New generation of tactile devices to aid the deaf

3 03 2009

by Rich Bowden – Mar 2 2009

Img: Tactile deaf aid device being used by Senior Research Scientist Charlotte Reed and research graduate student Theodore Moallem. Credit: Donna Coveney/MIT

Img: Tactile deaf aid device being used by Senior Research Scientist Charlotte Reed and research graduate student Theodore Moallem. Credit: Donna Coveney/MIT


Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States are developing a device which can translate sound waves as vibrations able to be felt by the skin.



The technology will aid deaf people who currently rely on the imperfect lip reading as a means of communication. The tactile device is being worked on by the institute for those who are unable to afford the often prohibitive cost of cochlear implants.

“Most deaf people will not have access to that technology in our lifetime,” said Ted Moallem, a graduate student working on the project in a Feb. 27 Institute statement. “Tactile devices can be several orders of magnitude cheaper than cochlear implants.”

According to the MIT news release: Moallem and Charlotte Reed, senior research scientist in MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics and leader of the project, say the tactile 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.



Though tactile devices have been in use for decades, the team hope to improve on these by providing deaf people with tactile cues that are tailored to boost lip-reading performance, says Reed.

The inspiration for the project came from the Tadoma technique, where deaf/blind people hold their hands to someone’s face while they talk to “feel” vibrations. The technique allows deaf/blind people to understand what is being spoken, so long as the person spoke clearly.

“We were inspired by seeing what deaf-blind people could accomplish just using the sense of touch alone,” says Reed.

Funding for the project was provided by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.


We need to yell

3 03 2009

Deaf school supports call for maintaining current state funding

By Vicky Wicks
For The Weekly News

Posted 3/2/09

Two advocates for deaf and hearing-impaired students met with concerned Rapid City people to pitch a plan for maintaining services currently provided by the South Dakota School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls.

Magnet schools are existing schools modified to add services for the deaf, Olsen said. If that approach isn’t taken, then deaf students will be scattered around the state in public schools not equipped to receive them.

Small schools will bear great expense hiring interpreters for just one or two students, and those students will be isolated if there are no other hearing impaired students, he said.

Olsen is pushing for the state Department of Education to take control of the School for the Deaf. Currently it’s under the aegis of the Board of Regents, which he said doesn’t understand that the deaf are bilingual ��” using ASL and English ��” as well as bicultural.

The Legislature should establish a commission on Education for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and a bill of rights for deaf children, Olsen said.

Puthoff said the school was established in 1880, nine years before South Dakota became a state.

The South Dakota Constitution provides for continuation and funding of a school for the deaf, Olsen said, and he doesn’t understand how the state can close the school without changing the Constitution.

“We need to wake up. We need to yell. We need to complain,” Olsen said.

Larry Puthoff, left, speaks about education for the deaf while Gary Olsen looks on. Puthoff and Olsen are advocates and lobbyists with the South Dakota Association for the Deaf

Larry Puthoff, left, speaks about education for the deaf while Gary Olsen looks on. Puthoff and Olsen are advocates and lobbyists with the South Dakota Association for the Deaf

The school is on Gov. Mike Rounds’ list of cuts to balance the state’s 2010 budget.

Using American Sign Language, with interpreters for those few people in the audience needing them, Gary Olsen and Larry Puthoff with the South Dakota Association for the Deaf said that if the school closes, magnet schools should be created in or near Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and Pierre.

The two men, both retired from careers in education, gave their presentation at Communication Services for the Deaf on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

Sign of the times

2 03 2009

ASL, a new world language option in St. Mary’s County schools, gains following in first year

Friday, Feb. 27, 2009

Teri Brown relishes roles of author, mentor, tutor

27 02 2009

Tigard, Oregon—“I’m one of those really weird people,” Teri Brown explains. “In order to throw myself 100 percent into something, I have to believe in it, too. My husband calls this ‘impractical.’”

Impractical or not, Brown is dedicated to her beliefs. Among them: She is a strong believer in the powers of self-education and literacy.

“I basically have no education, at all,” Brown says.

Nevertheless, she taught herself enough to climb the ranks of the freelance writing and advertising world, where she has devoted years to interviewing some of the nation’s foremost parenting experts, writing articles for a variety of publications (including Community Newspapers) and publishing both nonfiction and fictional books.

“I truly believe that even if you can’t afford college or can’t afford higher education, you can still become self-educated. It may not matter as much when you go to apply for a job, but it sure matters for the quality of your life,” says Brown.

In September, Brown took a position at Community Partners for Affordable Housing, a nonprofit organization that provides safe, healthy and affordable housing, as well as support and skill building activities, for those with the greatest need in the Tigard-Tualatin area and Southwest Portland.

At Greenburg Oaks, the CPAH property where Brown works as the after-school program associate, or as she calls it, a “glorified tutor,” Brown combines her passions for literacy and self-education by helping kindergartners through junior high students with their homework and reading. Character building, crafts, making connections: All are included in a day’s tutoring.

“A lot of parents are really happy to have their kids go to a place where they have to do their homework,” Brown says.

Many of these parents, she says, are transitioning out of homelessness and see the after-school program as an invaluable resource.

Teri Brown recently started a book club for teens at Greenburg Oaks, an affordable housing property owned by Community Partners for Affordable Housing. An author herself, Brown is a literacy advocate who believes a limited income should never limit one’s ability to become self-educated.

Teri Brown recently started a book club for teens at Greenburg Oaks, an affordable housing property owned by Community Partners for Affordable Housing. An author herself, Brown is a literacy advocate who believes a limited income should never limit one’s ability to become self-educated.

Once a month, the group goes on a field trip to take in a cultural event. The community has donated tickets for everything from the ballet to the Blazers for the after-school program.

“We can take the kids out to things they might never do on their own,” Brown says.

Brown, who home-schooled her own two children up until high school, sees value in presenting kids with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. This partly explains why, in addition to the tutoring she does for her job, she took on additional volunteer work at CPAH, forming and running a youth book club.

Brown knows a thing or two about young adult literature – in June, her debut novel “Read My Lips” was published. The book is about a young oral-deaf girl who uses her lip reading skills to get in with the popular crowd. Once she’s accepted there, the popular kids try to use her lip reading abilities to their advantage.

Brown’s mother-in-law was a deaf advocate on the board for the Alexander Graham Bell Association, and her husband’s niece uses hearing aids and lip reading to communicate. Although this inspired the story, Brown insists it’s a lighter read.

“It’s a fluffy, beach read type book,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be a deaf issues book because I’m not deaf. I can’t really get my arms around what it would be like. I just wanted to have a story that starred a deaf girl.”

For the book club, Brown has been leaning on her writer friends to get books donated. She follows an every-other-month schedule: One month features a local author who is able to attend the meeting and answer questions, and the next month features an out-of-state author who participates in the meetings from afar. Their last guest author answered questions via Podcast.

Brown’s goal is to obtain funding to buy books for the club, rather than always relying on donations. She often dips into her own pocket to make the meetings special: She likes to serve the students foods they may not normally be exposed to, like crackers with Brie cheese or fondue.

Brown, a native Oregonian who has lived in Tigard for the past 19 years, says her hobbies never stray far from her work: She loves to read, write and teach others, so that’s what she does with her time. She also mentors a young writer who is working on a senior project in Yamhill.

In addition to her novel, Brown has two works of nonfiction published: “Christian Unschooling: Growing Your Children in the Freedom of Christ” and “Day Tripping.” Her Web site is

On March 10, the book club will hold its next meeting, where author Heather Vogel Frederick will be on hand to visit and sign her book “The Mother-Daughter Book Club.”

“I’ve been able to do this, mostly because of the generosity of my writer friends from around the country,” Brown says of keeping the book club going.

She hopes the generosity will expand to the community and others will share her vision for passing the value of reading onto the youth of Greenburg Oaks.

School for the deaf helps students blossom

26 02 2009

Article published on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009

Ivy Richardson of Largo, sits in her seventh-grade class at Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf in Clearwater.

CLEARWATER – Ivy Richardson came to Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf in Clearwater when she was 7. She could not spell her last name and was years behind her age group in school.

Ivy is deaf and had a hard time communicating and learning in a traditional classroom at Cross Bayou Elementary School in Pinellas Park. Now, as a seventh-grader, Ivy excels in math and loves to learn, said her mother, Stacy, of Largo.

Ivy was one of the school’s first students, and she attributes her academic success to the school. She grew up at Blossom, she signed.

Blossom Montessori School for the Deaf is one of two Montessori schools for deaf people in the United States and the only one in Florida, said Carol Downing, associate director of the school. The school is for kids ages 2 1/2 through 15 who are deaf, hard of hearing, those with cochlear implants or hearing kids who have a parent or sibling who is deaf.

“A lot of deaf schools have deaf students with hearing parents, which most of them have, but we bring in the CODAs (children of deaf adults,) the hard of hearing students, and we have kids with the cochlear implants because we know if it breaks, they’re deaf,” Downing said. “And the panic that can set in for a child who’s not ready to be deaf, everyone here is sensitive to that instead of being plunked down into a public school where no one understands the trauma of that child all of a sudden losing everything they’re dependent on, whether it’s a dead battery or a broken gizmo.”

Stacy first discovered her daughter was deaf when Ivy was about 2 years old, Stacy said. When she began public school, Stacy said Ivy felt extreme frustration because she couldn’t communicate or understand the lessons very well. Then she transferred to Blossom.

“I immediately noticed improvements in her academic progress, for here was a school that was equipped to handle her needs,” Stacy said. “Her needs include the use of effective communication, which for her is American Sign Language. I also firmly believe in the Montessori approach to teaching. Ivy’s language skills have improved immensely.”

The school was founded in 2003 by Julie Rutenberg, now director of the school. She had taken an American Sign Language interpretive

language course from Downing at St. Petersburg College and saw the need for a school when she did her contact hours with deaf kids in the public school system.

According to the Blossom literature, the Tampa Bay area is home of the fourth largest deaf concentration in the United States and 37 percent of children with minimal hearing fail at least one grade.

The teachers at Blossom all speak in both American Sign Language and spoken English. As a Montessori kid herself, Rutenberg realized the benefits deaf kids would get from the hands-on, tactile learning of the Montessori method.

In the Montessori classroom, words and concepts have physical objects that students can pick up and hold. Math is learned with beads – loose beads for 1 to 10, groups of 10 beads strung on a wire, 10 groups of 10 beads strung into a square, and 1,000 beads strung into a cube.

“If you’re deaf, then everything you learn is with your eyes,” said Maria Kadau, director of development at the school. “It’s very visual, so it’s good to enhance their visual senses with what they’re learning.”

The children up to age 6 are all in one classroom, then they go the 6- to 9-year-old classroom, then onto the 9- to 12-year-old classroom, and finally to the 12- to 15-year-old classroom. This way the younger students can learn from the older ones and the older students can help teach the younger students, Downing said. Sometimes kid speak – or kid signing – helps explain a difficult concept to a peer that finally makes it stick.

“We have the chance to let kids in the classroom feel empowered by teaching,” Downing said. “Instead of ‘Stop talking and turn around,’ it’s “I’ll give you 20 minutes with him to explain what you think that means and I’ll be back to check on you. And Ivy is really good in math, and she’s been instrumental in re-explaining something to her classmates. I’ve watched her in action and she comes up with some really funny examples and other students kind of go ‘Oh!’ and the teachers will go, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?'”

Classes have six to eight students in them, and there is lots of one-on-one time with teachers. Each day the children get a contract of what they must cover that day and then they decide when they want to learn that subject. This approach is used because kids’ brains learn different subjects better at different times of the day, Downing said, so the lessons are more effective when they are excited and ready to study that subject instead of being forced to do particular subjects at particular times.

“They make things interesting here,” Ivy signed. “Like math – you have to figure it out. And when you get frustrated, you don’t get upset. The teacher works with you one-on-one and makes you feel better about learning. I feel smarter all the time.”

Ivy said her teacher keeps her challenged and she feels a camaraderie with him because he is deaf, too. It’s wonderful that all the teachers teach in sign language so they do not have to rely on interpreters, she said. The teachers at Blossom make concepts stick, she said, and she is grateful she attends the school.

“I would be so bored (in public school,)” Ivy said, “because they don’t really have high expectations (of deaf kids) and things would be just baby easy. But at Blossom, it’s so much more challenging. I know it. And they just tell me I can be smarter and smarter and smarter.”

The hardest part of being deaf is just not being able to hear, Ivy said, and it is very hard to learn a language she has never heard. That is why it helps to learn with the Montessori method in which every word and concept has a tangible object, she said.

“When you write things down, it’s there (on the page,) but when you move things, you understand what they mean,” Ivy signed. “They have names and they’re objects and it’s related to the names, and then when you take the test and you have something you can remember. It sticks. You can pick it up and use it and put it back down and remember the name of it. And sometimes, if you think you’ve forgotten something, you can go back and remember the name of something because it is in your head. You’ve learned it with your hands, so it’s in your head.”

Ivy is full of ambition and wants to attend high school at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine and then go on to becoming either a veterinarian, nurse, scientist or an artist.

Ivy said the school has helped her family, too. There are monthly adult classes, and because of that, Ivy’s mom, grandmother and aunt have learned excellent sign language, which helps Ivy communicate with her family.

“I think this helps with respect,” Downing said. “Like Ivy’s mom – yeah, she has to learn sign language to talk to her daughter, but guess what? Her daughter has to learn English to talk to her. And as she said, it’s so hard when you can’t hear the language.”

The school also teaches social responsibility. For instance, starting in preschool, the kids decide when they want their snack, so they tell the teacher and then get their food themselves, take out a paper plate and napkin and then clean up after themselves. If they spill, they clean it up, and the students clean their own lunch room as well.

Children may enroll in the school at any age between 2 1/2 and 15 and at any time of the year, Downing said. Cost is $5,500 a year for preschool and $7,000 a year for the older students, although the actual cost is about $25,000 per year per child. As a nonprofit organization, the school relies on charitable contributions to fund the difference and other costs.

Shelley Neal: Cochlear implants let children live life with sound

26 02 2009

February 25, 2009 @ 08:15 PM

Cochlear implants deliver miraculous results to those who are profoundly deaf. Children who were once destined to live life in complete silence are now able to benefit from the advances made through modern technology. The cochlear implant is an excellent choice for parents who want their children to experience the world of sound.

Six-year-old Emily Neal was born deaf, but can now hear thanks to implant surgery conducted when she was an infant.

Six-year-old Emily Neal was born deaf, but can now hear thanks to implant surgery conducted when she was an infant.

As the mother of a child with bilateral cochlear implants, my experience began when my daughter, Emily, was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in both ears. While other babies were learning to use their voices to communicate, Emily was learning to use her hands. Living the first year of her life in silence, Emily was oblivious to sound. Since no one else in her family knew sign language, Emily’s communication was limited to conversing with me, her mother.

During a visit with Dr. Thomas Jung, Emily’s neurotologist, I learned that Emily was an excellent candidate for the cochlear implant. Upon hearing this, I became overjoyed, yet uneasy, being as no surgery comes without risks. Emily was a happy child and loved beyond words. Why would I purposely send her into surgery when she is already perfect? Why can’t everyone just learn how to sign? These questions continually lingered in my mind, as I had a life-changing decision to make for my child. Nonetheless, a decision had to be made.

While spending time in prayer, I asked the Lord to use her for His glory and chose to go forward with the surgery. One month following surgery, Emily’s cochlear implant was activated. Immediately after activation, her audiologist, Pamela Vannoy-Adkins, turned the device on; Emily cried in horror! She was experiencing a new sense: sound. Going from a peaceful environment to one filled with noise, simply overwhelmed her. Once again, I questioned my decision.

Prior to surgery, Emily was attending speech therapy at Marshall University twice a week to learn sign language. After receiving her cochlear implant, Emily’s therapist, Amy Knell, focused on her oral communication skills. Emily was eager to learn and made every effort to understand the sounds around her and tried to make sense of them. Everyone marveled at her progress. After five years of intensive speech therapy and many prayers, Emily had reached her full potential and was discharged from the program. She has since undergone a second cochlear implant operation making her the first child in the state to acquire bilateral cochlear implants.

Today, Emily is a first-grader who makes straight “A’s,” and reading is her favorite subject. Had I made a different decision, Emily would either be in a school for children with special needs or would require a sign language interpreter throughout her life. Watching her interact with her peers and hearing the words “I love you Mommy,” validates the decision I made for her six years ago. The benefits of the cochlear implant far outweigh the risks. Thank God for Dr. Jung, the staff at Tri-State Otolaryngology, Amy Knell, the Scottish Rite Program at Marshall University and modern technology in the form of the cochlear implant.

Shelley Neal is a stay-at-home mom and a student. She resides in Chesapeake, Ohio.

Service or Companion Animals for Disabled Tenants

25 02 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


The Fair Housing Act
You are required to comply with The Fair Housing Act (FHA) if you rent private housing, housing that receives Federal financial assistance or State/Local government housing. Essentially, if you rent any property whatsoever, you must follow the laws established under the FHA.The FHA prohibits discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and family status.  It also prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability.  Under this section, owners of rental properties are required “to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities.”

Who is considered disabled?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines an individual with a disability to be

 “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”

Pretty broad definition! And, the ADA does not specifically name all the impairments that are covered (it’s probably a very long list).

Making exceptions
So, if you’re a landlord, you are required to make “reasonable exceptions” to ensure disabled folks are not discriminated against. For example, even with a “no pets” policy, you may be required to make an exception to accommodate a service or companion animal. While a dog wearing a special red “service animal” vest or a wheelchair-pulling canine are pretty obvious, other companion animals are not so easy to spot.

You might think a deaf tenant would always be allowed to keep a dog to help out when the doorbell or phone rings, or the fire alarm is activated.  Actually, a court decided that a dog owned by two deaf women had never been trained to assist them in any way, and therefore was nothing more than a “house pet”—and the landlord won its case.
 [Bronk v. Ineichen, 54 F.3d 425 (7th Cir.1995)]

In another case, a dog with no training as a service animal was found to be therapeutic solely because of his “innate qualities.” The tenants were allowed to keep him. In still another case, a mentally disabled tenant was not allowed to keep two birds and two cats “for companionship.”
[Auburn Woods  Homeowners Ass’n v. Fair Employment and Housing Commission, 121 Cal.App.4 1578, 18 Cal.Rptr.3d 669] [Janush v. Charities Housing Development Corp., 169 F.Supp.2d 1133 (N.D. Cal, 2000).]

What’s a Landlord to Do?
Because court rulings on this topic are as varied as the genetic makeup of a pound puppy, it seems there are no hard and fast rules to follow. Consider the following general guidelines, and remember: this is not legal advice!  Every jurisdiction is subject to individual case law, so always seek the advice of your attorney for specific questions on your local laws, as well as FHA and ADA. 

  • The law protects both physically and mentally disabled individuals. Don’t assume a person is not disabled based on appearance.
  • Not all trained service animals wear special vests or harnesses. Don’t assume a prospective tenant’s animal is not a service animal based on appearance.
  • Highly trained service animals, as well as companion animals who might not be specially trained, are not considered “pets.” Therefore, a “no-pet” policy would not apply.
  • Emotional support animals provide just that service—emotional support—to their owners.
  • It is reasonable to ask for proof of disability and need for a service/companion animal from a tenant’s physician or other health care provider in cases where the disability and/or need is not obvious.
  • It is reasonable to require all animals living on your property to be properly vaccinated and to follow any and all rules regarding leashing, waste disposal, etc.
  • While you cannot discriminate under the FHA, you are perfectly within your rights to screen all prospective tenants’ background and credit history.Sources: Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Housing Act, Fair Housing Institute