Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye. Very fun. Very inaccurate.


I was watching a rerun of Sue Thomas F.B.Eye the other day.  This show was aired in the early 2000’s, but was cancelled in 2005.  Thats too bad. , because it was fun entertainment.  It was loosely based on the real-life experiences of an actual deaf women whose ability to lip-read landed her a job with the FBI.

What I liked about the show is the positive image it portrayed of a deaf person.  Moreover, I like the idea of making lemonade out of lemons.  Also, her hearing ear dog Levi is adorable.  He’s almost as cute and smart as my hearing ear dog Amie!

I also almost had an opportunity to assist in law enforcement with my lip-reading skills.  I was asked by a police department to lip-read a surveillance video tape that had no audio.  They believed the two men were plotting a murder.  Unfortunately, the men were not speaking English, so I was unable to help.  Thus ended my career in law enforcement.

As enjoyable as the show was, it was also grossly inaccurate.  In the show, you never see the character Sue Thomas ever asking for people to repeat things.  She perfectly seems to understand everything just by lip-reading.  This is impossible.

Only about 30-40 percent of speech is visible on the lips.  Some sounds such as /k/, /g/, /h/, are produced at the back of the throat and cannot even be seen at all.  Other sounds look exactly the same.  For exactly, /p/, /b/, and /m/, are all produce with both lips and look the same.  Therefore words such as “pat”, “bat”, and “mat”. will look the same.  Other examples of homophonous sounds include /s/ and /z/, /f/ and /v/, /t/ and  /d/.

Only hearing can allow you to distinguish between all the speech sounds.  So it is critical that you have the proper hearing equipment if you plan on communicating via spoken language.

One new technology that is helping improve the understanding of speech is something called “Non-Linear Frequency Compression”.  This technology is found in many Phonak hearing aids.  Basically what it does is it shifts high frequency information from an area of poor of completely missing hearing into an adjacent area of audible better hearing.  As a result, many high frequency sounds like fricative consonants  (e.g. /f/, /s/, /th./ or environmental sounds such as birds chirping become audible again.

This technology has been independently evaluated by a number of researchers.  For example, Dr Jace Wolfe concluded that “non-linear frequency compression can be considered as a viable option for children with moderate to profound high-frequency hearing loss”.  Similar results have been found in adults as well.

Note that this technology cannot help if your hearing loss is too severe.  This is the case with me.  But then we have the option of getting a Cochlear Implant.  These devices do a good job of restoring audibility of many of these consonant sounds.  For more information on Cochlear Implants check out Advanced Bionics, Med-El, and Cochlear Corporation.

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2 thoughts on “Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye. Very fun. Very inaccurate.

  1. I know this is an old post, but I felt a need to comment. First let me position myself – I am profoundly Deaf, fluent in ASL, also fluent in English and French. My speech scores are crap based on hearing alone. From speech reading alone I get about 40% or so. I rarely ask people to repeat though. I miss a lot, but I make up for it with quick contextual cue reading and using every other tool I have to figure out what is going on. Mind you, the second there are 3 or more people I am completely lost when it comes to spoken language!

    I also used to use Phonak Naidas. I absolutely despise SoundRecover. My audiologist and I spent hours programming and in the end I just sucked it up and dealt with the Naida’s for my 3 years and then promptly switched to the new Oticon Chili’s. I am really clear on this when I am talking to other Deaf people, and parents of Deaf kids, that SoundRecover isn’t for everyone. Especially for people with complex sensory processing stuff going on. It all sounded like a muddy overload of terrible noise. We even had Phonak reps come in to help with programming – it wasn’t my audiologist.

    Anyway, my two main points are…that speech reading alone gets you 40% but if you have the ability to use environmental cues, gesture, and context you can get WAY more. Second, SoundRecover isn’t for everyone.

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