Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hearing Loss in America

by Samantha Garcia

Diagram of the Ear
 If you have hearing loss, you are not alone – not by a long shot. As you might expect, some populations experience hearing loss in higher numbers. For instance, 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 and half of people over 85 experience some hearing loss. Additionally, hearing loss is the most common injury for veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, Hearing Health Foundation states that 60% of returning veterans have hearing injuries.  However, hearing loss impacts more Americans of all classifications than you might expect; it is estimated that 1 in 5 Americans aged 12 and over, approximately 48 million Americans, have hearing loss in at least one ear.
With so many Americans experiencing hearing loss, it becomes profoundly important that those who do retain communication with others and stay connected. In fact, a 2011 study by Dr. Frank Lin of Johns Hopkins University has recently become a hot topic, as it found a strong connection between hearing loss and the risk of dementia, partially due to perceived isolation. His next study will focus on how hearing aids are used and if they can play any part in reducing the risk. 

One of Dr. Lin's findings shows that only 1 in 7 adults who could benefit from using a hearing aid actually does. The misuse or underuse of hearing aids is possibly due to the high cost of hearing aids, the increase of devices purchased online (without a fitting by an audiologist) and the stigma of using hearing aids. These may be critical factors in how hearing aids are used (or if they are used at all) and whether they can have any impact on this issue. If it turned out hearing aids could help delay the onset of dementia, imagine the possibilities – not least of all that insurance companies would perhaps be more likely to fully cover them. Some people have found pocket talkers to work well for them. A pocket talker is a portable amplifier that includes a microphone and headset and can be used for one-on-one or small group conversations or for radio/TV listening. Pocket talkers are much less expensive than hearing aids and cost around $120.

In the meantime, we know that hearing aids continue to be invaluable to individuals who are hard of hearing and those around them. According to hearingreview.com, hearing aid sales are up 2.9% from 2011 to 2012. Historically, the industry has seen a 3-4% increase, but in this economic climate, this is still seen as adequate growth. Additionally, veterans now account for 20% of the hearing aid market. Another interesting area of growth is that of Behind The Ear (BTE) hearing aids with external receivers, which now account for about half of all hearing aids sold in the U.S. – this is big leap, up from about 40% in 2011.

As devices change or you experiment with what type works best for you, you may find yourself wondering how to dispose of or find used hearing aids. If you use or need a hearing aid or know someone who does, there are multiple ways to donate and/or receive used devices. Hear Now, part of theStarkey Hearing Foundation, repairs and resells devices in the U.S. and uses that revenue to buy new hearing aids for those who can't afford them. You can also send devices to sertoma.org, which is working to make public facilities accessible for all. In California, you can donate to the John Tracy Clinic, which provides hearing device loaners to children. Moreover, Rotary Clubs often collect used hearing aids for repair and donation, as do service clubs like Lions Clubs, among others. Don't forget - donations are usually tax-deductible, too!
Have you had any experience donating or receiving a hearing aid from one of these or any other organizations? Have we missed a good resource? Let us know! Also, if you are in California and need an assistive hearing device, contact your AT Advocate by clicking here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Apple vs. Google: Which is More Accessible?

by Allan Friedman

When it comes to mobile devices, Apple's iOS (operating system) has had better accessibility features and supports more accessibility apps than phones and tablets that run on the Android OS. But that is changing.

The Wireless RERC (Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center) surveyed 452 people with a disability and found that 92 percent owned or used a wireless device. The most recent WebAim Screen Reader Survey 4 indicates that 71.8 percent of respondents use a screen reader on a mobile device. 58 percent of them use an Apple device. Clearly, more and more people with disabilities are using mobile devices with some kind of accessibility features and support.

But how do they compare?

In a head to head comparison, Apple is the accessibility leader. Its built-in accessibility features, the many adaptive and assistive apps available, and ease of use make it the first choice for most people with disabilities.

To begin with, Apple's iOS comes with a number of accessibility features (black on white, larger text sizes for default apps, interface zoom, etc.) that continue to be improved upon. Apple's new VoiceOver has been acknowledged as one of its most useful accessibility features.

According to Apple, VoiceOver is a different type of text to speech app. It provides the contextual information that screen readers do not. When VoiceOver is enabled it announces the letter as you move your finger across the on-screen keyboard.

In addition to VoiceOver, Apple devices can zoom up to 500%, allow users to create their own gestures to navigate and choose items, function in a high contrast mode for people with low vision and it supports open or closed captioning.

The introduction of Siri, Apple's voice controlled assistant, has enabled users to control many features and retrieve information using its natural voice recognition software.

While Google is a bit behind Apple, its latest iteration of the Android operating system (4.2) has several improvements in the accessibility area. It enables users to use high contrast colors, change font sizes, use a real button to answer/end calls and has a text to speech app that enables users to explore by touch (similar to Apple's VoiceOver), kickback (an app that provides vibratory feedback for different actions)and it has a speech to text function as well.

There are a number of manufacturers who build Android devices. They do not all have the same accessibility. Google's approach to accessibility is to let each manufacturer come up with their own solution. Google's own phones and tablets tend to have more accessibility features than some 3rd party phones and tablets.

So, as the accessibility of mobile platform operating systems continues to improve, the choice between an Apple product and one using the Android operating system becomes more personal. Accessibility is only one factor in the buying decision. But, for most people with a disability, it is the most important factor.

The best way to decide what is right for you is to try different devices prior to making a purchase. That's why we have the (DLLs). The DLLs offer an opportunity to borrow different devices (including tablets) and try them for 30 days at no charge. By taking the time to compare devices in the ways and places you would use them, you can be reasonably confident that you will get the most out of the device you choose.

For further information about mobile devices and accessibility visit:
So what do you think? Do you prefer Apple or Android? Are you a fan of Google products? Post your thoughts in the comment box below.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Function Trumps Style in Our Family AT Needs

By Christina Mills, Deputy Director of CFILC

Function and style don’t always go together. I used to think it was sort of funny that stores carried so many different baby swings and highchairs. I mean, besides the color and theme, who cares…right? I was completely oblivious to all the bells and whistles that each swing and highchair comes with and clearly wasn’t thinking about how the technology was going to one day assist me in taking care of my baby's needs. 

It sounds unbelievable, but I’m being honest when I say it took me over five hours to create my baby gift registry. Going down the swing aisle became slightly overwhelming. I had my very young Grandmother with me who insisted that I get every swing that I thought could possibly work for me off the shelf and literally see how close I could get my wheelchair up to it. At one point, I thought she was going to ask me to try it out with a doll. 

AT for parents with disabilities - baby swing
It was fortunate for me though, that Grandma was with me that day. I would have never realized how much swingers vary, had she not encouraged me to try them all out. Some swings seats are stationary and do not allow you to change the direction that they swing; they only go forwards and backwards. Other swings allow you to change the direction of the seat, and with those, the swing not only goes forwards and backwards, but also swings side to side. That feature and the shape of the base of the swing is what influenced my decisions to add it to our registry. 

The base of the swing is what holds the seat of the swing up. Many bases are built wide and bulky. Those large bases made it impossible for me in my wheelchair to pull up close to the seat of the swing where I would be putting my baby down. I eventually found a swing that not only came with a swivel seat and a base that was cut out so that I could get right up next to it, but it was also the perfect height for me. Yes, baby swings come in different heights as well! They vary just enough in height to make a significant difference.

Highchairs come with the same type of pluses and minuses. The bases are wide and take up a lot of ground space, and  getting my wheelchair up close is challenging. I typically have to pull up at an angle. Fortunately for us, highchairs have height adjustments. What works for me in my wheelchair doesn’t work for my husband, but that’s okay, because we can easily adjust the seat to work for both of us. 
AT for parents with disabilities - baby swing

I have found that AT for parents with disabilities is just as important as my daily AT needs. It takes a lot of time to figure out what works right for me. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Los Angeles Abilities Expo - March 15-17, 2013

The Assistive Technology Network will be at the Los Angeles Abilities Expo from Friday, March 15th to Sunday, March 17th 2013.  

The event will be at the Los Angeles Convention Center West Hall A, located at 1201 South Figueroa Street, in Los Angeles, CA 90015.    

The Abilities Expo is a celebration of what you can do and has been the go-to source for the community of people with disabilities, their families, seniors, veterans and healthcare professionals.  At this exciting and free event, you will learn about new technologies, new possibilities, new solutions and new opportunities to change your life. Where else can you discover ability-enhancing products and services, play a few adaptive sports, learn new dance moves, attend informative workshops and only scratch the surface of what Abilities Expo has to offer?  Register for free today.

If you are planning to go, be sure to stop by Booth 708 to meet the Assistive Technology Network staff, learn about your local AT programs and services, and meet some of our the Youth Organizing! Disabled & Proud Volunteers as well as learn about the services we offer!

Check out some other videos from past Abilities Expos:  http://www.abilitiesexpo.com/video_archive.html

Hope to see you there!