A taboo word in the deaf world.
For those who aren’t familiar with what cochlear implants are - it’s an electronic device installed under the skin behind the ears. It consists of many parts to help transmit sounds to the outer device (it looks similar to hearing aids). This process requires surgery which is usually done in the same day or overnight. It is a common misconception that cochlear implants would cure deafness. It does not. The cochlear implants are another aid for deaf people to be able to hear some sounds and speech. After surgery, they have to go through intensive therapy on speech and learn the sounds.
So many people describe cochlear implants as a “medical miracle” but yet dumbfounded when they come across deaf people who turned it down. It is a controversial topic in the deaf community. There are some deaf people who are against it because they feel that it oppresses them so they actually frown upon the deaf people who do get cochlear implants. Most often the deaf people with cochlear implants feel rejected from the deaf community.
I learned about this controversy when I attended college. I went to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) which had many colleges including National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). This is the reason for the large deaf community in Rochester, New York. I observed many sub groups within the deaf community at RIT. There was the “deaf pride” group who were raised by deaf parents, attended deaf institutes, fully emerged into the deaf culture. There were the “mainstreamed” folks who were raised in a hearing world but immersed some deaf culture in their lives such as using sign language. There was the “oral” group which often applied to those with cochlear implants; they often didn’t use sign language but relied on lipreading and talking. It was interesting to learn about from all kinds of “deaf” lives.
Those who are against cochlear implants don’t see their deafness as something that needs to be fixed. They use examples of successful deaf people out there in the world - famous actors/actresses, artists, athletes, and even musicians proving that there are many who are satisfied with being deaf. It’s often explained that deaf people can do everything but hear. Another reason why the fear of cochlear implants is impacting the deaf culture is the belief that if technology continues to be used to help deaf people then sign language/deaf culture would decline.
Most deaf children are born to hearing parents. Back in the mid 1990’s it was common for doctors to push cochlear implants. With the hearing parents’ initial shock once finding out their child is diagnosed with deafness, it can provide a false sense of hope that they will be cured with cochlear implants.
During college I met so many deaf people who received cochlear implants at a young age and were no longer using it. When I asked them for their reasons, the common replies were (1) that they weren’t happy with their parents’ decision (2) it causes a lot of headaches or (3) did not see a benefit in using them/were not a successful tool for them. Those that I did know that actively used cochlear implants were the ones who decided later on in their teens/young adult years. Again, that does not apply to everyone but it was an observation I had from my college years.
So what is my opinion on cochlear implants?
My parents heard about them when I was 8 years old. They met with someone to discuss the whole process of getting cochlear implants for me. At the time, it was determined that I was not a viable candidate for cochlear implants because the company who manufactured them was very new. The technology at the time also was not advanced for my level of hearing loss (profound loss). The company was specifically targeting senior citizens who lost their hearing or late deafened people.
The technology advanced over years so cochlear implants were a possibility for me again. I was asked in my high school years if I would consider getting them. I let the fear of being in surgery prevent me from making a decision.
When I went to college, I had many friends who had cochlear implants so I was able to learn more about them. As I mentioned before, some friends described they received more headaches which I did not want. The implants also would take away any residual hearing, which I have a tiny bit of, that I wanted to hang onto! Another turn off for me was having to get the cochlear implants updated every few years so that meant going in for a few surgeries throughout my life. I still have a fear of being in any kind of surgery so that wasn’t appealing to me!
I am not against cochlear implants. I support people who want them. I have seen where it is successful for some people while it wasn’t for some other people. The key in my final decision was that I am comfortable with being deaf. I like my silence. I don’t like major changes. I couldn’t imagine going from my silent world to a world with sounds. I’ve had so many people who couldn’t understand how I would pass up on them when they could be a huge asset. The results of cochlear implants isn’t the same for everyone so there is no way of knowing how successful it would be for me. It wasn’t enough of a risk for me to take because it took a long time for me to love myself as a deaf individual.
All opinion in this blog are my own. It does not reflect the opinions of other deaf members.