deaf-alarm-clock.html)

A deaf alarm clock is an alarm clock that is usually hooked up to a louder alarm, a strobe light, or a vibrator.

An alarm clock with a louder alarm will wake up a person with minimal hearing loss. When the alarm clock goes off, it is much louder than your average alarm clock, and most people with a small amount of hearing loss are able to hear it.

An alarm clock with a strobe light will wake up a person with more severe hearing loss. The strobe light is connected to the alarm clock. When the alarm goes off, the strobe light will flash brightly and wake the deaf person up.

An alarm clock with a bed vibrator will also wake up a person with a more severe hearing loss. The vibrator is connected to the alarm clock and is also attached to the bed. When the alarm goes off, the bed will shake and wake up the deaf person.

An alarm clock with a pillow vibrator wakes up a severely deaf person as well. The vibrator is connected to the alarm clock and is placed under the deaf person’s pillow. When the alarm goes off, the pillow will shake and wake the deaf person up.

Closed Captioning:
(http://www.start-american-sign-language.com/closed-captioning.html)

You have probably watched television. And you have probably pressed a button on your remote that makes white words with a black background pop up on your screen (either on purpose or by accident). These words actually follow the dialogue and sounds of the TV show you’re watching!

If you are hearing, you probably thought that this was quite repetitive. But for deaf people, this is fantastic!

Closed captions are hidden in the signal that your television receives. So, even if you can’t see them, they’re there! If you want to see the captions, you need to have a caption decoder (most TVs have one now). When the decoder is turned on (when you press that magic button), you can see the captions…

By law, all television programs are required to have closed captioning. All TVs need to have decoders built in now as well.

TTY:
(http://www.pbs.org/weta/throughdeafeyes/deaflife/technology.html)

In 1964, Robert Weitbrecht, a deaf scientist, developed an acoustic coupler that converted sounds into text and vice versa. Weitbrecht’s technical abilities, along with the financial, political, and marketing assistance of James Marsters and Andrew Saks sparked an industry that radically changed the quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing people in the United States. The result of their labors was called a TTY, or teletypewriter, and later a TDD, shorthand for “telecommunications device for the deaf.” By using a standard telephone handset placed on a coupler, the TTY transmitted and received information and translated it into a printed text via a teletype machine. A flashing light connected to the TTY alerted the deaf person that the phone was ringing. Access to this device meant deaf people could place a phone call to a friend, a Deaf club, or anyone who also had a TTY.

There are also ways to connect door bells to the lights, so the lights flash inside of the house when someone presses the door bell. And of course things like texting and video chat make communication much easier and accessible. Later I’ll make a post about hearing aids and CIs.

Anonymous said: How has technology affected the Deaf community? Has things like texting, and the Internet benefited in helping those that are deaf or HoH? How was it for those that didn't have the technology before?

I actually think i’ll make a text post about this— keep an eye out for it!

Having trouble understanding fingerspelling?

I was recently asked a great question about fingerspelling. It’s one thing to do it yourself, and a whole different challenge to understand what other people are signing TO YOU. Especially with fluent signers, who can sign at the speed of lightening (jealous!). 

1) Do not be afraid to ask someone to repeat themselves or slow down. It’s all part of the process of learning.

2) Surround yourself with people who sign. Practice practice practice! Reach out to the deaf community in your area. Keep going!

3) I found a nice online quiz— 

http://www.aslpro.com/cgi-bin/aslpro/fingerspell.cgi

This one allows you to adjust how many words it spells, and the speed in which they are spelled. 

GOOD LUCK! 

Anonymous said: My dominant hand is right but I can't contort it the same way my left hand can (for example I can't comfortably make a "w" with my right hand but my left hand can). Does it matter which hand I use for signing?

The key in this instance is consistency. If you feel like you need to use your left hand as your dominant hand, make that decision and stick with it. 

Anonymous said: Do you have a name sign?

I do not

Maybe one day though!! *fingers crossed*