Resolution Acheived.


This will be a quick blog post.  I have been in contact with the management at Spring Rolls and they have done the following.

  1. The have apologized for what transpired.
  2. They have agreed to add the appropriate signs stated that Service Dogs are welcome.
  3. They have agreed to provide sensitivity and awareness training for their staff.

Note that this is not just about complying with the Ontario Human Rights Code but also the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.  Specifically, as of January 2012, all providers of goods and services must comply with the Customer Service Standards.  I urge you to click this link for more details. 

I am pleased that Spring Rolls plans to take the necessary steps to ensure this experience does not happen to others with disabilities.  Thank you.

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Discrimination Against Hearing Ear Dogs


Photo by Richard Lautens, Toronto Star.

Photo by Richard Lautens, Toronto Star.

On Thursday April 18th at around 12:30 p.m., I attempted to go for lunch with my two work colleagues at a restaurant called Spring Rolls.  When we arrived, the manager told us we could not bring my Hearing Ear Dog in.  We immediately informed him that this was not a pet but a Hearing Ear Dog and as such was legally entitled to come into the restaurant.  He still continued to refuse to seat us, telling us first that Health Code laws prohibit this.  We told him this was nonsense and in fact the law allows me to bring a Hearing Ear Dog into the restaurant.  He still refused, saying that we cannot have a dog near other customers.  Again, we pointed out this was nonsense as well and the law allows us to be served.  He then proceeded to suggest we sit on the patio or in an upper area of the restaurant that was closed, but he would reopen so we would not be seen near anyone else.  We rejected those two options.  First, it was not warm outside and did not want to sit on the patio.  Second, segregation is also a form of discrimination.  We don’t segregate on the basis of skin colour, gender, or anything else, so why should I be segregated because of reliance on a Hearing Ear Dog?

After about 5 minutes of arguing, and his continual refusal to serve us, we were forced to leave.  We then proceeded to be served without any problems whatsoever at Jack Astors.

Lets review what the Ontario Human Rights Code says.

Ontario’s Human Rights Code  is a provincial law that gives everybody equal rights and opportunities without discrimination in the social areas of:

  1. employment
  2. accommodation
  3. goods, services and facilities
  4. contracts
  5. membership in vocational associations and trade unions

The Code’s goal is to prevent discrimination and harassment because of many areas (race, gender, age sexual orientation etc.), including disability.  Section 10 (1) of the Code defines “disability” as follows:

“because of disability” means for the reason that the person has or has had, or is believed to have or have had,

  1. any degree of physical disability, infirmity, malformation or disfigurement that is caused by bodily injury, birth defect or illness and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, includes diabetes mellitus, epilepsy, a brain injury, any degree of paralysis, amputation, lack of physical co-ordination, blindness or visual impediment, deafness or hearing impediment, muteness or speech impediment, or physical reliance on a guide dog or other animal or on a wheelchair or other remedial appliance or device,
  2. a condition of mental impairment or a developmental disability,
  3. a learning disability, or a dysfunction in one or more of the processes involved in understanding or using symbols or spoken language,
  4. a mental disorder, or
  5. an injury or disability for which benefits were claimed or received under the insurance plan established under theWorkplace Safety and Insurance Act, 1997

The two relevant themes are that I was discriminated in the social area of “goods and services” due to a “disability“.

Through various contacts, two media outlets were contacted and agreed to do a story on this issue.  The Toronto Star published an excellent article.  Here are the contents of the article.

Interesting how the manager has modified his story to the Toronto Star reporter.  The article states the following.

“At the Spring Rolls restaurant on Queen St. W., Rupinder Bahl told the Star the reason Stelmacovich and his friends were offered seats upstairs or outside was because the tables at the front were either occupied or reserved. Stelmacovich, however, says many of the tables up front were empty.

When the restaurateur was asked if he understood that under Ontario’s Human Rights Code Stelmacovich cannot be refused proper service, Bahl said the dog didn’t need to be inside because he had friends who could help. Asked if he refused proper service he said, “Of course not.””

Point of clarification.  The restaurant was almost three quarters empty.  He never mentioned the need for reservations, this is something he made up after our incident.  The only reason he offered the upstairs area was to segregate us.  This was a special area used for parties and events and was not open to the public.  There was absolutely no reason that we could not have been seated in the normal part of the restaurant.

In addition to this article, the CBC also sent a camera crew to interview us.  This segment appeared on CBC on Saturday April 20 on the local Toronto 6 p.m. news.  Here is a link to the story of the CBC website.

Again, he brings up the lie about reservations.  Here is the relevant quote:

“The manager of the Spring Rolls restaurant didn’t want to appear on camera — but over the phone he told CBC News it was never his intention to offend anyone. He said the empty tables were for other patrons with reservations and he offered to welcome Stelmacovich back with a free meal.”

I told both reporters from the CBC and the Toronto Star that I will not file a Human Rights Complaint under the following conditions:

  1. That he acknowledges that he made a serious mistake by discriminating against me.
  2. He apologizes for this error.
  3. That he guarantees that it will not happen again not only to myself, but to anyone who relies on a service dog.

He failed to do that.  As such, I will be forced to proceed with a formal Human Rights Complaint.

Some may wonder, why bother with the hassle? My experience recently in Ottawa is the reason.  Before, when I had Amie, my previous Hearing Ear Dog, I had some incidents with taxi cab drivers.  However, when I went again to Ottawa with Flora, all the taxi cab drivers were excellent.  I asked one driver what he knew about the rules on service dogs  and he replied “Yes, we have be clearly instructed we must take people with service dogs”.  Obviously someone took a stand, and by doing so, made my life easier.

Now it is time for me to return the favor.  So this is not about me, or Flora, and a free meal.  This is about all people who rely on service dogs and face this kind of discrimination every day.

Keep your free meal buddy.

World’s Best Travelled Hearing Ear Dog


Amie loved her long walks.

 

Last weeks blog posting was a bit heavy. Its time for a lighter blog post…and a fan favorite in the blogosphere.  Amie the Hearing Ear Wunderdog.

I guess I am getting sentimental again because Amie is having a tough time these days.    Due to the Transitional Cell Carcinoma in her bladder, she is having suffering from urinary incontinence.  We need to keep her diapered at all times or in the crate with an incontinence liner.  Its stressful for all of us…

Hence the need to reflect upon better days when Amie and I travelled the world together.  We came up with a list of all the places Amie and I have been together.  I must say, it’s pretty impressive for a dog.  Here’s what we came up with:

  • San Diego, California
  • Salt Lake City Utah
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • Vancouver, Victoria, Whistler, and Kelowna in BC
  • Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta.
  • Hiking in the Alberta Rockies
  • Saskatoon and Regina Saskatchewan
  • Winnipeg and other parts of Manitoba
  • Pretty much every city in Ontario
  • Quebec City and Montreal, Quebec
  • Halifax, NS
  • Charlottetown, PEI
  • Moncton, NB
  • Whitehorse, Yukon
  • Zurich, Stafa, Bern, Kandersteg, Murton, and other places in Switzerland.
  • Plus more, but cannot recall

It is during these trips that I have had some of my funniest stories with Amie.  One time we were doing a training session at the Westin in Ottawa.  Normally Amie just sits in the room while I present, or maybe greets some guests.  But this time she we suddenly realized she was gone.  Turns out she sniffed out that some bankers in the next seminar room had a way better buffet of cheeses and meats (we had veggies and dip…boring!).  Little monkey.

Amie sitting nicely, hoping for treats.

Another time I was in a Montana’s Steak House.  We were seated in a booth and I took Amie’s leash off while she sat beneath the table.  She couldn’t go anywhere…we were in a booth.  Right?  Wrong!  Turns out the walls to the booth did not extend all the way to the floor.  She snuck out and was seated in front on a table of a nice old couple who were sharing their Prime Rib with her.

Another favorite is during a trip to Kandersteg, a village high up in the Swiss Alps.  The Inn owner was terrified of dogs her entire life…until she met Amie.  Amie’s sweet and kind disposition essentially cured this woman’s lifelong fear of dogs.  By the end of our trip, the Inn owner was taking Amie by the leash and introducing her to all the other guests in the Pub.

For years I have done what I like to call “Kids Days” at Phonak. Here we bring kids to the Phonak office and give them a factory tour, followed by a pizza lunch and an Amie Hearing Ear Dog Demonstration.  But for the longest time, I kept getting the same kids returning year after year.  The teacher’s explained that the kids could go wherever they wanted for their trip, but they all wanted to come to Phonak.  Well, it really turns out that they all wanted to come see Amie again. “Forget the Zoo, forget Rock Climbing, we want Amie”.  And here I thought they wanted to come see me.  Nope.

Going to Bass Pro Shops looking for matching outfits.

As we get closer to the difficult day, I want to make sure we always remember Amie in her glory years…as one of the most well travelled and loved Hearing Ear Dogs in the whole world.

Everybody loves Amie, especially her mom.

Hearing Not Required…


Shumka Dancers

I took my parents to see a Ukrainian Dance Troupe last night called “Shumka”.  This group based out of Edmonton Alberta (surprise, surprise) has been in existence for 50 years.  They put on an absolutely dazzling performance.  While my expertise on the art of dance is limited, I am certainly not ignorant to the elements of fine dance as I have been to about 10 ballets in my lifetime.  Last night’s performance, at least from my perspective, was every bit as technically sophisticated and beautiful as a ballet, but a heck of a lot more fun!

As I was watching and enjoying the performance, it dawned upon me that I was fully enjoying this event just like everyone else in the audience.  Sure, the dances were choreographed to music, but I heard that well enough. The music was not the focus of the performance, it was the dancers- their athleticism and ornate costumes.  I really did not need much hearing to enjoy this activity.  I just sat, clapped, and cheered like everyone else.

It seems that so many regularly occurring things in life are affected by hearing loss. Work, communication, enjoying television, theater, movies, music, going to a restaurant,  and going for drinks with friends, all require both technical assistive devices such as an FM system, and some accommodations from my family and friends in order for me to participate.  Not that I am complaining…I would not want to miss out on these important activities.  I am grateful that these devices grant me the necessary access and improve my ability to participate.

But its also nice to find exceptions to this through activities that are not taxing on the ears.  For me, these typically include hobbies such as fishing, archery, kayaking, hiking and photography.   And last night, it included dance!

Sometimes I wish I enjoyed more of the visual arts.  I have certainly tried…I have been to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Musee du Louvre and Musee d’Orsay in Paris, the Met and MoMA in New York to name a few.  Sadly, visual art does not speak to me the same way that music does.  Perhaps I lack the training and education to fully appreciate the immensity of meaning these pieces of expression may hold.

In any event, there is much to enjoy in this world that does not require good hearing.  I find that it is quite beneficial to seek out these “hearing not required” activities to enrich our lives.  It also provides necessary relief from the challenges of hearing loss.  Its good for you!

For Family Day today, we are off to the Bell Lightbox (Home of the Toronto International Film Festival) to see a French film called Lancelot du Lac.  It will have English subtitles for all the viewers, not just me.  It should be fun!

What’s in a Name? Terms for Hearing Loss


Various terminology is used to describe people with disabilities.  Interestingly, the terms we must use has become a sensitive issue.  Some terms are understandably negative.  For example, the terms idiot, moron, and imbecile used to be accepted terms to describe persons with varying degrees of intellectual disabilities. They are very hurtful terms and of course are not used anymore.  The etymology of the term handicap is believed to be related to begging for money, although this has been disputed by others.  Nonetheless, we must avoid this term as it now has negative connotations.  Strange that Joe in Family Guy uses this term to describe himself, but then again, Family Guy is not a place to learn political correctness.

Similarly, we use many terms or names to describe hearing loss.  Some of the commonly used ones include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Deaf-mute
  • Deaf and dumb
  • Hard of Hearing
  • Deaf
  • deaf
  • Hearing impaired
  • Deafened

Hearing loss is a nice generic umbrella term.  It encompasses conductive, sensorineural, or mixed losses.  I failed to find any reference on the internet to this term being negative or derogatory.

“Deaf-mute” and “Deaf and Dumb” both describe the notion that people with significant hearing loss from birth both cannot hear and cannot speak.  These terms should never be used as they are both inaccurate and of course derogatory.  Most kids born with hearing loss, when provided with appropriate auditory-verbal therapy, support and equipment do learn to speak extremely well and go on to achieve high levels of education.  Some families choose sign language for their children, and also can achieve great things.

“Deaf” and “deaf” are actually considered to be somewhat different terms.  Deaf, when used with a capital “D” (also know as “Big D Deaf”), typically describes members of the Deaf Community who use sign language as their method of communication.  The Deaf Community have their own cultural identity, social groups, drama productions etc.  When used with a lower case “d”, the term deaf or deafness is a general term to describe all degrees of hearing loss.  Typically, the image the term “deaf” conjures up is a person who uses sign language, and therefore, the term deaf, whether capitalized or not, version more commonly used to describe people who sign and cannot hear.

Deafened is also a term you see out there, and is one of the terms I use to describe my condition.  Typically it describes someone who has lost the majority of their hearing post-lingually (after the acquisition of spoken language).  However, deafened people may have had their hearing assisted via high powered hearing aids or cochlear implants.  There are organizations such as the Association of Late Deafened Adults in the US. So this term is well accepted.

Hearing impaired or hearing impairment seems innocent enough.  It can be used to describe a condition in which ability to detect certain or all pitches is either partially or completely impaired/

Interestingly, the terms “Hearing impaired” or “Hearing impairment” seem to be the ones that draw the most criticism and controversy today.  I was looking at the National Association of the Deaf website for their perspective on this term.  Here’s the first sentence “Deaf and hard of hearing people have the right to choose what they wish to be called, either as a group or on an individual basis”.  I completely agree with this statement.  Nobody should force a term on any group.  But here is the second statement “Overwhelmingly, deaf and hard of hearing people prefer to be called “deaf” or “hard of hearing.”  Really?  I completely understand and respect the wishes of the Deaf Community to NOT be called hearing impaired.  But I cannot recall anyone asking people with hearing loss who do not sign if they all wanted to be called Hard of Hearing.  When did this happen?

Hard of Hearing officially refers to those persons with hearing loss which is permits the use of the auditory channel for a certain amount of speech/language.  Hard of hearing people typically use hearing aids, cochlear implants, and FM systems.

I do not like the term Hard of Hearing.  In fact, I vehemently detest it. The problem I have with the term “Hard of Hearing” is two-fold. First is the image it conjures up.  And secondly, the proponents of this term to obtain failed to achieve consensus amongst people with hearing loss that this is the correct term that shall be used.

When I think of the term Hard of Hearing, I imagine a old person from the 1930’s with a listening tube stuck in the ear muttering “What’s that sonny?  I am Hard of Hearin’ and ya gotta shout!”.  I find the term archaic, unintelligent, and unflattering.

Hard of Hearing Person

I have asked many people who are not Big D Deaf (that is, the so called “Hard of Hearing”) about their feelings of these words.  Many do not object to either Hearing Impaired or Hard of Hearing.  It is becoming abundantly clear to me that it was the Deaf Community who did not like the term Hearing Impaired.  Again, that is fine.  I completely respect this.  But what I object to is that the term Hard of Hearing was forced upon everyone else.  We could have gone with Deaf and Hearing Impaired rather than Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily seeking to resurrect the term “hearing impaired”.  If that term is dead, so be it.  But I will do everything I can to also kill off the term Hard of Hearing, I hate it that much.

I am very glad that in the US, the group “Self Help for Hard of Hearing” (SHHH) changed their name to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA).  This new name has no negative connotations, and is generic enough to encompass all people with hearing loss.  It is a very welcoming term.  I have joined the HLAA, but not our own Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA), entirely due to the name.

In the end, the most important thing that all of us people with hearing loss desire is to be seen as people first.  Yes I have a hearing loss and use a cochlear implant, hearing aid, and FM system.  But I also am a father and husband.  I have a graduate degree in Audiology.  I love music, and play bass in a band.  I love to kayak, fish, and hunt.  I am all these things, and I do not wish to be defined solely by one attribute.  So perhaps the term People with Hearing Loss may be the best term of all, as it emphasizes the person first.

Stigma and Hearing Loss.


Over the past year, I have been growing my hair.  I have done this for a couple for reasons.  First, I am still in the midst of a mid-life crises, but in a good way.  I am celebrating the fact that I still have a full head of hair at 47, and I am showing if off it a silly display of vanity.  Second, it looks good when I am playing in my band (its great for head banging).  But thirdly, I must confess, is that it is helping to conceal my hearing devices.  The latter was not one of the initial motivating reasons to grow my mop, but I have noticed a change in the way people look at me now that the devices are less visible.

People tell me I look like Matthew McConaughey's chubby, but sexy, deaf brother.

So what is the issue here?  Obviously there is still a stigma associated with hearing loss.  Lets look at the definitions of this word “stigma”.  The Merriam Webster on-line dictionary defines stigma as “a mark of shame or discredit” and “an identifying mark or characteristic; specifically : a specific diagnostic sign of a disease”.

So do I see using a hearing aid, a cochlear implant or an FM system as a sign of shame or discredit?  Of course not.  In fact Canadians, Americans, Europeans, Australians, and others who live in the developed world should realize how fortunate we are to be living in a society in which our either our incomes or social programs can afford to provide us with devices that can help us hear again.  World wide, there are likely millions of individuals with hearing loss who cannot afford the luxury of better hearing.

Are using hearing devices a specific diagnostic sign of a disease?  Well, maybe.  It certainly does give away the fact that I do have a hearing loss.  But as I will point out later, there are other signs that indicate the presence of a hearing loss, namely, one’s communication abilities.

I think that for many years, hearing aid companies did not help to diminish the perceived  stigma associated with hearing devices.  They constantly tried to advertise “invisible” hearing aids.  One could even order hearing aids that were delivered to your home in a “plain brown envelop”.  What’s up with that?  Are we ordering porn here? These kinds of marketing practices only served to reinforce the notion that hearing loss is shameful.

Frankly, I think most of the notion of hearing aids being stigmatizing on an individual is bullshit.  The ultimate proof of that comes to me every year around Christmas time in which I go to lots of Holiday parties.  What I am about to describe to you has happened to me so many times, I wish had a nickel for every time it occurred.

The scene is set as follows.  I have my refreshing beverage in my right hand.  In my left hand is my Phonak SmartLink+ FM transmitter.  I am happily conversing away with lots of folks, and inevitably, someone will ask about it.  The conversation goes something like this:

Other Person: “Hey, what’s that thing you got there?”

Me: “Well, that’s my FM transmitter”

Other Person: “Oh yeah, so what does it do?

Me: “”It picks up your voice and helps block out the background noise.  so I can hear you a lot better in this noisy party”

Other Person: ‘Wow, cool.  so how do you hear with it?”

Me: “Well, it transmits via FM radio waves to little receivers attached to my cochlear implant and my hearing aid”

Other Person: “Wow, thats so cool.  You know my Dad should get one of those.  His hearing is way worse that yours”

Me:  “Really?  Wow. His hearing is worse than mine?  Is he deaf?”

Other Person: “No, no , no.  He’s not deaf.  Probably just hearing loss due to age.  But he just completely falls apart in social gatherings.  He totally avoids them.  Constantly saying “what?” all the time.  Drives us all crazy, especially my Mom.  He won’t even go to things like this anymore.”

Me:  “Does he wear a hearing aid.”

Other Person:  “No, he doesn’t want anyone to know he has a hearing loss.”

So what do I conclude from this exchange?

  1. People judge the amount of “disability” you on the basis of your behavior and your ability to function, not just on the presence of hearing devices.
  2. Because I seem to function better in a noisy environment with my FM system, hearing aid, and cochlear implant, I am perceived as having LESS of a hearing loss than a silly old coot with presbycusis (hearing loss due to age) who won’t even wear a hearing aid.
  3. Often the biggest barrier to better communication is the person with hearing loss themselves.  They erroneously think others won’t notice their hearing loss if they do not wear a hearing aid or use an FM system.  The fact is that they are constantly having communication breakdowns and this is extremely obvious to everyone.

But this brings me back to the hair thing.  The cochlear implant is bigger than a hearing aid, so folks do stare a bit.  It can get annoying.  So, I grew my hair a bit and it covers it up more.  So shoot me for wanting to look a bit cooler.  But I can assure you, I would never trade my ability to function for the sake of cosmetics.  I know that I would be perceived far worse if I kept saying “what, huh, pardon me”.  The hearing devices and FM system help me function and decrease negative perceptions.

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.