"Sensory Perception: an exhibition of mosaics," by Sacramento deafblind artist Mary Dignan, opened last week on March 4, 2013 at the SMUD Art Gallery, 6301 S Street, Sacramento. The exhibition showcases over 30 ceramic tile and mixed media art mosaics created by deafblind artist Mary Dignan.
The mosaics offer an insight into the unique perspective of an artist with Usher Syndrome, a genetic disorder which is the leading cause of deafblindness. Check out the February 13, 2013 article, "Gloria: Current Generation of Tablet Computers and Deaf-Blindness," by Lorrie Kempf. Or see the article in the Sacramento Press, "Sensory Perception: an exhibition of mosaics by Sacramento deafblind artist Mary Dignan."
If you're curious how the blind organize their information and manage their careers and communications, also check out the YouTube video, "How Blind People Organize CDs and DVDs."Or for the deafblind, also see the video, Jobs for the Deaf-Blind and the video, About deaf-blindness.
Navigating deafblind through the art world
Mary Dignan’s mosaics bring onlookers into the world of her own changes going deaf and blind. The artist navigates through what it is to lose two of her senses, while exploring the sense of touch to create new art forms, according to the Sacramento Press article, "Sensory Perception: an exhibition of mosaics by Sacramento deafblind artist Mary Dignan."
When Mary Dignan was born with severe hearing loss, her deafness was not diagnosed until she was almost 5 years old, after she had been wrongly diagnosed as mentally retarded. Instead of accepting the wrong diagnosis, she grew up to become a practicing attorney. Eventually she would learn that she had Usher Syndrome, Type 2, which is characterized by moderate to severe deafness at birth, and blindness from retinitis pigmentosa (RP) later in life.
Her career included newspaper reporting and legislative work
She earned her undergraduate degree from Santa Clara University in 1976, and embarked upon a career that included newspaper reporting, legislative work for the U.S. House of Representatives and the California State Assembly Committee on Agriculture, public relations and governmental liaison work with one of California’s largest and most complex water agencies. She also ran her own consulting business in water and natural resources management policy.
In 1990, a year after she was certified legally blind with a restricted visual field of 8 degrees, she started law school. In 1994 and earned her juris doctorate with honors from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, was admitted to the California State Bar. She began practicing water and natural resources law with the Sacramento firm of Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard.
She started law school certified blind
By 1997, she discovered she had a brain tumor and underwent surgery to remove it. The tumor and the surgery exacerbated her vision and hearing losses, and she has not practiced law since, the Sacramento Press article,"Sensory Perception: an exhibition of mosaics by Sacramento deafblind artist Mary Dignan" reports about the change of career from lawyer to ceramic tile artist.
Instead of law, she now practices art being both blind and deaf. Her ceramic tile and mixed media mosaic art works have been displayed in the California State Attorney General’s Office, Sacramento County Public Law Library, San Francisco City Hall, the Canadian Helen Keller Center, and various local venues.
The art is so exquisitely done that her work has been featured at art shows sponsored by the Governor’s Commission on Employment of Persons with Disabilities. Folsom Lake College, and Spirit in the Arts. Her community volunteer work includes six years on the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors’ Disability Advisory Committee.
She helped found Spirit in the Arts, a working art studio and gallery open free of charge to the community in North Sacramento, and is a past board member of Bread of Life, the parent organization of Spirit in the Arts. She presently serves as president of the Sacramento chapter of Foundation Fighting Blindness. If you have a chance, visit the art exhibit.
Art in public places provide visual experiences in locations open to the public. The SMUD Art Gallery is a partnership between the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, which is funded by the city and county of Sacramento. For further information on the art exhibit, check out the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission website.
Using touch to help deaf and deafblind people, a project of M.I.T.
Lip reading is a critical means of communication for many deaf people, but it has a drawback: Certain consonants (for example, p and b) can be nearly impossible to distinguish by sight alone. And what if someone can't see or hear? That's where tactile technology can pitch in with devices that help the deafblind communicate and work at their careers and/or interests.
Tactile devices, which translate sound waves into vibrations that can be felt by the skin, can help overcome that obstacle by conveying nuances of speech that can't be gleaned from lip reading. Researchers in Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sensory Communication Group are working on a new generation of such devices, which could be an important tool for deaf people who rely on lip reading and can't use or can't afford cochlear implants. The cost of the device and the surgery make cochlear implants prohibitive for many people, especially in developing countries.
How can more deaf people get access to the technology needed to communicate with others who aren't deaf?
"Most deaf people will not have access to that technology in our lifetime," said Ted Moallem, a graduate student working on the project, according to the news release, MIT: Using touch to help deaf people. "Tactile devices can be several orders of magnitude cheaper than cochlear implants."
Moallem and Charlotte Reed, senior research scientist in MIT's Research Laboratory of Electronics and leader of the project, say the software they are developing could be compatible with current smart phones, allowing such devices to be transformed into unobtrusive tactile aids for the deaf.
"Anyone who has a smart phone already has much of what they would need to run the program," including a microphone, digital signal-processing capability, and a rudimentary vibration system, says Moallem in the news release.
Tactile devices translate sound waves into vibrations that allow the user to distinguish between vibratory patterns associated with different sound frequencies. The MIT researchers are testing devices that have at least two vibration ranges, one for high-frequency sounds and one for low-frequency sounds.
Using such handheld devices, deaf people can more easily follow conversations than with lip reading alone, which requires a great deal of concentration, explains Moallem in the news release. "It's hard to have a casual conversation in a situation where you have to be paying attention like that."
The acoustic processing software could be easily adapted to smart phones for the deafblind or the deaf
Current prototypes can be held in the user's hand or worn around the back of the neck, but once the acoustic processing software is developed, it could be easily incorporated into existing smart phones, according to the researchers. To lay the groundwork for such future applications, the researchers are investigating the best way to transform sound waves into vibrations.
Existing tactile aids have been in use for decades, but the MIT team hopes to improve the devices by refining the acoustic signal processing systems to provide tactile cues that are tailored to boost lip-reading performance, says Reed, according to the news release.
Frequency reception ability of the skin for touch-based technology and optimal frequencies
As part of their project, the researchers have done several studies on the frequency reception ability of the skin. The human ear can perceive frequencies up to 20,000 hertz, but for touch receptors in the skin, optimal frequencies are below 500 hertz.
Using a laboratory setup with a device that can provide distinct vibration patterns to three fingers simultaneously, Moallem has done preliminary studies of deaf people's ability to interpret the vibrations from tactile devices.
This project was originally inspired by earlier studies Reed did on the Tadoma technique, a communication method taught to deaf-blind people. Practitioners of that method hold their hands to someone's face while they are talking, allowing them to feel the vibrations of the face and neck.
Reed's study, done about 20 years ago, showed that the deaf-blind subjects could successfully understand speech with this method — especially if the other person spoke clearly and slowly.
"We were inspired by seeing what deaf-blind people could accomplish just using the sense of touch alone," says Reed in the news release. The M.I.T. research is funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Deafblind communication devices: Can the deafblind afford the technology they need most?
You may want to check out the article, "Deaf-Blind Communication Devices," by Anne Taylor, Steven Booth, and Michael Tindell. Anne Taylor is director of access technology, and Steve Booth and Mike Tindell are access technology specialists at the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC), according to that article. Check out their excellent review of new technology. It's of interest to anyone interested in communication technology for deaf-blind people.
In that article, Steven Booth describes FSTTY, a product from Freedom Scientific for communication over phone lines; Anne Taylor describes FaceToFace, an application from Freedom Scientific for face-to-face communication. Also Mike Tindell discusses a hardware package from Krown which can be used for both functions. Each device incorporates a Braille display so that deaf-blind people can communicate directly.
Making the deafblind more independent
That's one way the deafblind can communicate with others which helps to make them more independent and better able to use their skills for their careers and other interests. What deaf people use most often is a TTY (teletypewriter) also known as a TDD (telephone device for the deaf).
With new smart phone technology for the deaf and deafblind being developed in industry at built at research universities such as M.I.T., it's important to enable the deafblind to communicate over telephone lines by the use of analog audio tones.
How a deaf or deafblind person uses a phone
When a deaf person uses a home or office phone, most often they use a TTY modem that converts digital electronic data produced by a computer to analog audio tones, which are then transmitted over a telephone line.
At the receiving end another modem converts the analog audio signals back to digital data, which can be interpreted by another computer. The teletypewriter is a device that prints information received over telephone or telegraph lines. But with new technology such as smart phones and wireless pads, deafblind people need a device they can touch to communicate if they're not able to hear or see. Some have speech, and others do not.
What the phone company uses presently are devices such as TTY or TDD that transmit and receive analog audio data and converts it into digital data for the deaf-blind. By combining this technology with portable computers and Braille displays, communication between two deaf-blind people or communication by a deaf-blind person with either deaf or hearing people becomes easier.
That's the point of technology is to allow the deafblind person who is not able to see or hear to communicate. For example, in an emergency, how does a deafblind person call an ambulance or the fire department or police?
Not all emergency information centers or nonprofit organizations have electronic TDD equipment. And not all deafblind people can afford to pay someone to be around at home in case the phone rings or in case there's an emergency.
If you ever wondered how a deafblind persons works in an office or at home using Internet communication on a computer, advanced technology is needed at both ends, the workplace and the person's home so that the deafblind can communicate with the hearing and sighted world as well as anyone who is deaf or deafblind. The important point is whether the recipient of the phone call as a TDD machine by their phone.
Freedom Scientific's FSTTY
FSTTY is a deaf-blind telecommunications solution from Freedom Scientific consisting of a modem and software, is an accessory installed on a PAC Mate. A deaf-blind person uses the Braille display to review the text entered and the text others send in reply.
FSTTY also places calls to anyone with a TDD. On a PAC Mate QWERTY keyboard the deaf-blind person types in text and then reads the response on the Braille display. Anyone using a Braille keyboard must type uncontracted Braille unless the recipient also has a Braille display. The skill training is to make sure the deafblind person knows where the letters are on the computer keyboard--touch typing. Are the letters raised so they can be touched and felt, then recognized as which letter or number?
The FSTTY allows the user to scroll backward and forward to review a call session, including any commands sent and the entire conversation. That's one way that a deafblind employee or entrepreneur can conduct business via a videoconference when there's no ability to see or hear.
What's easy to correct are typos so that text will be corrected on both the sender's and recipient's displays. The sender then saves the file with the complete conversation or edits the file before saving it. That permits a deafblind reporter, journalist, author, or someone writing in any way to turn out reports, articles, or books.
For those who only want to read a colleague's email or street address, or for email with information on it, these text files can be saved. The deafblind person would not have to rewrite any email to save to a file because text can be copied or cut and then pasted into another file on a PAC Mate. The trick is to show the deafblind person how to cut and paste when the person can't see. That's where Braille comes in which uses touch.
If the deafblind person is talking to another PAC Mate user with a Braille display, the deafblind person can write or receive what's known in the assistive technology world as "contracted (Grade II) Braille text."
Training for the deafblind would be first to read Braille by touch. But the catch is that if a deafblind person is making an emergency call to 911, the sender's message has to be in uncontracted Braille, not in contracted Braille. That's the way the person on the other end can read the message. It's important to make sure the deafblind person can work in uncontracted as well as contracted Braille to communicate in case of emergency calls.
For more information, you can check out FSTTY and the Intelli modem and FSTTY software to install on the PAC Mate. The trick there is to make sure the deafblind person knows how to access the help files are available to assist with set-up and using the software and modem. There is a list of commands needed to place and end calls, save files, copy, cut, and paste text, and other information needed by a deafblind person using technology. The question for many is whether it's affordable or where can the funds be obtained, from insurance, employer, or health coverage?
There's also other technology such as a company called Freedom that offers FaceToFace, which is a deafblind communication solution compatible with PAC Mate. For those who do not use PAC Mate, FaceToFace applications will also work on personal laptop or desktop computers. Check out the website, Freedom Scientific, Blind/Low Vision Group.
You have a lot of other technology on the market such as the Krown Manufacturing PortaView 20 Plus TTY. Check out the article, "How Do Deaf Blind People Use The Computer?" The major difficulty tweaking computers for people who are both deaf and blind is that presently blind people are mostly compensated by technology through sound. But deafblind people need to communicate by touch. Every way a deafblind person communicates with the world needs to be changed into tactile (touch-based) information, unless scientists invent technology where computer details can be written by thoughts or breaths.
It gets more complicated if the person is deaf, blind, and paralyzed so that a wheelchair or computer keyboard must be moved with a breath straw or with the mind with electrodes pasted on the head. Smart phones may be able to help as more technology is put into them. But are they affordable to most deafblind people?
Deafblind people use the computer without a monitor
Although you have smart phones that can follow the shifting of your eyesight gaze, blind people can't make those gestures over a smart phone screen or a tablet computer. What's being used now, even though more advanced technology is in the experimental stages, is that the deafblind use tactile fingerspelling to communicate with people in their presence.
The deafblind may not know sign language unless they learned it while deaf and before they gradually lost their eyesight. That makes sign language difficult to learn for those who have been deaf and blind since childhood or for many years. That's where speechreading comes in to help the deafblind who put their hand over the hand of a person doing fingerspelling or signing on their palm.
Speechreading with Braille communication machines for the deafblind
Check out the face-to-face communication systems such as the screen Braille communicator. Some deaf-blind people use a small, portable Screen Braille Communicator (SBC) to communicate with sighted people. The deaf-blind person reads the printed text by placing his or her fingers on the Braille display which also displays and types back text. The sighted individual reads the text on the LCD display.
Deafblind people also use the TTY machine with a Braille display to make phone calls. It allows a deaf-blind person who reads Braille to use the telephone. The deaf-blind person can also use this system as a face-to-face communication device to communicate with someone else who does not know the person’s preferred communication method. Also, some people who don’t see well can use TTYs with large visual displays or computers with larger font to communicate with others.
Deaf people with eyesight can see better than people with all senses, reports a new study
Adults born deaf react more quickly to objects at the edge of their visual field than hearing people, according to groundbreaking new research by the University of Sheffield.
The study, which was funded by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), has, for the first time ever, seen scientists test how peripheral vision develops in deaf people from childhood to adulthood, according to the November 11, 2010 news release, "University research reveals deaf adults see better than hearing people." You can read the original study, in the November 2010 issue of the journal Development Science. "Deaf and hearing children: a comparison of peripheral vision development" report, The author is Dr Charlotte Codina.
Dr Charlotte Codina, from the University of Sheffield's Academic Unit of Ophthalmology and Orthoptics, led the research and found that children born deaf are slower to react to objects in their peripheral vision compared to hearing children. However, deaf adolescents and adults who have been without hearing since birth can react to objects in their peripheral vision more quickly.
The findings of Dr Codina's study, which were published in Development Science on November 11, 2010, showed that deaf children aged between five to 10 years old had a slower reaction time to light stimuli in their peripheral vision than hearing children of the same age. By the age of 11 and 12 however, hearing and deaf children react equally quickly and deaf adolescents between 13 and 15 reacted more quickly than their hearing peers.
The study tested profoundly deaf children (aged five to 15 years) using a self-designed visual field test, and compared this to age-matched hearing controls as well as to deaf and hearing adult data. The children tested sat with their head positioned in the centre of a grey acrylic hemisphere into which 96 LEDs were implanted. The participants then had to watch a central glowing ring in which a camera was hidden to monitor their eye movements.
The LEDs were then each briefly illuminated at three different light intensities all in random order. The test was designed to be like a computer game and called the Star Catcher. If the LED flash occurred above, the child had to 'catch the star' by moving the joystick upwards, and if it occurred to the left they would have to move the joystick to that position. In this way, the team were able to verify that the child had seen the light and not just guessed, as has been the problem with previous visual field tests in children.
The deaf see better than normal people
Dr Charlotte Codina, who undertook the study as part of her RNID-funded PhD said, according to the news release, University research reveals deaf adults see better than hearing people, "We found that deaf children see less peripherally than hearing children, but, typically, go on to develop better than normal peripheral vision by adulthood. Important vision changes are occurring as deaf children grow-up and one current theory is that they have not yet learnt to focus their attention on stimuli in the periphery until their vision matures at the age of 11 or 12.
"As research in this area continues, it will be interesting to identify factors which can help deaf children to make this visual improvement earlier." RNID's Research Program Manager, Dr Joanna Robinson, explained in the news release, University research reveals deaf adults see better than hearing people. But if the deaf see better than normal hearing people, what do people who are blind and deaf do better to compensate? Any focus on a skill developed to compensate may aid the deafblind in communication, such as having more touch or tactile sensing in their fingers or hands. Technology could be developed around that tactile skill, as such technology is being researched in various places around the globe.
The deaf person's advantage over the hearing person in terms of range of vision
This research shows that adults who have been deaf since birth may have advantages over hearing people in terms of their range of vision. For example, deaf people could be more proficient in jobs which depend on the ability to see a wide area of activities and respond quickly to situations, such as sports referees, teachers or CCTV operators.
"On the other hand, the findings suggest that parents of deaf children need to be aware that their child's initially delayed reaction to peripheral movements may mean they are slower to spot and avoid potential dangers such as approaching traffic."
RNID is the UK charity that takes action on hearing loss by campaigning and lobbying, raising awareness of deafness and hearing loss, providing services and through social, medical and technical research. RNID funds PhD studentships to increase the number of hearing researchers, funds cutting-edge biomedical research into hearing loss and works with industry to ensure breakthroughs are translated into real treatments. For further information about RNID's biomedical research division or to become a member, check out the website.