The Quiet Musings

Attending conferences with a text interpreter

- June 20th, 2018 -

I started attending conferences, workshops, and meetups around 2012 or so. I have been deaf since late 2007. But it wasn’t until three years later that I found out there existed such a thing as a text interpreter. It took so long because doctors refer patients who lost their hearing to get an CI implant. They don’t supply folders and information on living as a deaf person. They just want to “fix” the problem. But that is a story for another time.

With a text interpreter, a new world opened up for me with many possibilities. And even more when I found out that some of the interpreters can also transcribe English. Some of them transcribe English to English, others English to Dutch. This meant I could also attend talks, meetups, and workshops that are in English.

What is a text interpreter and what do they do exactly?

A text interpreter types everything being said for me on a laptop or tablet. For this, they use a special keyboard that makes it able for them to type more quickly than with a regular keyboard. To become a text interpreter you have to get a degree and many hours of training. Plus they need to learn sign language. It’s not an easy job.

The text is not error-less nor an exact wording of what is being said. It’s not ‘smooth’ like the subtitles on Netflix. Because real life is not scripted into short sentences. People talk fast, low voice, several talking at once, etc. There is also the matter of attending a technical talk, say about SVG, Javascript or even CSS. A text interpreter has zero knowledge on the subject and has to make sure I get a comprehensive translation of what is being said.

A lot of speakers at events talk really fast. They pack a lot of information in one talk that needs to be given in 50 minutes. Hearing people have told me it keeps the talk interesting and upbeat. For me, it becomes very difficult to get everything. A text interpreter can’t keep up with all the information. On a normal tempo, I already get the text with a couple of seconds delay. When someone is talking very fast, it gets even more delayed and incomplete.

Right now, it is better than nothing. At Fronteers conference they supply English subtitles for their conferences which is awesome. These are done by a team of interpreters who also have experience transcribing technical talks. This is great for me and other deaf or hard of hearing people. Also for people who are not fluent in English. They can use the subtitles to take in the information at their own pace. I still take a text interpreter with me. Because if there is a connection error to the subtitles screen I miss everything while they work on restoring the connection. At such time my interpreter takes over so I don’t miss everything.

My text interpreter also translates for me during breaks and lunch. When I can’t lipread someone she’ll repeat it to me and use supporting Dutch sign language so I can follow along. She might even type it on the phone if it is too complicated. You could also just use your phone when talking to me, it’s just like sending a WhatsApp, only I’m standing right there! 🙂

‘What is that noise?’

During events, workshops, and meetups I always sit in front. My text interpreter can hear it best from the front and have a clear view of the slides. They also need the room to sit comfortably with the keyboard. As for me, I read body language to compensate for not hearing the tone. I’m tiny, sitting in the back or even middle makes it almost impossible for me to see the speaker or have a clear view of the slides.

Text being transcribed for me during a conference

Obviously, every time I get stares, looks and some people even ask what it’s all about. Which is normal human behavior. We always answer and explain what, why and how. Unfortunately, there have been complaints about the keyboard noise. I have no idea how loud it is. I do know most people are not bothered by it. I have no idea if the people complaining (sometimes in not a very nice way) know that there is a text interpreter in the room. Which inspired me to write this blog to bring awareness to the existence of deaf people or hard of hearing people attending conferences, meetups, and workshops with a text interpreter or a sign language interpreter.

the more accessible events are for everyone, the more knowledge we all gain

I have been informed that some people find sign language interpreters distracting. They have to stand in front to sign to the deaf person. Even tho I don’t use a sign language interpreter, I have been to events with them and have not found it distracting at all. I’m fully aware that they are a necessity for deaf and hard of hearing to participate equally.

It would be great if in the future all events provide text and sign language transcribers, and wheelchair accessible locations by default. I know it costs money, hopefully, companies will be more willing to sponsors these things. After all, the more accessible events are for everyone, the more knowledge we all gain to apply to our work and daily life. A win-win situation for everyone.

Accessible Train Travel

- June 8th, 2018 -

Since I moved to the Netherlands in the year 2000, my main transport mode has been public transport. During my college years, I lived in another city than where I attended school and had to travel a total of 3 hours daily by train with NS and by default ProRail. The past 7 years, I travel for work 4 days a week by tram, train, and metro. Suffice to say I’m a seasoned train traveler. I’ve seen train travel improve, from making them all non-smoker to adding digital screens and an app. Gone are the days of trying to figure out on the yellow boards how to travel.

But for me as a late-deaf person, train service still leaves a lot to desire. Even with the screens in the train and an app. I always have a hard time figuring what is going on when there are train delays. It happens often that the screens in the trains are turned off. When they are in use the only information they show are the stops, current time and eventual time delay. If for some reason the train is standing still on the tracks a long time there isn’t a message on the screen explaining why. The only way to know what’s going on right away, is to hear it on the intercom from the conductor.

And most importantly yet. Safety. NS takes(rightfully so) the sign of doors closing very serious. You can get a hefty fine for trying to sneak in last second between the closing doors.

But I’m deaf, I can’t hear when the conductor whistles for doors closing. In Rotterdam when I get out of the metro sometimes I have about 4 minutes to make it to my train. I’m busy jogging up stairs, navigating the mass of people, checking-in, dodging more people, then going up the escalators to the platform. Even when I see on my watch there is one minute left, it might be less. Once I was just getting in when the doors closed, almost getting my backpack stuck. I thought I still had time left. But obviously, the conductor had already whistled. This could have been a potentially unsafe situation and I could have gotten a fine of hundreds of euros because I can’t hear the whistle signaling doors closing.

It made me think about why there aren’t any visual alert system that the doors are closing? If all doors were fitted with a red light that turns on or flashes, signaling doors closing. I wouldn’t have to stress if I’m trying to catch a train last minute. I would know if I still have time to get in or not. It would be handy too for hearing people who were still too far to hear the whistle but running fast enough that they’d think they still can get on the train.

Train travel would be so much more relaxing, accessible, safe and fun for hard of hearing and deaf people if we had easy access to last minute information and if the doors closing signal is also visible instead of only accessible to hearing people.

Inclusiveness is a Mindset Change

- February 8th, 2018 -

For the past two years I have immersed myself in accessibility, inclusiveness and diversity. As a front-end developer, my focus is of course on websites, user experience and technology. But I’m also a late deaf person. This gives me my own unique view and experience in daily life. When using the internet, doing mundane things like banking, ordering food or interacting with people.

Not a week goes by that I don’t talk to others about accessibility and inclusiveness. With both sides, abled and disabled people. That plus my own experience made me realise that in spite of all the good intentions. Inclusiveness still doesn’t get farther than good intentions.

Inclusiveness in the work field

Being inclusive is not like switching on a light. It takes genuine effort, dedication, empathy and hard work. From both abled co-workers and disabled co-workers.

The mantra is that we need to focus on what people can do well. Focus on their strengths. Give them the tools and space to work at the best of their abilities.

Being inclusive is not like switching on a light.

A disabled person needs to communicate clearly what they need to do their work with success. Abled co-workers need to understand that it takes a mindset change to create an inclusive work environment. It’s not just accommodating the office for a wheelchair. Articulating well for a hard of hearing co-worker. Avoiding putting bags on the floor creating obstacles for a blind co-worker.

It’s about understanding that being a disabled person comes with baggage. It costs more energy to compensate for being, deaf, blind, in a wheelchair or otherwise impaired. Personally, when I’m out of my safe place (home) I’m always on some kind of high alert. At work, social events, congresses, on the streets, etc.

It’s not only negative things that come with a disability. In my case due to being deaf, I’m always solving problems on the go. I need to do this to adapt to a world that is not designed for deaf people. I’m always thinking in solutions.

It appears that many employers and co-workers expect disabled employees to work just like them. Fast, make overtime regularly, flexible to adapt to anything, see the world the same way. While every disabled person has its own unique needs, one should not assume that they can function the same way as an abled person.

Steps to true inclusiveness

There are several steps a company can take to create a truly inclusive work culture.

Approach an organisation specialised in disability. There are many focussed on different disabilities. Most of them have experts that can give guidelines and tips how to make the work environment more inclusive.

Treat employees as they wish to be treated not as you yourself wish to be treated.

Don’t negatively question your employee/co-worker when they tell you about their disability. It takes courage every time to be vulnerable and tell someone about their disability and struggles. Respect that and don’t use that vulnerability against them.

Create an environment of open communication without judging.

Listen to ideas, feedback and input from disabled employees. They have a unique view on the world.

If the team undergoes drastic changes, it’s a good idea to touch base again with everyone about inclusiveness.

The Hospital for Abled People

- December 6th, 2017 -

One would expect the hospital to be the one place accessible to everyone. Unfortunately even in 2017 it is not.

I have been a patient at the same hospital for almost 14 years. Till today it’s still a problem to communicate that I am deaf. Unless I ask the doctors and assistants specifically to email me, they will call me or my emergency contact if something comes up. I can’t be independent because applications and systems aren’t inclusive.

The system that the hospital uses has no field to indicate that a patient is blind or deaf or in a wheelchair. They can’t put in my information that I’m deaf and the primary contact method I prefer is email. That my sisters number is only to be used in case of emergency. That all appointment reminders can be texted to my own number or emailed to me.

Every time I see a new doctor or go in for a test I have to tell them I’m deaf. Because that very important information isn’t next to my name, birth-date and photo.

The system can get my pass photo and identity information from the government system. But yet it can’t handle important patient details that is crucial to know.

Automation, not for everyone

This year they implemented check in computers. Now when you have an appointment, you have to use a touch screen computer that scans your Dutch ID card, Dutch passport or Dutch drivers license. The system will show you your address and contact info and ask you if everything is still correct. It shows you what appointments you have that day. Then it will print out your ticket with a random number and the route you have to be at.

The first thing I noticed when checking in the first time: no privacy. Everyone can see your photo, name and address. I quickly learned to use one of the computers with the screen facing a wall. Months later they finally caught on and added those side screen things that ATM machines have. A small attempt to give one privacy.

I have a suspicion no actual patients were consulted when designing the system and process. For starters a blind person can’t use the check in touchscreen computers at all. They lose all independence and are forced to take someone to their appointments with them or ask one of the helpers to do it for them.

Elderly people who aren’t tech savvy also depend on family members or one of the helpers. It would have been better to use the system and retain the old way of just checking in with humans. This way people can keep their independence and dignity in an already difficult health situation.

Numbers and more numbers

Once you have checked in you get a ticket with a number which is shown on a screen (random numbers) in the waiting room when it’s your turn. No more doctor or nurse that comes to get you. Luckily most health workers still come out to get their patient. But there is no guarantee.

For me as a deaf person it means staring intensely at the screen as to not miss my number. I can’t hear the sound when a new number is shown. When the doctor or lab is running behind I’ll be sitting for 30 to 40 minutes staring at the screen. Instead of reading something to pass time and calm my nerves.

A blind person has no idea when their number is next. There are no braille tickets and the number is not called out. Because of the aforementioned lack in the system to highlight if a patient is blind, deaf, in a wheelchair and/or other. A doctor won’t know to get the patient. Unless it’s a patient they already know.

A couple of months ago I finally asked one of the doctors assistant if it is possible to put in my primary info that I’m deaf. She mailed the tech department for me with that question. She got a standard non answer: “you can add it in the patients file with the rest of their medical info”. Which isn’t the point. This kind of information should be available next to your primary information. Healthcare workers shouldn’t have to click more than once just to find out this kind of crucial information.

Once I got called three times in a row from an unknown number at the end of the working day. I had been to the hospital that morning for a blood test. My gut instinct told me it was the hospital calling with bad results. I had to answer the phone tell whom ever it was that I am deaf, to send a text message.

Turns out my own doctor wasn’t there and when they flagged my results — another doctor who doesn’t know me and did not take the time to read my file, called. They just checked my primary information and called asking me to come right away. Needless to say it was a long anxiety ridden hour while I tried to sort things out which this doctor. Who did not know I am deaf or that the flagged results are my normal blood values.

This isn’t an isolated incident at one hospital. I have been at three hospitals and they all lack accessibility and inclusiveness. It shouldn’t be this hard for disabled patients. It is not that hard for developers to make these systems accessible and inclusive. Having a diverse group of people to test the system can point out all the fallacies. There is no place as diverse as the hospital, because guess what? Health or lack of it, affects everyone.

What being deaf means to me

- November 20th, 2017 -

I noticed there is a lot of misunderstanding when I tell someone I’m deaf. Most people don’t grasp what it means. They assume I’m just hard of hearing. I think the confusion stems from language use. A lot of people who are hard of hearing say they are deaf. People wearing hearing aids say they are deaf and don’t say they are hard of hearing.

There are also many degrees of hard of hearing. Some people have difficulty with lower tones, others have difficulty with higher tones. Some can use the phone, others can’t. Hearing aids or a CI don’t “cure” ones hearing. They just make it possible for someone to hear a bit better.

In my case, I was probably born with small hearing loss. It was first noticed when I started first grade. By the time I was in high school I started wearing hearing aids.  In college I was wearing the “strongest” hearing aids available at that time. My hearing progressively decreased over the years.

Besides being hard of hearing, I also suffer from tinnitus. I think I always have, I don’t remember ever not having tinnitus. There is always phantom sounds going on in my ear/brain. When I focus on it they seem louder or when I’m stressed, laughing, etc. Any impulse can strengthen the tinnitus.

At 26 I was profound hard of hearing and then I became sick. I was given some heavy meds which killed the little bit of hearing I had left. First my right side hearing “died” and later my left one. Since December 2007 I’m 100% completely deaf. Which means I don’t hear anything at all. Not even with the best hearing aids.

Becoming deaf later in life the way I did is called: late deaf. For most of my early life I went from mild hard of hearing to profound hard of hearing and then deaf. I’m not sudden deaf. That is a term for someone who had good hearing and next they lost it all.

After losing the rest of my hearing I chose not to get a CI. The risks of complications are higher with my medical history. And there aren’t any guarantees how well you can hear after getting a CI.

I’m a loner in the world of hearing and deaf. I grew up hearing and know the pleasure of group conversations, sounds of nature and music. I became late deaf at 26 and know what I’m missing. People who were born deaf have their own community, culture and their main language is sign language. Till today I have yet to meet someone who like me became late deaf. Who can’t hear anything and who don’t wear hearing aids or a CI.

The hearing assume I can get along 100% on lip reading. While lip reading only covers a max of 40% of what’s being said. The deaf and/or hard of hearing expect me to be able to use sign language.

Sign language is hard for me to keep up with. I’m not surrounded by people who sign. It’s like taking up a complete foreign language like Mandarin or Japanese. And only being able to put it to use once or twice a year. You can hardly become fluent like that.

There are sign cafe’s and I’m looking forward to going. But I’m not someone who is into socializing a lot. I’m an introvert at heart. I get drained fast when in a crowd of people. I don’t see myself going every week.

The whole crux of this is — no one deaf of hard of hearing person is the same about their hearing or lack of it. I am an example of that. We should never assume, expect or demand.

If you don’t know something, just ask. I rather someone ask me than assume.

Photo of two people with their smartphone. Text on photo says: Keep calm and type it on your smartphone

 

A Tale of Unix and a Web Server

- November 4th, 2017 -

Since I entered the world of coding in 2002, all I wanted was (still is) control. Control over my code, over my computer and over my website. I have no recollection how I stumbled upon weblogs like Zeldman, Kottke, Simplebits, etc. back in the golden days of weblogs. But once I found them there was no looking back. The first iteration of this weblog was made without tables, according to web standards with my own home-brewed PHP/mySQL CMS.

Back then Apple MacBooks or iBook and Powerbooks was quickly gaining popularity. I loved the fact that Apple uses Unix. I was always a Windows user and once I started coding with PHP in my free time, it became a pain for me. At college it was all Windows, IBM content management systems, ASP and a major headache to get things working smoothly on Windows.

Through my new online world, I read weblog posts about Apple computers, lusted after the nice apps, OS X interface and easy way to get things done with Unix. I kept dreaming on buying my own. Also, I was a college student renting a 3 by 4 room with no extra income.

Then I got my first internship, saved all my money and in February 2004 I bought my first Apple, a 12 inch iBook. Right away I also bought Learning Unix for Mac OS X Panther

It was a learning curve, but in no time I was sold and did not ever look back at Windows.

cd, ls, mkdir, chown, chmod, sudo, nano

By no means I’m a command line expert. I still forget longer commands and always have to look them up. Don’t even ask me to type a whole string of command. But I understand how the command line works, I can get things done with it, I have totally broken my OS installation once and recently I just setup a server on Digital Ocean.

What I learned in all these years using the Unix command line: Make sure you have time when starting a project like setting up a server. Expect things to break, don’t be afraid, back-up, back-up and back-up.

A whole day in command line mode

Almost two weeks ago I woke up really early to wait for people to come service my apartment. On a whim I decided to get an account on Digital Ocean and setup a droplet. I had been contemplating switching to a new server for months now. Once I started I got so sucked in. I did not leave my desk except to get food and stuff, until late night. I usually plan something like this in advance with a step by step plan. I obviously woke up crazy that day.

Digital Ocean

Digital Ocean droplet creations makes it easy to setup a droplet with WordPress. But remember, I woke up crazy and skipped the one-click-install tab and just created my droplet with Ubuntu 16.04 x32. At least I had the foresight of already knowing to choose the x32 version because I have the 512MB memory droplet and that’s a bit weak for running the x64 version.

Caddy, Apache, Let’s Encrypt, PHP7, mySQL

The thing I most wanted is SSL for my site. Like 10 years ago we all had the small web standard, XHTML, CSS badges. SSL is something you want, actually no: need, these days. I started reading the tutorials on web servers and Caddy was the first to come up. Completely unlike me I went ahead with it without doing research first except to figure the workaround for the binaries since Caddy went commercial. The install went smooth except for the delay while waiting for Leaseweb to change the name servers and then waiting for the DNS to propagate. I got my web server up and running with SSL just to realise: shit, I actually really prefer and need Apache2 because ain’t nobody got time to figure out all those .htaccess rules I currently have into Caddy. Let alone fighting WordPress penchant with using .htaccess and who knows what future app running in Apache.

Luckily I created an image of my droplet right after setting it up and the initial server setup. It was just a thing of restoring that image and starting over, but this time with Apache. I used that specific tutorial which makes it easier as far as I know, to create subdomains. Then I installed Let’s Encrypt. In between all that I installed PHP7 and mySQL. Those were the easiest to get done.

A lot of people are into deploying and me too. But most times I just want plain old FTP to just dump everything on the server and be done. Especially images, which I have a subdomain for. Plus, moving my WordPress installation from the old server to my droplet is far easier through FTP or in this case, SFTP. It was a bit of a head-scratcher, it wasn’t as easy as following this FTP instructions. Transmit, which I use, is an intuitive FTP client. But the thing that really stumps me every time in Unix are permissions. They are such a pain. Even days after being done I still had to mess with permissions because WordPress automated update failed due to permission issues.

PhpMyAdmin and WordPress

I installed PhpMyAdmin quickly and WordPress (with some php.ini edits) I did old skool manual way by downloading the core files, uploading them and running the install. Imported my database export from previous install, install all the plugins (while fixing more permissions) and done.

Also, a PHP7 thing: php.ini comes with short_open_tag standard disabled. I tend to use short tags in my templates, so I had to fix them all which is more sensible than enabling short tags.

All those years of setting up PHP on my Mac helped because things like Apache conf files and php.ini aren’t alien to me. Using nano to edit them is less intuitive, on my local setup I just use Atom. Nano slowed me down a bit.

10 days later

At the time of this writing this weblog has been up and running for 10 days with no problems so far. The only thing that completely broke and won’t work is my Mint stats app. I just get a blank page, no code, nothing. PHP error reporting returns nothing. It’s just dead, like the Mint app since Shaun discontinued it.

I have Google Analytics but if you ever used Mint you know how nice and easy it is. Just one page (mobile friendly) with all information, especially if it is a low traffic site. I tried Piwik but it’s also too big. I just want referrers, detailed location, popular pages, pages to watch and browsers/pc/mobile info in one oversight.

If anyone is an Analytics expert and know if you can customise Analytics for this let me know. Even better, if anyone knows why Mint won’t work (I suspect PHP7 incompatibility) let me know.

Besides that I’m happy with the results. I do realise that if my website goes down there won’t be a hosting company behind it to send a support ticket, it will be just me frantically trying to figure out the problem and then fixing it.

If you have any comments let me know at @Darice

Note 19/11/2017 After running the droplet for 25 days I discovered that Apache2 uses up almost all of the 512MB memory. I fixed the Apache conf file like shown in this post: How To Run WordPress on a DigitalOcean 512MB VPS 

A Gulpfile for getting started

- July 17th, 2017 -

Every time I start a website project I start first with flat-file pages. HTML and CSS, nothing else. Only after I’m happy with the structure and basics will I merge it into a CMS theme, mostly WordPress.

SASS has become unmissable for me. Although I still do go back to CSS when learning new things like Flexbox or CSSGrid, SASS is my go to when coding. It’s just faster.

I’m not a fan of using tools and frameworks for everyting without a good reason. I like to know what I’m doing, being able to understand all the code, because I coded it and to keep the code simple. But Gulp has become my favorite tool because it helps streamline my coding process and saves time. To think I only got into Gulp to use autoprefixer because SASS mixins wasn’t working.

Now I just keep a good gulpfile to be able to start a new project easily.

Installing Gulp is pretty straight forward. Just follow step 1 to 4 explained in Getting Started with Gulp.

Run sudo npm init in your new project folder. Fill out your project details. Add your packages and gulpfile.js and get coding.

I use the following packages in my basic Gulp workflow:

I keep my gulpfile.js in a Bitbucket repository. Feel free to use it, improve and expand on it. My goal is to learn and get more out of Gulp.

Like finding out how to integrate DPLOY into my gulpfile, if it is even possible. Or how about adding Twig templating? Markdown to HTML? Actually, I just want a flat-file CMS that runs on one gulpfile.js Crazy?

Food for the hearing and healthy only

- May 25th, 2017 -

Since the economy recovered the past years, food delivery websites are more popular than ever. You can put on Netflix and order anything your stomach desires and forget the world exists. Except if you are deaf or hard of hearing and live alone. Or maybe you live in a large building and the doorbell is broken.

In my case, I’m a bit of a food snob and I’m deaf. A food snob – part by taste and part by diet restrictions. And deaf because that’s one of the cards life dealt me later in life.

Thuisbezorgd.nl is the oldest most known food delivery website in The Netherlands. Most restaurants on it are the variety of cheap pizza, spareribs, shoarma, sushi and other fast food. You get the gist. It’s fatty, salty and in several cases with questionable hygiene.

In comes Deliveroo.nl Oh, how happy was I when I read about it. A delivery website that caters to the better food places. A gourmet hamburger or roasted chicken with veggies. Sounds better than a 20 minute salty pizza. Am I right? Except for one small not so small problem. See below exhibit one and two.

Most people won’t spot what is missing here. It’s a very small key part of any good usable and accessible interactive website. There is no “Comment” or “Special instructions” text box.

Want to let them know you are very allergic to peanuts? Too bad. Don’t want salt on your french fries due to your blood pressure? Too bad. You are deaf and want to let them know to text you instead of ringing the doorbell on delivery? Too bad.

And this is why I have never ordered anything on Deliveroo.nl.

Foodora.nl was the same story. But they have made adjustments. I have yet to try using their website since they implemented the comment box. I need to have lots of patience if I decide to try. If things don’t go well I’ll end up with undelivered food I paid for and unable to communicate with the restaurant.

That is another thing with all these websites and food places. You can order online but if there is a mishap or anything, they only provide a phone number for you to call. No e-mail, no chat, no texting or WhatsApp. No food.

Thuisbezorgd.nl is the winner here who always had the “Comment” text box option. Some of the better food places are also using Thuisbezorgd now. Lucky for them. Now I spend my money on Thuisbezorgd and the better places available through them.

Screenshot of thuisbezorgd order page

Accessibility is positive for everyone. The client and the seller. If the product is accessible for everyone, you get more clients thus more income (and/or visitors). It’s a win – win situation for everyone.

Text: The biggest misconception about accessibility is that by adding it you're doing someone a favor. You're not, you're doing your job.

p.s.
Some of you might wonder: “Don’t you have a doorbell system to alert you?” Well yes, yes I do. Only it won’t work with the building bell, only with my apartment doorbell.