British swimmer adds record to Deaf swimming history

A man who completed the swim across the English Channel became the first person who is Deaf to accomplish the feat.

Deaflympics Tapei 2009 sign
Deaflympics are held every four years in host countries worldwide. photo credit: IMG_0029_34 “POWER IN ME !” HDR via photopin (license)

Andrew Rees completed the 21-mile swim from England to France to raise $6,000 via crowdfunding on Just Giving for Great Britain’s UK Deaf Sport’s travel to the next Deaflympics, which will be held in Samsun, Turkey on July 18, 2017.

Giant white cliffs over the English Channel.
Swimmer Andrew Rees began his historic swim across the English Channel in England and swam to France. The waters are cold and the conditions were rough. photo credit: The White Cliffs of Dover (NT) 19-04-2012 via photopin (license)

Rees represented Great Britain and won gold and bronze medals at swimming and water polo in the 1985 and 1989 Deaflympics.

According to his Just Giving page, “The English Channel is the Everest of swimming; in fact more people have successfully climbed Everest than swim the channel.”

Snow atop the peak of Mount Everest.
Fewer people have completed the English Channel swim than have climbed the 29,000 foot Mount
Everest photo credit: Mount Everest from base camp one via photopin (license)

While Rees has met his goal to support the swim team, the campaign is still accepting donations here.

According to the Channel Swimming Association, Rees, who is profoundly Deaf, swam against a strong tide and completed the swim in 15 hours and 14 minutes.

Of the 11 boats accompanying swimmers attempting to cross the channel that day, only two swimmers completed the swim, according to Rees’ Facebook page.

Woman wearing wetsuit assists child in ocean kayak in front of English Channel white cliffs.
Wet suits offer protection from cold Atlantic waters, but channel swimmers aren’t permitted to use them, though they may use grease as a cold barrier. photo credit: Cap’n Nancy via photopin (license)

According to strict standards for swimming the channel, Rees couldn’t wear a wet suit to protect him from cold waters, and he was stung by a jellyfish. The water was rough, causing him to swim three more hours than he expected. When he completed the swim, he could barely walk, according to a Brighton & Hove News article.

“For the last eight hours it was mad. There was a 23-knot wind. I was bobbing up and down. It took me a long time to get there,” Rees said, according to the article.

Galveston's Pleasure Pier has a Ferris Wheel and rides on a pier over the Gulf of Mexico waters.
Galvestonian Leroy Columbo set swimming records, saved lives, and helped start the sport of surfing in Texas. photo credit: Moonrise Over the Pleasure Pier via photopin (license)

Rees is one of many great swimmers who are Deaf, including Galveston, Texas’ swimmer and Guinness World Record holder Leroy Columbo (December 23, 1905—July 12, 1974), who swam 15 miles in the Gulf of Mexico in 11 hours, and saved more than 907 lives as a life guard, according to this blog.

Sign of Tarzan and King Kong with father and son walking in front of it.
Texan Leroy Columbo, a famous swimmer who was Deaf, beat Olympian and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller racing down the Mississippi. photo credit: Be care via photopin (license)

Unfortunately, Galveston was unable to raise funds for Columbo to compete in the Olympics, though Columbo beat Olympic medalist Johnny Weissmuller in a 10-mile swim race down the Mississippi River—though Columbo had a dislocated shoulder and finished the last two miles of the race one handed, according to articles in this blog
and in the East Texas Historical Journal.

Rees is giving his teammates the Olympic opportunity swimmers who were Deaf had little hope of receiving in generations past.

“The money he has raised will help our Deaflympic swimmers immensely, and his swim will also serve as an inspiration to them all,” said Great Britain’s Deaf Swimming’s chair, Brian Baxter, according to a a BBC Sport article.

Advocate demonstrates Apple’s commitment to inclusive design

The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC, was held in San Francisco this past June.

Haben Girma, a White House Champion of Change, and Forbes 30 under 30 leader, was the first person who is Deaf Blind to graduate from Harvard Law School, according to her WWDC profile.

A bright sunset streams through stormy clouds, reflecting bright light behind mountains and onto the lake in front of it.
Adding alternate text descriptions of picture like this one here provide descriptions of the content for people using screen readers. photo credit: Lac des Mongerons via photopin (license)

Girma presented on the benefits of accessible design, including accessible design for developers.

In her presentation, Girma demonstrated creative ways to communicate with technology: she typed with President Barack Obama using Braille and a keyboard for the president; a classmate who wanted to talk to her when Girma couldn’t see or hear her contacted her on Facebook; she uses tactile sign language with her brother, who is also Deaf Blind.

One accessible function Apple products offer is a screen reader, VoiceOver. Girma said, “VoiceOver can speak out loud and send information to the digital Braille display.”

“Our goal is to have every app, and I mean every single app, to be accessible,” Girma said about the App Store.

Girma advocated for captions, and access to any features without assuming people with disabilities wouldn’t use it.

She used photography throughout her presentation to demonstrate how she uses pictures to share with sighted people, so develops shouldn’t deny access to technology based on assumptions.

Picture of a smart watch on someone's hand.
Smart watches may provide pulses that wearers can feel, something that benefits users without sight. photo credit: Turquoise shade leather band via photopin (license)

Haptic features, such as pulses of an Apple Watch to indicate emails, is a feature she said is not used enough by developers.

You can see Girma present at the event here or read the transcript here.

Sign Shares will be at Houston Abilities Expo this August

Sign Shares boat logo with blue handsCapsule Group logo with black background and white word Capsule and confetti streaming from word.Sign Shares, Inc. and Capsule will be at Houston’s Abilities Expo, Aug. 5-7 at booth 625, next door to the Houston Center for Independent Living’s booth, 627.

Sign Shares is the event’s American Sign Language interpreter sponsor.

According to their website, the three-day Abilities Expo is the nation’s leading disability event. Admission is free. The event has exhibitors, workshops, and day-long events.

The Houston Abilities Expo has 133 exhibitors listed, including businesses and organizations that support independence, awareness, and advocacy for people of all abilities.

The event will be held at the NRG Center, which was formerly Reliant Center, at Hall E.

Here is the time schedule:

  • Friday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Saturday 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
  • Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

Below are links for more event information:

Register to attend (free)

Map and list of exhibitors

List of Events, including Service Animal demonstrations

Directions, Parking, and Transportation Information

Community Ambassadors

Closer to the date of the event, a list of exhibitors for screen readers will be provided. Hands raised in blue light.

Register now to attend, and indicate any accommodations needs, including the need for sign language interpreters or CART captioned workshops.



Houston presentation will share ways lawyers can have interpreter fees reimbursed

Tuesday, Aug. 2, the Houston Police Department will host a presentation about a fund that will help lawyers get reimbursed for interpreter or other communication aids needed with Deaf and Hard of Hearing clients.

Picture of courtroom showing judge's desk far from seats of other people.
Court rooms present special challenges for people with hearing or vision loss. The long distances between speakers makes the environment challenging. photo credit: 1897 Courtroom via photopin (license)

This event is a part of the department’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Positive Interaction Program.

According to a flyer from the department, Brandon Tuck, member of the Texas State Bar of Disability Issues, and also a certified sign language interpreter, will discuss the fund, which was created by the State Bar of Texas.

The fund reimburses lawyers sign language interpreters, Computer Assisted Real-Time Transcription (CART), Braille documents, and screen readers to support effective communication.

Sign says Lawyer and points to a business.
A fund helps lawyers get reimbursed so that they can maintain effective communication with Deaf and Hard of Hearing clients. photo credit: Lawyer via photopin (license)

There will be door prizes at the event and anyone wishing to volunteer to bring food or drinks to the meeting should email James Sobota.

The event will be held on Tuesday, August 2, 2016 at 7:00 p.m. at Woodhaven Church for the Deaf at 9920 Long Point Rd. Houston, TX 77055.

If you’d like to learn more or have questions, contact Officer James Sobota at Voice # 713-308-9079 or by email.

An ASL Interpreter and captioning will be provided.

Houston holding back-to-school event with free supplies, screenings

houston skyline
Houston area businesses sponsor the Back 2 School Fest, which provides free backpacks and health care screenings. photo credit: Neils Esperson’s View via photopin (license)

The Houston Mayor’s Office is holding a festival celebrating the return to school on Saturday, Aug. 13.

The Annual Back 2 School Fest will be at the University of Houston and will serve 25,000 pre-registered, grades K-5 students who will attend Houston-area school districts. To participate, they must qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Registrations will be accepted until Sunday, July 31 or until no more openings are available.

Parent holds hands of two children.
It’s time to get the kids ready for school. Register now to get ahead at this back-to-school event. photo credit: Daddy dearest!! via photopin (license)

Students will have access to:

  • Backpacks
  • School Supplies
  • Immunizations
  • Vision Screenings
  • Dental Screenings
  • Other Free Services

To register your student, call 713-837-0311 between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. or visit here.


Texas Cities Open Cooling Centers to Cope with Heat

man in suit and tie sweats profusely
Texas cities brace themselves for hot temperatures. photo credit: Misery via photopin (license)

Houston and Dallas have opened cooling centers across their metropolitan areas for people to escape the heat.

Houston-area cooling centers

With temperatures forecast in the upper 90’s all week, and heat indexes making it feel like it’s in the mid-100’s, the City of Houston has activated its heat emergency plan to provide cool places for people to spend hours or the day.

Words read Air Cooled
Spending time in cooler air helps the body prepare for the stress. photo credit: air cooled – Phoenix via photopin (license)

Most of the locations are libraries. Some run regular business hours, as early as 8 a.m. to around 4, 5, or 6:00 p.m. Others stay open as late as 9 p.m. The cooling centers are open different days, with many being closed on weekends or having certain days open.

Click here to locate a Houston-area cooling center near you.

To arrange for transportation to a designated cooling center in Houston, call 3-1-1.

Dallas-area cooling centers

In the Dallas area, Salvation Army has opened cooling stations. According to CBS DFW, centers have weekday business hours, except for the homeless shelters, which provide cooling seven days a week.

Locate a Dallas-area cooling station here.

man dumps ice bucket over his head
Before dumping an ice bucket on your head, maybe you can visit your local cooling station! photo credit: Mission Accomplished – ALS Ice Bucket Challenge via photopin (license)

Planning for heat safety

The Houston Fire Department has many suggestions for heat safety, including:

  • drinking water before going outside,
  • wearing light, loose clothing,
  • avoiding leaving children, seniors, or pets in hot cars, and
  • working early in the day to avoid the heat.

Heat exhaustion or heat stroke can be caused by too much exposure to the heat and/or not enough fluids. Learn more about the symptoms for these two illnesses here.

Deaf heat safety video

Watch an American Sign Language Extreme Heat Emergency Information Video.

The video was produced by the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Northeast Texas Public Health District.


Website Provides Health Resources in Sign Language

DeafHealth’s website has a mission to provide “health education in American Sign Language to promote the overall wellness of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing community.”

Broken heart with two Bandaids across it
Deaf patients are a vital part of their health care. What they learn helps them maintain their best health. photo credit: Mending a Broken Heart via photopin (license)

Users may learn more about:

  • Medications,
  • Diseases,
  • Medical Tests,
  • or find local, Deaf-friendly Doctors.

The resources would provide useful information before or after appointments with interpreters.

While the section on Medications is limited, the list of Diseases is large. Users can click on a disease, such as Acute Sinusitis, and learn:

Man blows nose into a tissue.
Without learning how to care for Acute Sinusitis, patients conditions may worsen. Seeing sign language explanations makes it easier for website users to learn more about how to take care of their health. photo credit: A Million Tissues – 290/365 via photopin (license)
  • what it is,
  • its symptoms,
  • how it’s diagnosed and treated,
  • and care and prevention for the condition.
Person under sheet having MRI medical test with medical personnel watching.
Explanations of medical tests such as the MRI above help website users to understand what will happen to them. photo credit: MRI machine with patient via photopin (license)

Website users can also research medical Tests, which include written and signed explanations for tests such as Computed Tomography (CT Scans).

If the user is seeking Deaf-friendly Doctors near them, they may enter their city and state. In the Houston area, for example, they list three doctors in different parts of the city.

Physicians like Doctor Strange here who are friendly with those who use sign language stand out like local superheroes. photo credit: Strange Magicks via photopin (license)
Physicians like Doctor Strange here who are friendly with those who use sign language stand out like local superheroes. photo credit: Strange Magicks via photopin (license)

An advanced section of the resources includes News about health care directives, such as the right to discharge against medical advice, or about the medical power of attorney.

Website users need to subscribe to use many resources, which is done quickly so that they may continue using the site.