Gwynn: Another side of cochlear implants and the Deaf Community
- Apr. 19, 2012
- 3 Comments
My parents are deaf. I grew up in a household where American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English were used alongside one another. I also went to school with the same 90 kids from kindergarten until 8th grade, until then I was shuffled off to High School, with over half of those 90 kids going with me. Because of this, I’ve spent most of my life surrounded by people who already knew about my parents being deaf.
Every so often, a personal detail would slip that would confuse someone who was not ‘in the know,’ and I’d give the abbreviated version: “Oh yeah, my parents are deaf—no, they don’t lip-read, yes, I know my siblings and I aren’t deaf, yes, I know sign language, yeah, it is pretty cool.”
I’m used to these types of questions, and my responses are automatic. A few years ago, however, a new question started to be asked—a question that forces me to recognize the divide that I straddle, that breach between my hearing world and my parents’ Deaf one.
“What do you think about cochlear implants?”
Cochlear implants are surgically implanted electronic devices that allow a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. Doctors and scientists alike have tried to develop what is sometimes referred to as “bionic ears” for decades, but it was only in 2005 that the first cochlear implants that were successful came about. Cochlear implants are now being heralded as an advancement to help the Deaf Community, praise lauded upon the medical community for finding a ‘cure’.
Cochlear implant surgeries are now being performed in half of all children who are born deaf, and why not? Hearing parents want their children to be able to hear music, birds singing on a summer’s day, the bark of a pet dog—or even throwing out terribly romanticized notions: parents want their children to be able to go to the doctor without an interpreter, to visit a restaurant and not have to scrabble for a slip of paper and pen for a means of communication, to be able to hear the tornado sirens blaring through the streets and not remain oblivious (as I spent one panicked afternoon a few years ago, my mother having just left for the store, her phone left behind).
Hearing parents don’t want their children’s lives to be hard. No parent does. For that is what being Deaf is, isn’t it? A disability, a misfortune whether its cause is by genetics, disease, or accident. Why wouldn’t the Deaf Community be overjoyed to join the hearing world, the whole world, to in fact become whole rather than defective?
These are the thoughts that I see buzzing around in the heads of those who ask me, “what do you think of cochlear implants?” This is not an easy question, and there is not an easy answer, and quite a lot of the Deaf Community is not overjoyed about Cochlear implants.
It’s not just the fact that cochlear implants require an intensive and risk-filled surgery, or that this surgical process is being pushed on children younger and younger, often on infants now. It’s not just that hearing parents are often being encouraged by doctors to get cochlear implants rather than considering looking into sign language, or trying to look for options within the Deaf Community. It’s not just that the technology is less than ten years old and hasn’t had the chance to test for long-term side effects. These factor in massively, of course, but they all transpire from one root issue at the cause of this debate about cochlear implants: the Deaf Community is outside the norm of society, and therefore, the Deaf must find a way to fit the mold, to join the Hearing world. The problem with the question “what do you think about cochlear implants?” is that no one is prefacing that question with one that is both vital and never asked: “What does it mean to be Deaf?”
Look for part 2 here: http://bit.ly/HMwovG
Gwynn is a freshman in English from Olathe.