Science in ASL is a whole different language: Interpreters in STEM

— Megan Majocha

Deaf and hard of hearing scientists often face a lack of communication access, which is troubling because they have made significant contributions to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields over the decades and diversify the STEM workforce. Therefore, sign language interpreters trained in science are critical to making STEM inclusive for deaf scientists. During my PhD journey in the past few years, I have slowly expanded my network of scientifically trained interpreters. Having worked with me for about three years, my scientific interpreters know my research and what I do. Having the same interpreters with me throughout my PhD is extremely important because it creates a communication barrier if the interpreter is not skilled in STEM vocabulary. Very often, science signs do not exist because STEM in American Sign Language is a specialized language, as are other signed languages. Although there are a few resources where deaf scientists meet and discuss signs for specific science words, the signs are not standardized yet and need to be developed (see Atomic Hands listing of different ASL STEM dictionaries). Furthermore, I had trouble finding scientific interpreters when starting my PhD, either because they were working with other deaf scientists already, or they weren’t available full-time. Consistency was essential for me, because interpreters will be able to pick up science-related language and signs as we go. My class and on-call interpreters should be consistent throughout the semester, so I require two interpreters full-time. In my experience, not all interpreters know science when they first start working with me, but their enthusiasm and commitment to learning the science make them good STEM interpreters.

drawings of finger alphabet for S T E M overlain on an blue washed image of DNA

It is one thing to translate from English into ASL, but translating from ASL into English is also challenging. People do not realize that I cannot practice my presentations alone. In order to prepare well, I have to practice with my interpreters ahead of time. Interpreters who don’t understand what is being discussed in meetings may cause major misunderstandings. For instance, some signs seem similar but have different meanings. Here are examples of such misunderstandings from my own experiences: 

  1. “Stain” and “dye” – When I said, “I stained my cells with crystal violet to perform cellular proliferation assays,” the interpreter would say, “I dyed my cells” instead of “I stained my cells.” In histology, it is important to note the difference between both words. A stain is a blend of dyes used to give contrast to different parts of the tissue used on a microscopic slide, while a dye is a reagent that colors specific molecules of tissue samples. 
  2. “Metastasize,” “spread,” and “disseminate” – When I said, “tumor cells metastasize to the lung,” the interpreter would say, “tumor cells spread to the lung,” which is the right concept, but “spread” isn’t the word I wanted to use.

I need to be very specific about which words I use. Such specificity is important in science, as it ensures that all scientists are assigning the same meaning to keywords. Having consistent interpreters assigned to us is essential so they become fluent in ASL of our discipline. Another consideration is that I need STEM interpreters voicing for me at all presentations and lab meetings, including one-on-one meetings. For these meetings, I provide some background information and a summary before each session to be extra prepared.Additionally, some science words sound similar to “everyday” terms that non-STEM interpreters might overlook. There was a time when I had a sub interpreter during a lab meeting in which mammary glands were being discussed. The interpreter said “memory” instead of “mammary.” At the time, I thought we were discussing memory cells in the immune system and could not adequately follow the lab meeting! 

Since starting my PhD, I have expanded my team of scientific interpreters to reflect the demands of my job. In addition to giving presentations at conferences, presenting data during lab meetings, and participating in networking events, an important part of science is chatting with colleagues about our work. Scientific interpreters facilitate all communication between my colleagues and me. Having qualified scientific interpreters for my classes and lab work has allowed me to focus on my career, instead of constantly worrying about communication.

Even so, I still face a barrier whenever I need to travel outside the region for a conference. To attend a recent conference, I asked the agency to send my preferred scientific interpreters, who have already voiced my prior presentations and are well acquainted with my work, to accompany me. I was informed that the agency was unable to send my preferred interpreters, but they could find me interpreters in the conference area. “How can I prepare for my poster presentation and attend networking events with interpreters who know nothing about my research?” Attending scientific conferences is a critical part of my scientific training, and I need scientifically trained interpreters to have the same access as the rest of the conference attendees. I will not be able to participate in this event if I am working with interpreters who do not have experience or do not have the expertise to translate the specialized language used in our lab. As a result of my mentor’s advocacy and my own advocacy, I was finally able to bring my STEM-trained interpreters with me to the conference.

It is important for deaf scientists to be able to focus on their research rather than using up energy trying to get access. A deaf scientist’s advocacy is crucial, as is their mentor’s advocacy. Our advocacy and clarity about the accommodations deaf scientists need will help ensure their success. We cannot assume everyone knows how to accommodate us, let alone know which interpreters are the best fit for us, but by persisting in efforts to have our needs met, we can normalize the respect that our accommodation requests deserve. 


A light-skinned woman with dark pulled back hair smiles to the camera while working at a lab bench. She wears calves and is handing vials under a fume hood.

Megan Majocha is a Tumor Biology PhD candidate at the National Institutes of Health/Georgetown University. Her research interests include breast cancer metastasis, cancer genomics, and epigenetics. As part of her thesis research, she investigates the role of metastasis susceptibility genes in breast cancer metastasis and the mechanisms that lead to them. Throughout her career as a deaf scientist, she has been interested in science communication to provide access to science to everyone. 

Writing reference letters for disabled mentees

This post was originally published as an opinion piece within Inside Higher Education in February 2022. Since then, I’ve learned that some graduate schools in the US ask that letter writers not mention disability, citing section 5.04 of the US Education Reform Act. In my opinion, keeping disability or deafness out of reference letters misses critical opportunities both for conversations with mentees about disclosure and for demonstrating how disabled experiences enhance traits needed for success, thereby rejecting the deficit model. If done thoughtfully, such efforts can empower disabled or deaf mentees, de-stigmatize disability and erode academic ableism.

Maybe the best approach depends on the situation. What do you think?

— Michele


Reference letter–writing season is upon us, and you may be wondering how to approach writing about the disabilities of students and colleagues you are recommending. Letters of reference are critical components of admissions, hiring and promotion. But because letter readers tend to read between the lines, even just mentioning a disability can be a red flag, as Amy Vidali, an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Denver, has noted. For example, the decision of when/how to disclose deafness in the job search came up often when The Mind Hears surveyed deaf and hard of hearing academics about their job search experiences.

As a part-deaf full professor who has navigated her entire career with a disability, I’ve been on all sides of the desk. I’ve been the mentee cringing at the misrepresentation of my disability, I’ve been the mentor wondering how to frame my mentee’s skills in the best light and I’ve been the letter reader assessing strengths and weaknesses of candidates. Here, I offer some specific suggestions.

You should never disclose someone’s disability without their approval. Even if someone has a visible disability, the letter readers may not yet have met your mentee. Please don’t presume that disclosing disability benefits candidates because “the committee likes to see disability for diversity.” Committees committed to equity are still vulnerable to the pervasive ableism that drives discrimination and harassment of people with disabilities within academe and our society. Admissions and hiring committees are much more likely to admit/hire an abled person.

For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics reports that, in 2020, only 26 percent of disabled people with bachelor’s degrees were employed, compared to 72 percent of able-bodied people with bachelor’s degrees. Asking your mentee for approval to mention their disability need not be awkward if you are prepared to explain why you think that mentioning their disability in your letter would be beneficial.

Guidelines for Having the Conversation

If you haven’t already, ask how the person requesting the reference letter describes their disability. Do they use person-first or disability-first language? Some folks prefer medical based terms like “hearing impaired,” while others prefer culture-based terms like “Deaf” (with a capital “D”). In my case, I prefer “part-deaf” or “part-Deaf” to either “hard of hearing” or “deaf,” because it expresses that while I have residual hearing, my hearing loss is significant enough that just speaking a little louder is not going to accommodate my disability. The descriptor “part-deaf” is not yet standard, so I greatly appreciate it when folks check in with me about how I describe my disability.

Please don’t guess the preferences of your mentee. Also, consider that some people may not want you to describe them as disabled and would prefer other labels such as “neurodiverse,” “having chronic illness,” “Deaf” and so on.

When explaining why you want to mention their disability in your letter, share with your mentee specific character traits that you notice them employing as they navigate challenges associated with their disability. Are they a problem solver? Do they show resilience? Are they a great self-advocate?

My advice is not to mention any accommodations that your disabled mentee uses. While you might be tempted to show that accommodations “fix the disability,” the deficit framing doesn’t center your mentee’s skills and provides the letter reader with ableist reasons to rank your mentee lower than other abled applicants or nominees.

We don’t often get opportunities to tell people about the strengths that we see in them, and this conversation with your mentee is a great opportunity to do just that. Because of the widespread stigmatization of disability, we also rarely talk openly about it, so you might feel uncomfortable bringing up this topic.

My advice is to keep the conversation authentic and very specific. Drifting away from authenticity leaves you vulnerable to casting the disabled person as inspirational; such casting is othering and harmful. Stella Young called this phenomenon “inspiration porn,” because it serves to make the abled feel good while objectifying people with disabilities. Additionally, saying that a person inspires you centers your experience and not your mentee’s. Yes, this is tricky ground! You may, in fact, find someone inspiring. Yet keeping your characterizations authentic and specific helps avoid inspiration porn.

For example, instead of saying, “It is incredible how Michele managed to advance to full professor while disabled,” you could say, “Michele’s experiences as a disabled academic contribute to her success, as she has developed exceptional problem-solving skills, resilience when faced with inaccessible situations, self-advocacy to adjust to inaccessible situations and time/energy management to prioritize important tasks.” For your letter to be effective, you can also provide specific examples of those skills. You could follow up with, “For instance, in noisy settings that present a challenge for part-deaf folks, Michele either extracts critical information using visual cues or, if the conversation is lengthy or particularly important, she effectively self-advocates by adjusting the conversation toward a quieter setting and/or harnessing technologic solutions.

Last, ask your mentee what they would like you to emphasize in your letter. This is a good practice for any letter of recommendation, and Julie Posselt of the Inclusive Graduate Education Network offers other helpful equitable best practice for reference letters.

Guidelines for Writing Your Letter

Unless we use template letters of references with standard language, our letters will be subjective and vulnerable to either our own biases or the biases of the letter readers. But template letters don’t provide the rich information that guides hiring, admission and promotion decisions. What we can do instead is take a thoughtful and critical look at how we frame difference and disability in our letters of reference, as Vidali and Posselt have recommended. Here are some first steps.

Please don’t say that the person has “overcome their disability.” We live with our disabilities; we can’t erase them. We don’t say that first-generation college students overcome their families. Why say this about disability? In addition, the framing of the disabled person as an overcomer steers you well into the inspiration-porn minefield.

Instead, you can acknowledge that the disabled person faces disadvantages (describe specifics) with (insert adjective) skill and self-advocacy (followed by specific examples). This framing acknowledges that navigating life with a disability requires constant effort and draws attention to valuable skills.

Unless they say so, avoid writing, “Despite her disability …” or “You would never know that he has a disability.” Such phrases have strong ableist undertones. While your intention in writing those phrases is to ease concerns of the letter reader, this deficit framing does not center the skills of your mentee, which is the goal of your letter of reference.

I will add that mentioning the quality of speech of deaf and hard of hearing mentees in your letter focuses on the deficit of deafness and assimilation into predominantly hearing environments (see The Mind Hear’s post entitled Eloquence is overrated). Check with you mentee if they want their speech mentioned in the letter.

Finally, in your mentee’s conversation with you, they may say that they don’t want you mentioning their disability because either they don’t want to disclose or they plan to disclose in some other way. They know best how to present themselves.

Presentando The Mind Hears [La Mente Oye] a académicos de habla hispana

-translated by Ana

Our goal for The Mind Hears is to have it serve as a global resource for deaf and HoH (hard of hearing) academics. Though countries differ markedly in the degree of resources provided to deaf/HoH individuals, our hope is that this blog can be a refuge and forum for all, regardless of where you are. To date, however, most of our blog contributors and followers have been in the US and Europe. Taking advantage of the fact that Ana is Colombian, we have reproduced our Mission Statement here in Spanish in the hopes of reaching our Spanish-speaking friends and colleagues worldwide. We welcome help with translating our mission statement to other languages.

Brightly colored word cloud in Spanish of the most common words appearing in the post below. Nube de palabras en varios colores de las palabras más comunes en la entrada de blog.

En el año 2018, Michele Cooke y yo, ambas profesoras en la Universidad de Massachusetts, Amherst, USA, decidimos empezar un blog que reflejara nuestras experiencias como personas con sordera en un ambiente académico. Así nació “The Mind Hears [La Mente Oye]”. Dada nuestra localización geográfica, las entradas del blog han sido – hasta ahora – publicadas en inglés. Con la esperanza de que este blog llegue a ser un recurso global para personas sordas trabajando en universidades, traducimos aquí la misión del blog al español. Esperamos que esto lleve a nuestros colegas de habla hispana a contribuir entradas al blog en el futuro.

Misión

Este blog está escrito por y para académicos en cualquier etapa de su carrera con algún grado de sordera. Aquí usamos el término “sordo” para representar a todas las personas con discapacidad auditiva, independientemente del grado de sordera y del modo de comunicación preferido (ya sea oral o por lengua de señas). Los objetivos de este blog son:

  • Proporcionar un foro para la colaboración abierta entre académicos sordos  
  • Compartir estrategias para prosperar con sordera en el mundo académico 
  • Fomentar una red de académicos sordos que promuevan estrategias de comunicación inclusivas en las instituciones académicas.

¿Por qué un blog?

Como académicos sordos, continuamente hemos enfrentado obstáculos en el camino al éxito profesional en entornos diseñados para y por personas sin discapacidades auditivas. Nuestras experiencias no han sido todas iguales. Dependiendo de  nuestros antecedentes/proveniencia y de las instituciones en las que nos encontramos, es probable que tengamos diferencias en acceso a recursos y en la capacidad de abogar por si mismos. Debido a que la sordera puede ser una discapacidad invisible, hemos a menudo perdido oportunidades para reconocernos y aprender estrategias efectivas los unos de los otros. A través de este blog, esperamos alcanzar a académicos sordos y con problemas de audición en todo el mundo, tanto para reducir el aislamiento, como para armar una “caja de herramientas” comunitaria de recursos e ideas. La sordera es variable y puede afectarnos de muchas y diferentes maneras, pero a través de la experiencia compartida del blog, esperamos brindar algo de valor a todos aquellos que visitan y contribuyen a nuestras discusiones.

¿Por qué académicos?

Como académicos, estamos involucrados en muchas actividades que requieren comunicación continua, a menudo con colegas y estudiantes oyentes. Dictamos clases, presentamos seminarios, participamos en comités y páneles de asesoría, moderamos sesiones de discusión y dirigimos reuniones de grupo, participamos en actividades de divulgación pública y nos comunicamos con la prensa. Muchos de los impedimentos a la comunicación que se presentan en estas actividades son exclusivos al entorno académico — y el éxito de todos los académicos, oyentes o sordos, depende de la comunicación productiva en estas situaciones. Sin embargo, los académicos sordos a menudo no encontramos soluciones adecuadas para los obstáculos a la comunicación: nuestros audiólogos no tienen suficientes clientes académicos, y las oficinas de servicios para discapacitados en las universidades están diseñadas para servir principalmente a los estudiantes de pregrado (no profesores, estudiantes de posgrado u otros académicos). Al centrarnos en la comunidad académica sorda, particularmente a niveles después del pregrado, tenemos la intención de crear un recurso personalizado que ayude a todos los académicos que se identifican como sordos a alcanzar nuestro potencial profesional.

¿Por qué “The Mind Hears [La Mente Oye]”?

El título de nuestro blog proviene de una carta escrita por el autor Víctor Hugo al educador sordo, Ferdinand Berthier. Hugo escribió:

“¿Qué importa la sordera del oído, cuando la mente oye? La única sordera, la sordera verdadera, la sordera incurable, es la de la mente.”

Estas líneas encapsulan la poderosa idea que nuestro potencial para contribuir al ámbito académico, al conocimiento y a la sociedad no está limitado por nuestra capacidad o incapacidad de escuchar sonidos. Las dificultades que surgen al trabajar en entornos académicos dominados por la audición se pueden enfrentar con creatividad y resiliencia, las cuales son características de la mente. Las herramientas que las personas sordas usan para facilitar la comunicación, incluyendo la lengua de señas, la lectura labios, el uso de audífonos, los subtítulos y los implantes cocleares, por nombrar solo algunos, ilustran el potencial ilimitado del ingenio humano. La declaración de Hugo también refleja nuestra convicción de que la colaboración con la mente abierta a nuevas ideas, a la inclusión y a aquellos que abordan las cosas de manera diferente a la nuestra, puede beneficiarnos a todos. Ya sea que nos hayamos criado usando lengua de señas en la comunidad Sorda, o que recientemente hayamos perdido la audición, todos los que trabajamos en el mundo académico hemos desarrollado formas de ser exitosos. A veces podemos ver beneficios en nuestra sordera (por ejemplo, Deaf Gain), y otras veces nuestra sordera puede ser una carga no deseada (por ejemplo, Conquering faculty meetings (or not…)). Este blog es un hogar para todas estas perspectivas y experiencias. Esperamos que hallen en este blog un lugar de encuentro gratificante de mentes verdaderamente empoderadas, ingeniosas y abiertas.

Profile: Dr. Anna Danielsson

Professor of Science Education, Stockholm University

Twitter: @annatdanielsson 

Link to website

Foto. Mikael Wallerstedt


Tell us about your background

When I was about four years old my parents noticed that I wasn’t able to hear crickets, but the pediatrician couldn’t find anything wrong with my hearing. Somehow, I also passed the school hearing tests, so throughout my schooling I had no idea that I didn’t have normal hearing. With all likelihood, I’ve had at least some degree of hearing loss since childhood. I’ve always had tinnitus and has always been the last person to notice my mobile phone ringing. Still, having no high frequency hearing was normal to me and I had no idea what I was missing. It wasn’t until in my thirties I realised that you were supposed to hear the lyrics of music. Since my hearing loss was diagnosed ten years ago my ski-slope has migrated to the left in the audiogram, my low frequency hearing is still within the normal range, but it then drops of very quickly. Practically, this means that I’m mostly OK with understanding speech if listening conditions are good, but that my speech understanding deteriorates quickly with background noise, distance, or bad acoustics. 

I grew up in a small village in the middle of Sweden, about five miles from the nearest town, Falun, and about three hours north-west of Stockholm. The community I grew up in was very much a working-class community – my mum worked as a nurses’ aid and my dad at the local papermill. My dad had left school at thirteen, but mum had graduated from the upper secondary school science programme. Like her, I identified with being good at maths. I enjoyed school, had good grades, and my parents supported me. Throughout compulsory school I was in rather boisterous classes and in retrospect I can guess that my hearing loss probably helped me focus, making it easier for me to disregard all the noise in the classrooms. I was fortunate to have very good science and maths teachers in lower secondary school. In upper secondary school, the science programme seemed like the obvious choice. Despite coming from a non-academic background, going to university also was something I more or less took for granted as being in my future – something also made possible by higher education being free in Sweden and the student loan system generous. What I was going to study was a more difficult choice – throughout school I had always had broad interests across the sciences and the humanities, in particular. In the end I opted for physics.

How did you get to where you are?

I did my undergraduate degree in physics at Uppsala University. After much deliberation, I decided to study a subject that I had found interesting in upper secondary school and that also presented very much of a challenge. I liked the idea of physics being perceived as a difficult subject and didn’t mind it being a very much male dominated discipline, quite the opposite, in fact. This also contributed to the sense of doing something unusual. However, as the studies progressed, I still found physics interesting, but I had a hard time imagining myself working as an experimental physicist, the path that I was on. I also studied history as an undergraduate student, eventually earning a Bachelors degree, but didn’t really see much of a future in that discipline. Towards the end of the physics studies, I took a course in physics education research and that’s where I found a discipline where I finally could combine my interest in physics, with a broader interest in the humanities and social sciences. I then got the opportunity to do a PhD in physics specializing in physics education research at the same department as I had done my undergraduate physics studies. I had found an academic discipline where I felt I belonged. My PhD thesis is entitled “Doing Physics – Doing Gender” and is concerned with university physics students’ identity constitution in the context of laboratory work. 

After the PhD, I did a two-year postdoc at University of Cambridge. As you would expect, my English improved during these years, but I struggled more and more to hear what people were saying. I did interviews with student teachers as part of my postdoctoral project and my transcribed interviews  were full of gaps, because I just couldn’t make out what was said. Towards the end of the postdoc, I googled “high frequency hearing loss” and what I found was very much in line with my experiences. When I got back to Sweden after the postdoc I went to see an audiologist and the hearing test showed that I had ski-slope type of hearing loss, with no hearing in the high frequencies. I got bilateral hearing aids straight away. 

After the two-year postdoc at Cambridge, I returned to Uppsala University, but this time to the Department of Education, as senior lecturer in curriculum studies. In 2018, at age 39, I was promoted to full professor at the same department. Since last year, I’m chair of science education at Stockholm University and lead the science education section, with about twenty-five senior researcher, lecturers, and PhD students. The more I’ve risen through the academic ranks, the easier I’ve found it to get accommodations for my hearing. Part of this is due to often being more in control of situations (I often chair meetings, for example, and can then apply a strict talking order), but it’s also about being listened to when you talk from a position of power. 

What is a professional challenge you have faced related to your deafness?

In 2016 I was recruited to King’s College London, as Reader in Science Education. This really was an incredible opportunity, in a highly inspiring research environment. But, for the first time, my hearing loss presented a very substantial obstacle. The acoustics were terrible, sound kept leaking in from the busy road outside, and I was working in my second language. While I’m more or less bilingual in Swedish and English, I’m much more sensitive to bad listening conditions in English. This experience is common for most second language speakers. Hence, I was struggling in meetings and while teaching, and was exhausted all the time. At the same time, I enjoyed the work and really liked living in London. But, in the end I decided that it just wasn’t worth it, after a year I left the position and went back to Uppsala University.

What is an example of accommodation that you either use or would like to use in your current job?

I have a microphone system with three Roger table mics and a Roger pen, connected to my hearing aids, that I use for teaching and in meetings. I also connect one of the table mics to my laptop to be able to stream sound directly to my hearing aids, for example, in Zoom meetings. Swedish universities and public placed are often equipped with hearing loops.

Any funny stories you want to share?

As a graduate student I was teaching an evening class about “Everyday physics” and one of the topics was sound and hearing. As part of the topic, I wanted to demonstrate the human range of hearing using a tone generator. I tried the tone generator out in the lab, but just shy of 4000 Hz I couldn’t hear anything, no matter how much I turned up the volume. Thinking that there was something wrong with the tone generator, I went to get another one. Same thing. I then went to get a colleague and he could hear the sound almost up to 20 000 Hz, just like you’re supposed to as a young adult. In the lecture hall I asked the student to raise their hands and then take them down when they could no longer hear the sound, as I raised the frequency. In the mixed group of students, some twice my age (I was in my mid-twenties), no one took down their hand before about 15 000 Hz. You would think that I would have realised that something was wrong with my hearing there and then, in that lecture hall. I didn’t. Having no high-frequency hearing was normal to me. 

The Eight Faces – a deaf artist’s perspective on masks

Two rows of 4 faces each on a different brightly colored background. The features of each of face are obscured by jags and multiple shapes of contrasting bright colors.
The Eight Faces by Ryan Seslow

At this moment, after 2 years of pandemic living, many COVID restrictions are being rolled back in the communities where we – Michele and Ana – are located. We see similar steps being taken across the U.S. and in other parts of the world. Whether these rollbacks represent a return to normality, or just a lull before the next variant strikes, only time will tell. The current result, for us, is a patchwork of requirements – our local grocery store no longer has a mask mandate, but at the time of writing, the classes we are teaching still require that everybody be masked.

This inflection point in our local pandemic experience provides a time to pause and reflect how the widespread adoption of masks has shaped our lives as deaf/heard of hearing (HoH) academics in the last two years. It is possible to simultaneously hold two opinions of masks. We are grateful that a low-tech solution like mask-wearing has allowed us to be out and about in public and to teach our classes while keeping ourselves and others safe these past years; we are grateful to be in communities where mask mandates were embraced as part of a collective action we could undertake for public health. At the same time, we have despaired about the barriers that masks have imposed on our ability to communicate and connect with others (see Ana’s post on Navigating a Masked World), and the consequential isolation; we have mourned the limits on our engagement with our students when every verbal interaction is such a struggle for comprehension.  We also have tried alternatives, such as clear masks, and have found them to not be a solution– they fog up, become uncomfortable and do not protect as well as other masks. Communication is still a struggle with clear masks in the classroom and elsewhere.

In today’s post, we want to highlight the art of Ryan Seslow that so accurately captures the effect masks have had on our lives as deaf/HoH people. In his series of “The Eight Faces” (pictured above) we see our struggles portrayed much more effectively than we can do so in writing.  In Ryan’s own words (<280 words each due to limits of twitter postings):

“Important fact about this series – I’m Deaf & this series is an expression of how hard it has been to receive communication from a world of people wearing masks for the last 1.8 years. Of course the masks are necessary to protect us.”

“A masked face takes away all access to read facial expressions, the lips & the mouth to speech read & connect to rapport. The portraits are what distorted audio garble looks like as a visual example of strained hearing attempts over and over again.”

We also direct our readers to Ryan’s digital art series: Waking Accessibility Awareness, which so vividly capture his (and ours!) continuous challenge for access as a hard of hearing artist in the academic and art worlds.

Profile: Elli Harpum

Location: UCL, London UK 
Field of expertise: Quantum Physics
@victorianphysic

photo credit: Hannah Coleman

Tell us about your background

I have had hearing loss since I was 14 months old, having glue ear treated with grommets that led to scarring on my ear drums. I lip read as a child and this covered my hearing loss until I was in Sixth Form, when I contracted a severe ear infection in both ears. After treatment, I spent several years trying to find the cause of my hearing loss, but it wasn’t until after I had finished my BSc and MSc that I started to become involved in the Deaf community. My family are all hearing, and we are Christians. My brother is learning BSL and the rest of the family have all indicated that they would like to learn. I went to a local comprehensive, and then to a boarding school for sixth form where I was a day pupil. I then went to university in Cardiff for my BSc, and UCL for my MSc and am now working on my PhD.

How did you get to where you are?

I have always wanted to study Physics; my earliest memories are from stargazing and when I discovered I could study space as a career when I was 12 I was ecstatic. As I learned more Physics, I realised that space wasn’t even my favourite sub category of Physics- that belonged to magnetism. A family friend started a PhD in my teens and that was when I was determined to do one myself, in Physics. All I ever wanted to do was study Physics all the time. I wear an insulin pump, which is affected by magnetic fields. My biggest concern was that I would have to adapt my diabetes treatment so that I could study what I wanted to.

As I progressed through my BSc I realised that other people’s perceptions of me were always going to be my biggest challenge; for some reason my disabilities are the thing that people think are going to prevent me from achieving my goals. To mitigate this, I do what I do and I do it well. Just because I have a different work pattern or have to take extra days off when my diabetes gets in the way or I have another ear infection doesn’t mean I’m not an excellent physicist.

What is an example of accommodation that you either use or would like to use in your current job?

I work from home (which started way before the pandemic!) and am allowed to work flexible hours. I have captioners for video meetings, who have been trained in the vocabulary that is used in my field to make them much more accurate than automatic captions. 

What advice would you give your former self?

You work differently to other people, and that doesn’t make you wrong or worse than anybody else, or not able to be a Physicist. You are an excellent problem solver. Go to the GP and get treatment for depression and anxiety. It is not a failure to need help. You will feel so much more yourself when your brain chemicals are balanced properly.

Any funny stories you want to share?

In my undergrad, I had concessions for my hearing loss, like I sat near the front of the lecture hall, etc. I was also allowed to ask lectures to shave their beards if it got in the way of lip reading!


Short bio:

Elli is a Quantum Physicist based in the UK. She is deaf, diabetic and disabled, and uses a wheelchair. Elli also wears an insulin pump with continuous glucose monitoring sensors, which can be a problem around magnets, her main research focus! Despite having multiple hearing problems and operations since childhood, she was only diagnosed in June 2020 with hearing loss, but has embraced her deaf identity since then, getting involved in Deaf Rainbow UK, her local Deaf Association and learning BSL. 

Elli is a passionate advocate for disabled academics and has spoken at several events about being a disabled woman in Physics. 

Elli did her BSc in Physics at Cardiff University, and her MSc at UCL. She is currently on a medical break from her PhD in Quantum Physics but intends to return to academia one day. In the meantime, she is writing a series of picture books about her disabilities for her friend’s daughter and a novel about being diagnosed and discovering the Deaf community in early adulthood, learning BSL, tutoring maths and physics, and being a Guide leader on Zoom. 

Elli is married to Sam, and they live in Cambridge, UK. Elli is currently persuading Sam that they need an academic cat!

Dear Students: Listen Up. Like, for Real. 


Feminine hands top on a laptop. The typer wears an off-white sweater. Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash.

A love letter from your HoH Professor

Hi folks. I can’t wait to learn with you this semester. But first, an admission before we can get started. And I call this an admission because it feels like I’ve done something wrong, that I’ve made a mistake to which I must confess. Apologize? Confess? Perhaps it is both.

I am deaf. 

But I have done nothing wrong. (I must remind myself of this.) 

Well, almost deaf. I use the word “deaf” to placate the hearing; when I use the phrase “hard of hearing” with hearing folks it is too often misinterpreted as an invitation to a needling Q&A session. The word “deaf” is just a more concrete, absolute word for the uninitiated to accept. So “deaf” it is. But I’m not deaf—I can hear, barely. 

Surprised? I thought so. I am, too. 

When I was your age, I sat in the back row of the classroom, mostly silent, in denial and driven by fear. 

Look at me now: loud, confident, witty, encouraging in our classroom each day. Standing at ease, fielding questions, strolling the classroom as you ponder, think, write. Crushing your stereotypes and assumptions about what it means and looks like to be disabled—beautiful, smart, funny. And yes, I know I’m the one person in your life besides your grandpa that wears hearing aids. 

Your curiosity about my deafness is endearing but exposes the limitations of your experience. The first and (usually only) question: How did it happen? Why are you deaf? 

Wouldn’t I love to know. Like there was a playground mishap and now a little scar on my eardrum that blocks some sound from going in and out. No, children. No, there is no exotic origin; no riveting nor heartwarming story. Deaf for me just is. Has been. Will always be.

Back to the classroom. I’ll let you in on the best-kept secret of my trade because we need to talk about this if our time together is going to matter. 

Great teaching starts with trusting students. Think back: I bet the best teachers that you’ve had, at times, let go of their control in the classroom. They understood that classrooms are a space for collaborative invention. They didn’t talk at you, they learned with you, even abandoning a mediocre lesson if it meant the reward—your engagement and investment—was worth the risk of class failing extravagantly as it unfolded. Great teachers trust their students to contribute to the classroom as knowledgeable, interested peers. And again and again, I’ve seen students rise to this challenge they’re given and thrive.  

But I think that trusting students looks a little different for teachers with disabilities, like me. 

No matter how student-centered or democratic a classroom dynamic is, professors always have power over students. But what if it’s the other way around? What if a disability puts the professor at the mercy of her class?  What if I’m at your mercy?

Is there anything as vulnerable as a deaf person standing in front of an expectant audience? One that is looking to be led, to be given something (knowledge—something so abstract, fragile, personal)? Sometimes my colleagues tell me about their teaching nightmares: showing up naked to class; going to the wrong classroom; being forced to teach a class on which they know nothing about; showing up to take a test for which they haven’t studied. This is anxiety working itself out. The anxiety of a HoH professor is palpably different from this. We can prepare and utilize the latest microphones and other accommodations, but it always happens. Being exposed, I mean.  

It happens often. A student raises their hand and offers a question. I’m excited: questions mean students are listening and engaging. It also means I’ve created a classroom in which they feel comfortable and vulnerable. They trust me. But instead of a question, I hear muffled patches about analysis and … argument, … I think. 

Crap. Time to sweat. There’s a host of solutions and I need to flip through them all to 1) keep the cadence going and 2) assure the student doesn’t feel awkward. Do I:

  • Ask the student to repeat themselves? Power imbalance makes that tricky.
  • Ask a student closer to me to “translate”–basically re-stating what the first student said? There’s no guarantee I’ll understand the translator; there’s additional burden on folks in the front rows that they didn’t ask for. 
  • Play pretend: “That’s a great question. How about I offer it to the class first to see what your classmates have to say?” Or defer and delay: “That’s a great question. How about we chat after class about that?” But what if they asked a simple yes/no question? Awkward.
  • And, recently, ask the student to briefly pull down their mask so I can read their lips while they talk? (Side note: the painful, masked-up hell of this pandemic is worthy of another letter.)

Over the years, attentive friends and family members have learned to know and even expect “the look;” the exact facial expression I make when I have no clue what someone is saying. I merely had to turn to them, and they’d repeat (this is also the second option, above). This degree of trust took years to build. 

As the room sits silently waiting for my answer, I’ve got “the look” on my face, but not a single student understands. Our classroom was spirited, brisk, and it’s now still and all eyes on me. 

Which option is safe? On whom do I call? Who can I trust? The nightmare plays out yet again.

You registered for my class, but you didn’t sign up to accommodate and well, here I am, broken and all. So here I sit, writing this letter, warning you about the role you’re about to take on whether you like it or not: my teacher. 

Yours, 

Professor Heaser


white woman with dark shoulder length hair

Sara Heaser is a Lecturer of English at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, where she specializes in basic/co-requisite and first-year writing curriculum, pedagogy, and program development. Her writing about teaching has been featured on the Bedford Bits blog, the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and Composition Studies. Her favorite aspects of her job are mentoring undergraduate education students and new teachers, tutoring adult learners, and teaching first-year, first-semester writing students. She is an alum of the Dartmouth Summer Seminar for Studies in Composition Research and Winona State University.

New Year’s Resolution 2022: Making your in-person and remote workplaces accessible for your deaf/HoH colleagues

Man colored square post-it notes on a dark surface. Each post-it note bears a New Year's resolution, including one that says "make workplace accessible".

The new year brings a fresh start to our lives; it’s a natural time to reflect on the year past and make plans for the coming year. In what is becoming a The Mind Hears New Year tradition (see posts from 20192020, and 2021), we have updated our list of recommendations for making your workplace accessible. You can view and download the full list of recommendations for making your in-person and remote workplaces accessible for your deaf and hard of hearing colleagues at this link. Below we provide an outline of the best approaches for increasing workplace accessibility and provide links to blog posts that explore particular aspects in detail.

Universally design your workplace: Our spaces become more inclusive for all when we improve access for any subgroup of our community. Consequently, by increasing the accessibility of our workplaces for our deaf and hard of hearing colleagues, we create a better workplace for everyone (see post on the impact of the Mind Hears). This includes hearing folks who have auditory processing disorder, use English as their second language, or are acquiring hearing loss during their careers. Chances are that someone in your department has hearing loss, whether they’ve disclosed this or not, and will benefit from your efforts to make your workplace more accessible (see post on Where are the deaf/HoH academics). This is why you should universally design your workplace now and not wait until someone who is struggling asks you to make modifications.

Sharing the work: With a google search you can find several resources on workplace accessibility for deaf/HoH employees, such as the Hearing Loss Association of America’s (HLAA) very useful employment toolkit. One drawback of these resources is that nearly all of the suggestions are framed as actions for the deaf/HoH employee. While deaf and hard of hearing academics need to be strong self-advocates and take steps to improve their accommodations, our hearing colleagues can help us tremendously by sharing the work and not expecting us to bear all of the burden of creating accessible workplaces. Speech reading conversations, planning accommodations and making sure that technology/accommodations function is never-ending and exhausting work that we do above and beyond our teaching, research, and service (see post on making an impact at high stakes conferencespost on conquering faculty meetings, and post on teaching very large classes). Your understanding and your help changing our workplaces can make a huge difference to us.  For example, if a speaker doesn’t repeat a question, ask them to repeat, even if you heard the question just fine. The people who didn’t hear the question are already stressed and fatigued from working hard to listen, so why expect them to do the added work of ensuring speakers repeat questions (see post on listening fatigue and post on the mental gymnastics of hearing device use)? Repeating the question benefits everyone. The changes you make today can also help your workplace align with equal opportunity requirements for best hiring practices (see The Mind Hears blog posts about applying for jobs when deaf/HoH hereand here).

One size doesn’t fit all: If a participant requests accommodation for a presentation or meeting, follow up with them and be prepared to iterate to a solution that works. It may be signed interpreters (see post on working with sign interpreters and post on networking with deaf colleagues who use interpreters), oral interpreters, CART (see post on Captions and Craptions), or FM systems (see post on Using FM systems at conferences). It could be rearranging the room or modifying the way that the meeting is run. Keep in mind that what works for one deaf/HoH person may not work for another person with similar deafness. What works for someone in one situation may not work at all for that same person in another situation, even if the situations seem similar to you. The best solution will probably not be the first approach that you try nor may it be the quickest or cheapest approach; it will be the one that allows your deaf and hard-of-hearing colleagues to participate fully and contribute to the discussion.

Want to be a better ally and make your workplace accessible for your deaf and hard of hearing colleagues? Follow this link to read our list of recommendations. We welcome your comments and suggestions either to this post or directly within the document at this link.

Lessons from the pandemic: work innovations that we are keeping

An open laptop shows  gallery view of a zoom meeting, with faces of about 20 people -- each in their own zoom box" -- slightly out of focus. A blue-green ceramic mug is next to the computer. Both are on top of a slightly distressed looking wooden table.
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

The last year required a myriad of adjustments in our professional lives. For those of us in academia, much of it entailed moving our teaching and service to remote format. The pandemic isn’t over, but many universities around the world have taken steps to return to face-to-face operations. When the current semester started, we, Ana and Michele, shared notes on what aspects of remote teaching and remote working went well for us, and which we hoped to keep no matter what mode our future work takes (e..g  in-person, hybrid mode, or remote; masked or unmasked). Because we experienced many of the same struggles and benefits, we haven’t attributed our experiences and discoveries to a particular person.

Teaching

Switching to remote work mode in 2020 and 2021 forced us to shake up our teaching, making us re-examine our class content and many of our class practices (see our post on accommodating a pandemic). This push towards innovation left us with several practices that we wanted to bring back with us from the pandemic — some because they are helpful with our deafness, but others simply because they seem to improve the pedagogy of our courses.

  • Zoom office hours can be more accessible and more inclusive than in-person office hours. Though in-person conversation always provides greater connection, students appreciate being able to drop in with a question from wherever they are, instead of making the trek across campus to our offices. This ease of access meant they are more liable to come even if all they have is a small question. Also, if we are zooming from private spaces we don’t have to wear masks, which allows speech reading (see our post on navigating masked world) – with this and auto-captions enabled we are able to follow conversations often better than we could in person. 
  • Going online forced us to explore and use the tools available in our class management software, which we had resisted exploring fully before, primarily due to inertia. We found that we could offer better feedback and grade more equitably assignments submitted online. For example, messy handwriting is less of an issue with online assignments. We could also come up with more creative ways for students to engage with the class content and work together (e.g. challenges that involved students taking pictures of themselves with class-related content; collaborative jamboard tasks). Previously, we had over-relied on the standard think-pair-share and we found that jamboards opened new ways of having students work together. We could even set up a break-out room for folks who prefer to work on their own, rather than having them feel obligated to work with their chatty neighbor. For seminar style courses, one of us started using Perusall for reading assignments where students post questions and can comment on the questions of others. Having those discussions beforehand meant that students came to the seminar ready to engage with the material more deeply. We have continued to make use of several of the class management tools we discovered while in-person this semester. 
  • Inertia had also prevented us from previously trying a flipped classroom approach. But in order to provide both synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities for students while fully remote, we were essentially “forced” to flip our classroom for the first time. We discovered that we really liked it! Students seemed much more engaged/aware when they came to class having previously watched one of our videos on the topic being covered that day. We had assigned readings in the past, but it seemed like most students never read the assignments. The combination of pre-recorded videos with a required follow-up quiz led to much better questions in class and also less of a rush to try to fit a given topic within a class period, and we have continued using a flipped approach for our in-person classes this semester.
  • Because engaging remote students to participate was more challenging than being in-person, we started using anonymous polling. Anonymous polling tools, such as the Zoom poll, Mentimeter and Poll Everywhere, provide a powerful way to engage students. During remote teaching, we found that these anonymous polls allowed students who might have otherwise been uncomfortable to raise their hand to express their opinions. We have now tried to use some of these tools for all courses, whether in-person, hybrid or remote.
  • Several platforms allow written questions during live lectures. You provide a URL to the audience and they can then access a Q&A forum from their smartphones or laptops. For deaf/HoH instructors, this provides a way to understand student questions in large courses. Even before indoor mask requirements, we would struggle to understand questions or comments from folks beyond the first row (see our post about teaching large classes). One of us has experimented with receiving questions this way using Google Audience Tools in her large (~230 students) in-person lecture class this semester; in fact, this has been the strategy that has made it possible for her to interact with masked students at all . Allowing anonymous questions to be submitted has yielded more student questions, while reducing communication barriers for us as deaf/HoH instructors. It would be great to see more live presentations take advantage of this functionality and discover ways to incorporate audience/student responses to each other too.

Meetings

All of the benefits and drawbacks of remote teaching also apply for remote meetings. It can be difficult for deaf/HoH folks to follow in-person meeting discussions, and when we are leading meetings we often miss what folks contribute, which can erode the flow of meeting discussions, as it does the classroom discussions.

Faculty meetings 

Faculty meetings are notoriously deaf/HoH unfriendly (see our post about faculty meetings) and during the period of remote work, we were able to participate more fully. The ability to see colleagues’ faces while talking and combination of auto-captions and generated transcript (once our institution actually purchased the zoom auto-captions option) did make it easier to follow the entirety of zoom meetings. We have fortunately continued to have remote faculty meetings this semester. One of us has had one masked in-person faculty event; at this in-person event she felt herself drift into the background, as in pre-pandemic times when speaking would reveal we had missed part of the conversation.

We have mixed feelings about advocating to never have in-person faculty meetings again. The chit-chat before and after meetings improves department cohesion. The shared laughter or groans in response to lighter moments or bad news helps camaraderie. At the same time, we recall so many times when we heard folks laugh and wondered what joke we had missed. We feel that we participate more equitably in zoom meetings than for in-person faculty meetings. Going forward, in-person meetings could be alternated with remote meetings in order to harness the benefits of both meeting modes.

Committee meetings 

Pre-pandemic, committee meetings often involved scrambling to get across campus in time for the start of the meeting. Being able to participate from our offices or homes remotely, meant not only that the meeting was easier to follow (see comments above), but we also avoided missing the first few minutes in the hustle across campus. We’ve also been participating in a greater number of professional committees with folks at other universities and even from other countries. In the before-times, such committees might have met in person during one or more of the disciplinary conferences. Now that we can meet more regularly over zoom, we find this committee work to be more effective and rewarding. Maybe this is also because we can participate more fully in the remote mode than we could in person, where we were already exhausted from listening at the disciplinary conference. We have even found that the auto-captions can help us to some degree in understanding people with unfamiliar accents (see our post about unfamiliar accents).

Research collaboration meetings 

Being able to share screen and annotate on the screen allows for some research discussions to follow more smoothly than in-person. Sometimes, when a group is huddled around one computer, they can’t see the screen and they end up pointing vaguely to try and describe something. The annotate tool makes it clear what folks are pointing to and still allows everyone to add to the conversation. However, one drawback of remote research meetings is that drawing with a computer mouse is horrible clunky compared to a pen on paper or whiteboard. Another benefit of remote research meetings is that our research collaborations with folks at other institutions has strengthened, as we have regular remote meetings to discuss on-going and potential projects. With captions available for remote meetings and video for speech reading, we are able to participate fully in ways that teleconference research calls did not allow pre-pandemic. The same is also true for journal club type seminars that discuss a research paper.

Invited Speaker Seminars

With the return to face to face instruction some of our seminar presentations from visiting scholars have been in-person and some hybrid or remote format. We have found that remote seminars continue to be of overall benefit, allowing us to invite distant speakers, leading to greater geographic representation. In-person seminars with and without masks have always been challenging for deaf/HoH folks. Allowing for hybrid seminars with auto-captions increases accessibility for deaf/HoH academics, but seminar hosts and/or speakers have to be cognizant about repeating audience questions to make these available to those online. What about when we have been invited to give seminars elsewhere? Given the current reality of masking indoors and the challenges this poses for our ability to speech-read our hosts and audiences, to date we have only accepted remote speaking invitations.

Academics, by nature, tend to resist changing the way we work. Our research and scholarship builds on the previous work within our disciplines. We don’t reinvent our disciplines with each new study. Experiments only change one parameter at a time in order to learn how systems work. Unless there are external factors, our tendency is to work the way that we have in the past. Data can point to better practices that slowly shift how we work over time and with slow incremental changes. While our survivorship bias leads us to make only small changes to what has worked in the past, what worked in the past for meetings and teaching was not inclusive to everyone. The covid-19 pandemic forced an overhaul of how we work. Within weeks, we adopted new approaches that otherwise might have taken us years to try. The pandemic crisis also provides a phenomenal opportunity to assess the way that we work and make wholesale changes that improve inclusion and access. 

Rather than returning to the old normal, we advocate for moving forward to the new normal. This new inclusive normal uses effective practises from in person and remote teaching and meetings. We would love to hear from others on “best practices” that they have brought back with them from their pandemic experiences.

Profile: Dr. Krista Kennedy

White woman smiles with dark hair pulled back and red rimmed glasses. She is looking to the side of the camera. Behind her are birch trees and autumn leaves on the ground.

Current Title: Associate Professor of Writing & Rhetoric, Syracuse University

Field of expertise: Rhetorics of Technology

Years of experience: 16

website: KristaKennedy.net

What is your Background?

I became severely/profoundly deaf after a bout of spinal meningitis at the age of 2. I was fitted with hearing aids and sent to regular speech therapy sessions quickly after my parents discovered my deafness. My educational path has been twisty, largely due to having been what would now be called “twice exceptional.” I began my education in Montessori prior to getting sick, but the school was not welcoming when I was able to return. From there, I went into the Arkansas public school system, where pre-school and kindergarten classes grouped all the children with disabilities together with two teachers. My mother advocated for me to move to mainstream classes, where I moved for part of kindergarten and on through second grade. The following year, I skipped third grade and spent fourth and fifth grades as a scholarship student at a wealthy, private K-8 school. Then I moved to a private religious school for sixth through eleventh grades, dropped out early because the school wouldn’t consider early graduation, and got myself admitted to the local state university, which had an open admissions policy. There, I made it for a couple of years, dropped out to work for a while, then returned and finished my BA while working full time. I realized that I really liked school a lot more than I liked my job, although the job’s tuition reimbursement program paid for the rest of my undergrad work, and I noticed that professors got to keep going to school forever. To be a professor, I clearly needed a doctorate. So, I quit my job the same week that I graduated with my BA, got an MA at the same university, and then moved out of state for my PhD. I had no accommodations during any of my education and really had no idea what might be available, aside from sign language interpretation. And since I never learned to sign, that wasn’t really an option.

How did you get to where you are? For example: How did you decide on your field? How did you decide to pursue a higher degree in your field? What concerns did you have when you started out?

My mother was a writer and I always wrote with her, first with crayons and then with our Atari computer. It was just always something I did, and I started publishing as a teenager in local venues. So, it was natural to double-major in English and Professional & Technical Writing and then to continue to focus on Writing Studies and Rhetorical Studies through my grad work. As someone who had become very distanced from their own deafness, I had no concerns about my own education when I began, no awareness of listening fatigue or its impact. I had some worries about whether or not I could teach in a traditional classroom, but through happenstance I began my teaching career in online learning environments. I just assumed that this was the wave of the future and that I would continue doing most if not all of my teaching online — something that turned out not to be true until the pandemic hit.

What is the biggest professional challenge (as educator or researcher)? How do you mitigate this challenge?

My biggest challenge happened on the tenure track, when I had ideas, archival research, and arguments, but was largely unable to get my writing done while in a research-intensive job. After teaching entirely in face-to-face classrooms with students from the northeast whose accents were unfamiliar to me and then attending a variety of faculty meetings and talks, I simply didn’t have the energy left to think in ways that facilitated writing my tenure book. At the same time, I was developing advanced degenerative arthritis that went undiagnosed for longer than it should have. It took a while for me to understand that this amount of listening was causing significant listening fatigue or that a mix of listening fatigue and chronic pain will almost certainly short out one’s thinking capacity, that I could negotiate accommodations, or what accommodations might be useful for me. And as someone who had relied on passing for most of her life and knew no other deaf professors, I had no community to rely on for answers. Now that I’ve spent 6ish years sorting through internalized ableism, building community, setting limits on how much listening I do each day, negotiating accommodations through the ADA office, and educating my colleagues about CART and my availability, my research productivity has skyrocketed. 

What is an example of accommodation that you either use or would like to use in your current job?

I use CART at all talks and large faculty meetings, teach in a variety of modalities (face-to-face, hybrid, and online), and schedule listening breaks throughout the day. To help manage chronic pain, I’ve arranged to teach in my own building or those right next door to it and moved my parking space. Our campus ADA Advocate has been an invaluable resource for negotiating all of this.

What advice would you give your former self?

Look for other people like you. Talk to them. Don’t feel like you have to do this alone.

Any funny stories you want to share?

Working with my last smart hearing aid, a Starkey Halo, led to a whole new research trajectory on algorithmically driven medical wearables. One of the moments that got me there is hilarious. The hearing aid was so new that I hadn’t yet changed the first battery. I was home alone on a dark and stormy night, prepping a chicken for roasting. Suddenly, a male voice said “Battery!” right in my ear and let me tell you, that chicken went flying. That was how I learned that the aid would talk to me when its battery was dying, which led to a host of questions about user interaction, why the default voice was white, male, and American, and other cultural aspects of this particular design.