Video: Geoff ‘DeafGeoff’ Herbert speaks at TEDxBuffalo about hearing loss, listening

Geoff 'DeafGeoff' Herbert at TEDxBuffalo

Geoff “DeafGeoff” Herbert speaks at TEDxBuffalo in October 2012 about being a deaf DJ, growing up with hearing loss, and the importance of listening versus hearing.


I spoke at my first TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) event on October 9th at Canisius College in Buffalo, and I’m happy to share with you the final video cut (in HD! See my face for radio in crisp pictures!) from my TEDxBuffalo speech titled “Listening is More Important Than Hearing.”

As an adult who was born with a profound binaural hearing loss, I was happy to share my experiences growing up hard-of-hearing and how I pursued the careers that I’ve succeeded in, including more than 10 years as a DJ (including six years as a morning show producer at a Clear Channel radio station in Syracuse, perhaps as the only deaf on-air personality in the country). I talked about speech therapy, my love of music, and the importance of listening versus hearing.

I’m now an Entertainment Reporter for Syracuse Media Group, the home of syracuse.com and The Post-Standard newspaper, but also still work as a disc jockey for parties, dances, weddings and other events. I still embrace and advocate the value of listening because I still do the same thing at my job — listening to what the audience wants, responding to them and continuing to inform and entertain.

Thank you again to Kevin Purdy for inviting me to speak at TEDxBuffalo and much appreciation to all who attended, watched and/or tweeted me their thoughts afterwards. It was a fun experience and I’m always happy to share my experiences. If you have any follow-up questions or would like to know more, please feel free to contact me.

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Watch: Geoff ‘DeafGeoff’ Herbert speaks at TEDxBuffalo about being a deaf DJ

Geoff 'DeafGeoff' Herbert talks at TEDxBuffalo on Oct. 9, 2012

Geoff ‘DeafGeoff’ Herbert talks at TEDxBuffalo on Oct. 9, 2012 about being a deaf DJ and the importance of listening over hearing.

I was humbled and honored to be invited to speak at TEDxBuffalo, my first TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) event, about being a deaf DJ and the challenges I’ve faced in my life growing up mostly deaf. The event was held Tuesday, October 9, at Canisius College in Buffalo to an invite-only crowd and was also live-streamed online and recorded for future events.

In a speech titled “Listening Is More Important Than Hearing,” I shared how I was born with a profound binaural hearing loss and learned how to communicate through years of speech therapy. I demonstrated some of the challenges that come from lipreading, such as how “V” and “F” look identical but the sound is different by how much air comes out of your mouth and whether your voice box vibrates when saying it. I then talked about falling in love with music, and its transformative power that led me to pursuing a career in radio — and never once letting my “disability” stand in the way. I learned to appreciate music by listening to it, not just hearing it, and worked hard at radio stations in high school and college before landing a job at Clear Channel’s HOT 107.9 in Syracuse as a morning show producer and sidekick known as “DeafGeoff.” I worked with “Marty & Shannon in the Morning” for six years as possibly the only mostly deaf on-air personality in the country and our show was rated No. 1 in its target 18-34 demographic.

I’m now a producer/entertainment reporter at syracuse.com, the online affiliate of The Post-Standard newspaper but the challenges I face today are the same. At a radio station disc jockey (or as a club DJ), you have to listen to what your audience wants and respond to it. Social media users and website readers will often comment and/or share stories, and it’s the same thing — listening to the audience, responding to them, and continuing to inform and/or entertain.

I’m also still a DJ for parties, dances, weddings, events, etc. and I’m constantly listening to music and studying it, watching audiences to see how they react to songs. It’s amazing how hearing a favorite tune can change a person’s mood — or force them to start moonwalking (or shuffling or Gangnam-Styling or whatever) because the music is that infectious.

You can watch video of me speaking at TEDxBuffalo here, but please check out the other speakers as well. All had great, unique thoughts to bring to the event and I was happy to be a part of it.

Thank you to all who watched and tweeted me their thoughts afterwards, and thank you to Kevin Purdy for inviting me to speak at TEDxBuffalo. If anyone has any follow-up questions or would like to know more, please feel free to email me.

Lipreading and live-tweeting: Bring something unique to Twitter during events

Lipreading: Examples of sounds and what mouths look like when saying them

Lipreading: Examples of sounds and what mouths look like when saying them

Twitter is an increasingly fun way to watch live events on TV. By following live-tweets with a #hashtag, you can be watching alone in your pajamas but feel like you’re at a party with thousands of fellow fans who are making interesting observations and comments.

That being said, there’s an important rule for live-tweeting any event — if it’s on TV and being watched by millions, DO NOT TWEET A PLAY-BY-PLAY. Posting “I can’t believe she won that award!” or “And Otis Spunkmeyer passes it to Scrooge McDuck, who scores and puts the Lone Rangers on top” serves no value to a nationally televised event considering other people can watch the same thing — its redundant and annoying. Use Twitter to add a third dimension to the game or show by posting original content or unique reactions.

With that in mind, I started live-tweeting Syracuse University basketball games with #lipreading tweets of what players and coaches, especially Jim Boeheim, are saying when the TV shows close-ups of their faces. Since there’s no audio from them in those shots, I’m adding an extra element to the game that viewers who aren’t deaf and hard-of-hearing likely can’t follow.

I got the idea for specifically focusing on tweeting lipreading (or lip reading, speechreading) from a German deaf woman, Julia Probst, who reads the lips of soccer players and coaches during matches and tweets them, providing fans with a running dialogue that they would otherwise not be privy to. It’s made me enjoy sports more and I hope to continue it with Orange football this fall and other teams I’m a fan of, like the Boston Celtics, New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox.

Some examples of lipreading live-tweets I’ve posted:

  • #Lipreading Jim Boeheim: “That’s a flagrant…” after Rutgers fouled Dion Waiters #GoOrange #BeatRutgers
  • #Lipreading Jim Boeheim: “Are you kidding me? … [not nice words] Come on, Brandon!” #GoOrange #BeatWVU
  • CJ Fair clearly said “F***, man” after he was fouled. He looks WAY too young for that kind of language. #lipreading #babyface
  • #Lipreading Jim Boeheim: “Listen. LISTEN! You can’t be fouling like that…” to SU’s Rakeem Christmas #GoOrange #BeatWVU.

Everyone can lipread a little bit, whether they realize it or not — being hard-of-hearing, I did speech therapy as a kid so I could understand speech (as well as speak it better). Lipreading is simply the visual interpretation of the movements of the lips, face and tongue. Without hearing aids, I’m 90% deaf but with lipreading, context and residual hearing I can follow conversations pretty well most of the time.

If you can’t lipread, don’t feel bad — just add something different when live-tweeting an event. Give people a reason to follow you on Twitter.

A few additional notes on lipreading or speechreading:

  • So many sounds and shapes look exactly the same, which means only about 30 to 40 percent of speech is accurately visible. “Get the mail” and “Catch the pail” look very similar, for example, and obviously have completely different meanings. Oftentimes, lipreading is only accurate with context (such as listening with hearing aids) and/or visual cues. For example, if a basketball player just made a bad play, you know the coach is more likely to say “That was stupid, don’t do that” than “Taco soup is delicious.”
  • When communicating with a deaf/HOH person, face them and speak clearly and naturally. People change the way they talk all the time — resting your chin on your hand affects speech, as does gum, mustaches, tongue-piercings, talking out of the side of your mouth, etc. Also, when people talk faster or slower it makes it harder to lipread and, when people yell, their mouths get wider and it becomes very difficult to see what they are saying. (Translation: Shouting at deaf people doesn’t help them understand you.) It’s very difficult to read lips on a person’s face/mouth that’s constantly moving or is facing in another direction, too.
  • While many references to hard-of-hearing in comedy lean offensive (i.e. the basketball coach near the beginning of “Van Wilder”) lipreading can be very funny. Marlee Matlin, the only deaf actress to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, starred in a “Seinfeld” episode as a tennis lineswoman who dates Jerry and helps George lipread another woman’s conversation from across the room while Kramer interprets for her in sign language. She thought they said “Let’s sleep together” when they said “Let’s sweep together” — which actually isn’t a likely mistake for a deaf person to make as “sw” and “sl” form very different mouth shapes, but was still a funny example of how a subtle misinterpretation can change an entire conversation’s meaning. For more outrageous (though unlikely) lipreading mistakes, check out “Bad Lip Reading.”

Netflix needs to offer subtitles on instant titles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Movie renting has changed dramatically in a short time. Video rental stores are a dying industry, and online viewing is surely the future of movie-watching as TV and internet continues to become more and more integrated.  One thing that will never change, however, is the need for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to be able to enjoy movies and TV shows the same way other people do.

Netflix, which lets you rent DVDs by mail, also provides “instant watching” – according to Netflix.com, 66% of its users used the instant watch feature in the third quarter of 2010.  Only 41 percent used it a year before, so that number will only increase (and could, conceivably, be the only way to rent movies one day).

According to InstantWatcher.com, Netflix currently offers 11,619 titles to watch instantly.  That’s 11,619 movies and TV shows that you can watch online (with a computer, Wii, XBox or PS3) with a Netflix account.

According to this blog, only 300 of those titles offer English subtitles (also known as “captions”) for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.  The list gets updated often, and as someone who’s tried to watch numerous movies instantly on Netflix, I’d have to say it’s very accurate.

To put it simply – only 2.5% of the instant watch titles can be viewed with subtitles.  In other words, 35 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans can only enjoy 2.5% of the movies Netflix offers instantly.

Since 1993, the FCC has required all televisions to have built-in closed captioning readers. Federal law also requires American film distributors to caption all movies prior to their release. And don’t try and tell me that online streaming video is different. Last year, even YouTube started offering subtitles for its free video-sharing site including “automatic captioning” for users that don’t provide their own subtitles.

Netflix has promised to offer more titles with subtitles, but in seven months have only improved from 100 titles to 300.  Not good enough, Netflix.  2.5 percent of all movies and TV shows is an abysmal amount.

Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin posted a video on AOL asking the 35 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in America to “make noise” and be heard. Matlin, among other roles, was the deaf tennis lineswoman in an episode of “Seinfeld.”

“If you see something isn’t right, if there’s a law out there that doesn’t make sense,” said Matlin, “do anything you can to speak your mind to it, don’t be alone… make yourself heard.”

I’m making myself be heard, Netflix.  If you’re going to offer movies as instant titles, you need to offer them in a way that everyone can enjoy them – with subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.  Thank you.