Friday, December 08, 2006

Cochlear implants and deafness

The Cheerful One mentioned in a post that she got herself embroiled in Cochlear implant debate at a recent Christmas party.

I started posting a comment on her post, but my anger ran away with me, so I moved it here instead of turning her comments box into a debating zone.

I respect the views of the anti-implant debate, and I sympathise with their fears that "curing" deafness - which implants don't do by any means - will destroy their culture. But personally I think the deaf culture is far stronger than that. But their tactics make me furious. The worst story I have heard is of non-implanted children slapping implanted children in the side of the head in the playground in an attempt to destroy their implant. (Don't - you will dent the child before the implant.)

The victims of these assaults are children who are not wearing their speech processors - the devices that send the sounds to the implant - implant because they're at deaf school, trying to participate in deaf culture. Can you imagine anything more likely to turn a child against the deaf culture than bullying it out of a school for the deaf - can you imagine anything more likely to attach negative connotations to signing?

One of my colleagues was deaf (without an implant) and, naturally, attended events with lots of other deaf people. He refused to put a company parking sticker on his car because he was afraid of the car being vandalised when he attended events with lots of other deaf people who didn't know him.

Children need to learn to hear and understand speech as separate from background noise and their ability to learn this skill is direct correlation to how soon they can be implanted. The main anti-implant argument is that children should be able to make an informed decision about whether they want to be part of the hearing culture, or the deaf one (as if it's an all or nothing choice) and thus should wait until they are around 12 years of age before being offered an implant.

But at that age their ability to learn to hear speech, and speak themselves, is severely compromised. However, if the child is implanted in its first year of life, and grows up signing, hearing and speaking, they are able to make an informed decision by either wearing or not wearing their implant. Not implanting them until later in life is taking away their right to learn to hear and understand speech.

And honestly, if they had met some of the amazing implantees that I have met, the anti-implant lobby would not be so anti.

One bubbly, vibrant explosion of a woman who went deaf overnight in a nightclub, in her fifties, describes her implant as a lifesaving device. She lives to talk and interact with other people - she is 100% extrovert. She became suicidal after a week of the loneliness of not hearing, and spent a month in deep depression before her implant restored some semblance of hearing.

Another woman in advanced old age (in Australia) had been going progressively deaf over the years. She was implanted and within a week of returning from hospital (that's a ridiculously fast recovery - it's usually longer) was able to ring her oldest friend in the UK - a woman who she had not been able to speak to for seven years, and who she had given up on ever being able to speak to again, because their respective ages made travel difficult. Once the crying was over they talked for three hours, and when I met her, were talking weekly.

How can someone deny that sort of miracle to a person?


On a more cheerful note, my deaf mate was heading off to travel in Vietnam. I asked how he was going to handle the language barrier - because there is very little crossover between Asian languages and English.

He looked at me incredulously, and wrote on our conversation pad, "I don't speak English, and I do OK here."

I wrote back, "Oh yeah, good point there. I forgot!"


At Friday, 08 December, 2006, Blogger Damian said...

Please don't comment here.

Your comments are welcome here instead:

This post, with all the others, has moved to

At Wednesday, 14 February, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At Thursday, 15 February, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


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