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Now hear this! Masks interfere with our hearing devices - yoursun.com

Now hear this! Masks interfere with our hearing devices - yoursun.comNow hear this! Masks interfere with our hearing devices - yoursun.comPosted: 20 Jun 2020 06:30 AM PDT Like most of us, I have been following the CDC guidelines to stay safe and healthy by wearing a mask and practicing social distancing of 6 feet.We folks with hearing loss cannot hear at 6 feet away. So, we hope no one wants to have a conversation with us at the grocery store.The masks do not help in that area either. Most of us with hearing loss need to read lips.The masks are a pain to those of us who wear hearing devices. We try to stretch the elastic bands over the ears to secure the mask. These elastic bands interfere with the tubing in hearing aids and with the devices themselves.When I pull the elastic bands over my cochlear implants, the implants fall off and the elastic bands get raveled in my hair. There I am with the implants on the floor – not daring to move my feet for fear of stepping on them and with the…

“The Inaccessible Internet - Slate” plus 2 more

“The Inaccessible Internet - Slate” plus 2 more

The Inaccessible Internet - Slate

Posted: 22 May 2020 09:15 AM PDT

A tablet with a broken screen propped up on a stand.

Without accessibility, technology simply doesn't work for many people.

When virtual events began proliferating due to calls for social distancing, Camisha Jones saw a silver lining. For years, she has had limited access to in-person events due to undifferentiated connective tissue disease, which causes, among other symptoms, joint pain and fatigue. But now that many events would be taking place online, she realized she could attend more poetry readings than usual.

Her enthusiasm was short-lived. "I find myself opting out of events because very little effort is being made to provide accessibility services for them," said Jones, who works as the managing director of a poetry organization and lives in Herndon, Virginia, in an email interview.

In addition to chronic pain, Jones also has Ménière's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes fluctuating hearing levels as well as other symptoms. In order to enjoy online events, she needs to be able to read what speakers are saying through captioning or a transcript.
However, few organizations are using real-time automatic captioning for their livestreamed events, though the feature is available for free on platforms like Facebook and YouTube. While autocaptions are less accurate than human transcribers, the technology has improved over the years. In choosing not to use it, event organizers are shutting out more than 48 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans.

One in four American adults is disabled. It's been 30 years since lawmakers passed the Americans With Disabilities Act to make the country—and later, some argue, the internet—more accessible. But now, as we shift to working, schooling, shopping, and communicating virtually, the pandemic is showing how many holes remain in digital accessibility. From the absence of captioning to technical obstacles to blatant disregard for who even has access to the internet, these holes are everywhere: in health care, the workplace, education, and even state government websites, where more than 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment. According to research by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in April, "86 percent of state government unemployment websites fail at least one basic test for mobile page load speed, mobile friendliness, or accessibility." The researchers noted in their report, "These results closely mirror the performance of 400 state government websites ITIF tested in 2018," showing a consistent disregard for the needs of disabled people even before the pandemic.

Jones, who has met with multiple doctors for virtual appointments over various telehealth videoconferencing platforms since March, said she had trouble understanding them due to the lack of accommodations, which has led to "infuriating" delays and technical obstacles. "None of the platforms for these appointments have included captions," she wrote. Some non-telehealth-specific videoconferencing platforms do offer autocaptions, including Skype, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams; Zoom, however, does not.* (All of these platforms have HIPAA-compliant options, provided that the platforms are used correctly.)

In the pandemic, deaf and hard-of-hearing people also face technical issues even when getting care in person. Many hospitals are limiting in-person interpreters to prevent the spread of the virus and offering video remote interpreting in their stead. But remote sign language interpreting can be plagued by poor Wi-Fi connectivity or a lack of training on the part of medical professionals. The Los Angeles Times reported that in March in Ocoee, Florida, Jennylee Bruno, a deaf author who was diagnosed with COVID-19, initially received information about her condition through a video feed that kept freezing.* Staff eventually stopped using the interpreter altogether because of the frequent technical issues and instead used a whiteboard to communicate. "There's a lot of people there and they have no time to wait for an interpreter," she told the newspaper.

Employees now working from home are also facing videoconferencing challenges. Alaina Lavoie, a writer, editor, and social media manager in Boston, finds these calls overstimulating for her as an autistic person. "I have to focus and spend a lot more energy on video calls than I would on meeting in person or an audio call with no video component," she said over email. She finds herself needing to take multiple breaks during calls because the pressure of deciding whom to look at or when it's appropriate to speak exhausts her energy. "I think it increases accessibility if events are available to watch later, especially since with a virtual event it's so easy to record it and upload it."

Students are also saying that their access needs aren't being addressed in the virtual space. Despite the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, which ensures equal access to education to eligible students with disabilities, many students have been overlooked during the rush to move courses online. (It didn't help that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was, until recently, debating whether to grant waivers to schools exempting them from special education requirements.) Mitchell Smedley, a blind high school student in Ivyland, Pennsylvania, is one of four students who filed a civil rights complaint with the National Federation of the Blind on May 11 against the College Board for not making its AP tests, which are now being administered digitally because of the coronavirus pandemic, accessible by hard copy to students who use Braille. "College Board needs to give the option for Braille and tactile diagrams, like we would have had before the pandemic," Smedley said over email. Without them, "it's like asking the sighted students to turn off their screens."

Online offerings also make the assumption that people can even access them. But many disabled people lack basic internet access. According to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, disabled adults are roughly 20 percent less likely than nondisabled people to say they subscribe to home broadband and own a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Twenty-three percent of disabled respondents say they "never" go online, compared with 8 percent of nondisabled respondents. It's likely that fewer disabled people have internet access than nondisabled people because they are more than twice as likely to live in poverty. Only 32 percent of working-age people with disabilities are employed, compared with 73 percent of nondisabled people.

All of these roadblocks—whether to academic resources, medical care, or just participation in a virtually staged community—cost disabled people more than just the access they're denied in that moment. Elizabeth Ellcessor, an assistant professor of media studies at the University of Virginia who studies the accessibility of technology, said that technology that restricts access to those who fit bodily norms is itself disabling. Referring to the rise of video meetings through platforms like Zoom, she said over email, "While these technologies extend access in some ways, they also introduce new problems tied to various disabilities or bodily needs."

With public health experts saying that social distancing may need to continue on and off through 2022, businesses, schools, and organizations need to make their online services accessible. If they don't, already underemployed disabled people risk losing their jobs, experiencing difficulty acquiring goods and services like health care, and not having the information they need to stay safe.

"We [disabled people] stand to benefit greatly, alongside everyone else in this economy, if we make digital accessibility a priority," said former Rep. Tony Coelho, who has epilepsy and was the ADA's primary sponsor, in an email interview. "My recommendation for leaders who are trying to figure out what to do and how to do it is to build relationships with disability leaders in their communities. They are your best assets." He added that it's also important to "address how race, class, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religion impact digital access."

AudioEye, an artificial intelligence–powered technology company where Coelho is on the board, is one of several companies working to ensure that websites are ADA-compliant and abide by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Unlike other technology companies that put the onus on the content developer to correct accessibility issues found by the company, AudioEye says they insert a snippet of JavaScript code into a website—to identify and remediate accessibility issues including missing image descriptions and inaccessible forms, buttons, heading structure, and links.

Lawsuits over web accessibility are filed at the rate of once every working hour, according to a 2019 report by 3Play Media, a company that provides captioning, transcription, and audio description services. In a landmark decision in October, the Supreme Court declined to hear Domino's Pizza's petition to review its case, in which the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it violated the ADA because its website didn't work with a blind man's screen reader software.

"Right now, the world has just been scrambling to survive COVID-19," said Heath Thompson, who uses a wheelchair and is the chief executive officer of AudioEye, in an email interview. "I believe the pandemic has also created an opportunity for worldwide empathy towards the need for digital access, as we've all now been able to experience what it's like not to be able to do basic things every day that we all took for granted just a few short months ago."

Correction, May 22, 2020: This piece originally misidentified Google Meet as Google Meets and misspelled Ocoee.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.

"I like the Earbus because they can fix our ears and make it better.” - Yahoo Lifestyle

Posted: 21 May 2020 10:52 PM PDT

One young boy stands out in Lara Shur's memory.

"He was totally out of control at school – practically climbing the walls," she says.

Then the Earbus visited his school.

"They discovered the real problem, which was that he couldn't hear," Lara says. "He had the treatment he needed and right off the bat he was top of his science class."

Lara is Director of Clinical Services and a co-founder of the Earbus Foundation – a Western Australia-based charity working to reduce the incidence of middle ear disease in Aboriginal and at-risk children. She and the other Earbus specialists have seen many, many examples of children misdiagnosed as naughty or not paying attention when they're actually struggling to hear.

"If you can't hear you can't learn in a normal schoolroom environment," says Paul Higginbottom, CEO and co-founder of the Earbus Foundation. "That's bound to lead to downstream issues such as poor retention rates at school, welfare dependency and underemployment. Hearing loss may not be life-threatening but it can certainly ruin your life."

Good news about prevention

As many as 75 percent of children enrolled in some urban schools can't hear properly. And, in some regional and remote schools, the figure is close to 100 percent. The good news is that it's possible to prevent the hearing loss that stops so many children from reaching their full potential.

"I've been at this school for four years now and there's been an amazing change since Earbus began to visit," says Julie Rose, Deputy Principal of South Hedland Primary School. "They not only recognise and treat the problems they also let us know what we can do to help."

A dedicated team

Paul jokes that, after launching in 2013, they were 'Earbusless' Foundation for some time.

"We did hearing tests under trees, in libraries – anywhere we could set up – but you really need better conditions than that," Paul continues. "The Bus gave us the capacity to do reliable, high-quality audiology in a clean and hygienic environment."

Even now, the work isn't for everyone. It can take three or four hours to drive to some communities, often in relentless 46-degree heat. And even as COVID-19 is creating so many other serious healthcare issues, Earbus is finding ways to continue its work within government safety guidelines.

"Our $40,000 Sunsuper Dreams for a Better World grants will help us to build a for-purpose mobile clinic, including screening and audiological equipment, for our Pilbara Outreach Program," says Paul. "This will help us to service daycare and child parent centres as well as schools."

Sunsuper's Dreams for a Better World program partners with grassroots community groups, not-for-profit organisations and small businesses to help them dream big and do good. 

"We're very proud to be helping organisations like Earbus make a difference in Australian communities," says CEO Bernard Reilly. "Our Dreams for a Better World program is an ongoing commitment from us and we're looking forward to receiving applications for a share of the $150,000 in grants we'll award later this year."

For more information or to apply, visit Sunsuper's Dreams for a Better World.

Did climate change cause infections 6000 years ago? - Mirage News

Posted: 21 May 2020 07:12 PM PDT

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered evidence of ear infections in the skull remains of humans living in the Levant some 15,000 years ago.

"Our research seeks to determine the impact of our environment on illnesses in different periods," says lead author Dr. Hila May of the Department of Anatomy and Anthropology at TAU's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Dan David Center for Human Evolution and Biohistory Research at the Faculty of Medicine, located at the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History. "Using advanced technologies and unique methods developed in our lab, we have been able to detect signs of prolonged inflammation in the middle ear."

The researchers found a decline in morbidity as a result of ear infections following the transition from hunting and gathering to farming on account of changes in living conditions. A peak in morbidity, however, was observed in a sedentary population living about 6,000 years ago (Chalcolithic period).

Dr. May says the reason for this is twofold: social and environmental: "We know from archaeological excavations of this period, similar to preceding periods, people lived in a communal area where all activities, from cooking to raising livestock, took place. As a result, the population density in the 'home' was high, hygiene was poor and they suffered from indoor air pollution. Two other factors known about this period – dietary change, the advent of dairy consumption, and climate change, a dip in temperature and a rise in rainfall, also contributed to the prevalence of ear infections."

A story in the skulls

Until the advent of antibiotics in the 20th century, ear infections developed into chronic conditions, or, due to complications, caused permanent loss of hearing or even death. "Ear infections are still a very common childhood ailment, with over 50 percent of young children today still suffering from an ear infection at one point or another," explains Dr. May. "The reason for this is that the tubes that channel fluid from the middle ear to the mouth are underdeveloped in young children, so fluids that accumulate in the ear ultimately cause inflammation."

"A prolonged ear infection would cause permanent damage to the bony wall of the middle ear, which is remarkably preserved into adulthood, so when we sought to investigate changes in communal health over time in our region, we chose to focus on ear infections, developing a special method for doing so," she adds.

The scientists used a videoscope, a tiny camera mounted at the end of a flexible tube, which they inserted through the ear canal to the middle ear to observe its bony walls. In addition, they scanned skull remains with a high-resolution micro-CT, and also examined the middle ear's bony wall using a light microscope.

More room, fewer infections

As living conditions improved, morbidity as a result of ear infections dropped, according to the study.

"Houses were larger and featured several rooms, including separate areas for specific activities, i.e. the kitchen was set up in a separate room or outside, and livestock were kept in a separate area," she says. "The change in lifestyle and climate is reflected in a decline in morbidity."

"Our study deals with the impact of the environment and social behavior on morbidity rates, and to do so, we examined a common disease that has accompanied humanity since inception – the ear infection," concludes Dr. May. "Understanding how diseases appear, spread and disappear throughout human history can help prevent and find solutions to contemporary illnesses. The study clearly points out risk factors and shows how lifestyle changes can affect the incidence of the disease. In both ear infections and COVID-19, social distancing and adherence to hygiene reduced the spread of infection, while close quarters and unhygienic living conditions saw infections spike."

/Public Release. View in full here.


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