Spark could redefine strobe systems for deaf

Back in the day, deaf people used strobe systems to alert them to phone calls, door bells and other sounds around the home. Because strobe systems are connected to landlines, they are of little use to those who primarily use cell phones for communication.

Last week, TechCrunch featured a product that could very well change that.

Spark is a dongle that screws into a lamp. Screw any dimmable lightbulb into Spark, and using wi-fi, you can control the light bulb from any smart phone, tablet or computer.

Spark can be used to turn off lights remotely, create mood lighting and time lighting for vacations. Most importantly for the deaf community, however, Spark can be programmed to blink when you receive text messages, emails or facetime requests.

Zach Supalla, creator of Spark, explained to TechCrunch how he got the idea for Spark.

“The product was inspired by my dad, who’s deaf, and uses lights for notification. At first, I was trying to solve a very specific problem that he has, which is that the old strobe systems for the deaf are intended for landlines, and now that he uses a cell phone for text messaging, he’s difficult to get ahold of when he’s home and takes his phone out of his pocket. I wanted to create a system that could flash his lights based on signals from the internet that he’s got a text message or an email. But once I started working on it, I started to realize how big the opportunity is for providing an open API for lights.”


Soldier proposes to girlfriend in American Sign Language

Private First Class James Delano came home to Pheonix from Afghanistan for Thanksgiving. His girlfriend, Samantha Penuelas, made plans to surprise him at the airport, but what she didn’t know was that Delano had a surprise of his own.

Penuelas is studying to become an American Sign Language interpreter, so Delano learned to sign “a very special phrase. After greeting each other with a hug, Delano dropped down on one knee and signed, “Will you marry me?”

Penuelas signed “yes” back to him.

The exchange was captured by Pheonix’s Fox News station and they featured the story on the evening news and their website.

Sexual abuse in deaf schools

High profile cases, such as the Jerry Sundusky case, have garnered national attention in recent years, bringing the sexual abuse of minors to the forefront of public awareness. Incidents have happened everywhere from schools, to churches, to neighborhoods. Deaf schools are not immune to this tragedy.

In the 1950s, the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy molested countless students at St. John’s School for the Deaf in St. Francis, Wis. Despite the boys’ attempts to report the abuse, Murphy’s actions went unaddressed until after his death in 1998.

“Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God,” a documentary produced by Alex Gibney, explores and exposes how the Catholic church mishandled sexual abuse in schools and churches throughout the last century. He uses St. John’s School for the Deaf his primary example.

The priest abused the men in the film when they were schoolboys in the 1950s and ’60s, favoring with horrendous cunning the ones whose parents couldn’t speak to their sons in sign language.

As the boys grew into men they began to communicate with one another, and eventually became some of the first to go public, in the 1970s, with accusations against a priest. — The New York Post

Deaf children are uniquely susceptible to sexual predators, so deaf schools, particularly residential schools, should be especially vigilant.

Most deaf children struggle with communication with the hearing world.

The language barrier stands between communication with parents, church leaders, non-signing school administrators and law enforcement officers.

Because many hearing parents choose to not learn to sign, some children who go to deaf schools view the school as their family—classmates become siblings, while teachers and dorm parents become like parents. If abuse is coming from within the school, they are less likely to see their parents and others outside of the school as allies who can come to their defense.

Also, it is not uncommon for the abuser to be one of the few, if not the only, links that a child has with the hearing community. A victim is not going to ask an abuser to interpret as they report abuse.

The residential school environment creates the innumerable opportunities and provides predators unparalleled access to potential victims.

Schools shouldn’t just be concerned about faculty and staff abusing children, but students as well. Two families filed lawsuits against Colorado School for the Deaf because they believe that the staff was aware of, but did not report or prevent a 14-year-old student from sexually assaulting other students.

Like any other child, fear is another primary factor when it comes to reporting sexual abuse.  Whether the abuser is an authority figure or a peer, fear of backlash, disbelief and negative attention plague victims and often keep them from reporting abuse.

Deaf schools should have very specific plans in place to prevent, report and stop abuse.

First of all, education is the most important aspect for deaf children. They need to know what is appropriate and what is not. These standards must be communicated in a way that they understand clearly.

There should be multiple people they can go to if they feel threatened or are abused. That way each authority figure is held accountable by the others.

An open door policy must be implemented AND communicated with students. They must understand that they can come forward and report abuse without fear of repercussion.

All reports, no matter how unlikely they seem, must be investigated immediately and the proper law enforcement agencies must be notified.

Gibney’s film shows the lasting emotional impactimpact of sexual abuse. Four deaf men share their stories in ASL, voiced over by actors.


The HBO documentary will be released in Feb. 2013.

Deaf woman arrested, jailed for three days without interpreter

Lashonn White filed a law suit for $4.5 million against the city of Tacoma, Wash. on Thursday (Nov. 15).

White, who is deaf, was tased, arrested and jailed for nearly three days without an interpreter after she called for help when she was assaulted by a guest in her own home. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that deaf individuals be provided with an interpreter.

Not only did the city not provide an interpreter, the TTY at the jail did not work and they were not equipped with videophone technology.

White’s experience illustrates just how vital sensitivity training is for public officials.

Escalating conflict puts deaf Israelis at increased risk

As conflict escalates in the Middle East, deaf Israelis are at an increased risk of injury and death because they cannot hear the warning sirens.

Government issued vibrating pagers alert deaf Israelis of incoming rockets, but they are far from the perfect solution for these people. The current system is flawed and puts the lives of deaf Israelis unnecessarily at risk.

The first flaw in Israel’s alert system for the deaf is that pagers are set for the individual’s hometown. These pagers are practically useless during travel, since they don’t send alerts based on the current location of the individual, but their hometown.

The pagers used to be programmed to alert people of all air strikes, but the government decided to switch to a more localized alert system because the old system caused unnecessary panic amongst deaf people when they would receive alerts for other parts of the country.

Another issue is that the alert system itself is faulty and often goes off after an attack or not at all. This is especially frustrating, because people never know if they will be alerted or not before an attack. The Home Front Command, which supplies the pagers, has agreed set up a repair station for the devices in Ashdod.

With nearly 550 rockets landing in Israel since Wednesday and an ever expanding area affected by the conflict, those who have not formerly needed assistive technology are now in danger zones as well. The pagers were distributed to deaf people living in border towns, but not those closer to Jerusalem, because these towns were not coming under fire. However, with the recent rise in violence, these towns are under fire as well.

The Israeli government would do well to revamp its alert system for the deaf. Too many deaf people are put in danger every day when their technology fails.

First of all, alert systems should be supplied to all deaf Israelis. Israel’s Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law requires all services provided to those without disabilities to be provided to those with them. Since Israel provides warning sirens for hearing citizens, deaf citizens should be supplied with a comparable warning system.

The law imposes a duty on those providing services to the general public to also provide persons with disabilities, while recognizing their human dignity and freedom and protecting their privacy.  While services provided by non-public bodies must include “the adjustments required in the relevant circumstances,” services provided by public bodies are required to be “in a proper quality, reasonable time and distance from the person’s residence, and all within financial resources allocated to the public body.” Public bodies subject to the latter requirements include government ministries, local authorities, corporations, governmental companies, or other publicly audited bodies.

Secondly, GPS technology should be integrated into the warning devices so that deaf individuals will be alerted to warnings where they are, regardless of their location. Customizable alerts would also be beneficial — allowing individuals receive alerts for several different locations. That way if they are out of town, they are alerted of attacks in their current location and their home.

Smart phone technology may be a way to provide these services. Apps with technology similar to TapTap alert deaf people to sounds (including warning sirens) around them. Smart phones would also provide GPS technology and the flexibility to customize alerts.

Continued emergency training should also play a key role in safety programs for the deaf. Hearing people take for granted information that is consistently repeated audibly on TV, at events and in social circles. Often times deaf people miss out on these seemingly basic instructions, so these training sessions present vital survival information in a way that they understand.

With consistent conflict in the Middle East and no ending in sight, it is vital that deaf Israelis have equal access to working warning devices wherever they are.

RIT professor receives national honor

Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf chemistry professor, Todd Pagano, was named professor of the year by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

When Pagano began teaching at NTID 10 years ago, he didn’t know any sign language. Through the years he has learned the language and adapted his teaching style to better benefit deaf students. He explained his teaching methods to CASE.

“I focus on things like making presentations more visual or slowing down, cutting out some of the fat, and making sure students have mastery of the important topics.”

Pagano has grasped a vital aspect of deaf education that many hearing people often miss. “Hearing” methods of education don’t always work for deaf students, particularly those that use ASL as their primary language. Because of the conceptual nature of ASL, signers learn better through explanations than through detailed readings. Because English is most signers’ second language, they struggle to comprehend complex ideas presented in writing.

Subjects like chemistry that are challenging enough as they are, without a language barrier, which is precisely why Pagano deserves this award.

Parents, faculty protest relocation of Grand Rapids Oral Deaf Program

Grand Rapids Oral Deaf Program in Grand Rapids, Mich. is a fantastic example of an oral program that is working. The preschool and elementary program is currently housed at Shawnee Park Math/Science/Technology Elementary School. Due to a Grand Rapids restructuring project, however, the program will be relocated.

The school board plans to house preschoolers and kindergarteners within the program at Preschool University, but has not determined where the elementary students will be housed.

Parents and faculty of the Grand Rapids Oral Deaf Program are pleading with the school board not to separate the program onto two different campuses. They believe that the split would cause an unnecessary drop in effectiveness for deaf education in the Grand Rapids area.

The faculty and staff is encouraging parents and supporters to get involved in a letter writing campaign, asking the school board to reconsider its plan.

“As the Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent and Board of Education, your goal is to ensure ALL children reach their academic potential with equal access to high quality schools with the most talented principals and teachers; and to replicate and expand what’s working in a financially sustainable environment. That summarizes the Grand Rapids Oral Deaf Program. It’s working, it’s succeeding and this is what’s best for our children, our community and our future.”

Although there are a multitude of arguments on the best methods for educating deaf children, there is one thing that most deaf people would agree on: deaf children learn when they are taught in deaf specific environments.

Deaf children often miss foundational education received simply because they can’t “listen in” on what’s going on around them. Children with non-signing hearing parents are especially prone to experience this educational disadvantage. This is why early education is so vital for deaf children.

Early education teach children language skills, be it signing or lip-reading and speaking, so that they can communicate effectively. Effective communication allows students to learn and grow not only in the classroom, but also on an individual level.

American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Conn., founded by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc, was the first official school for the deaf in America. Rather than instruct students to speak, Clerc focused on teaching his pupils academic skills. This model of deaf education has been simulated in residential deaf schools throughout the United States. As mainstreaming is becoming more and more prevalent, these schools are closing and their “sign” only educational policies are declining, but they had a profound impact on the formation of the deaf community in America.

England and Scotland embraced oral communication methods exclusively from early times. Even at the height of success of the residential deaf schools, Alexander Graham Bell worked to develop an effective method to teach the deaf to speak.

Oralism is continuing to grow in popularity in the United States, particularly as the cochlear implant and the Individuals with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) continues to reshape deaf education. Putting deaf children in hearing schools with special programs to help them learn, called mainstreaming, has become an increasingly popular idea.

Though mainstreaming programs include signing and oral programs, oral education has come out at the forefront of this movement.

Atlanta Speech School celebrates 75th anniversary

The Atlanta Speech School celebrated their 75th anniversary Sunday (Nov. 11), according to The Marietta Daily Journal. The celebrations included a Language and Literacy Gala and other events throughout the year.

Founded in 1938 by Katherine Hamm, the mother of a deaf child, the Atlanta Speech School serves as a place for children to learn speech skills, as well as receive an education. It has developed from its original class of 32 students in one rented classroom to a multiprogram facility that serves children and adults with a variety of speech learning issues.

Sorenson Communications announces workshops to help interpreters deal with trauma

With the birth of videophone technology, the Deaf are able to make phone calls in their own language. Video Relay Services (VRS), such as Sorenson, expand their ability to communicate beyond the Deaf community and into the hearing world.

This is particularly helpful when trying to communicate in emergency situations. Deaf people can use their first language with the help of an interpreter to express what’s going.

This, however, means that VRS interpreters are occasionally exposed to traumatic incidents. While it is their job to remain professional, interpreters do not remain unaffected by these events.

That is why Sorenson Communications announced that they will provide additional special training to teach interpreters to deal with interpreting traumatic experiences.

They hired Ron Lybarger, a psychologist and sign language interpreting specialist, to lead workshops for interpreters.

In a release, they outline some of Lyberger’s techniques and plans for the workshops.

Lybarger notes that preliminary studies suggest that strengthening resilience and psychological health can be accomplished through training and preparation, which includes exercise, meditation, compassion for self, social support, even yoga. All are beneficial in multiple ways, says Lybarger, adding “Post-traumatic growth is not simply a return to baseline from a period of suffering; instead, it is an experience of improvement that for some people is deeply profound.”

The following is a video made to show how Sorenson’s videophone technology can be used in an emergency situation.

Marlee Signs

Deaf actress, Marlee Matlin, released “Marlee Signs,” a language learning app for iPhone, iPad and iTouch devices with iOS 5.0 or later.

The app provides seven video lessons signed by Matlin teaching basic American Sign Language signs and phrases. It is available in the Apple App Store for free, and five additional lessons available at $1.99 each.

Marlee Signs is the #19 Top Free Education app in the Apple App Store and is currently rated and four and a half stars.