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American Sign Language and Deaf Culture: Cochlear Implants 


Caitlin Tallungan
August 22, 2014

 

Cochlear Implants:

Turning the Misconceptions ‘Off’

           
“My parents really wanted my brother and I to get cochlear implants. They cared about our opinion. It was our body… We were too young to make that decision. I regret it. We were eight years old” (Kimberly). Nineteen year-old twins Kimberly Klock and Ryan Klock went to my high school. Kimberly is Deaf and her brother, Ryan, is hard of hearing, although they both got cochlear implants when they were younger. When I interviewed Kimberly about her cochlear implant, she expressed a sense of pride in being Deaf. “There’s nothing wrong being Deaf. We embrace it, but Ryan likes having the implant. It wasn’t for me,” Kimberly said (Kimberly). There are several misconceptions about cochlear implants, and to start, it is evident that the Deaf community is not all lining up to get one.

In some areas, especially the medical field, society has developed an ideology that if you are without something most people have, it should be made available to you, and not only made available, but even wanted. The medical device that displays this opportunity for the Deaf and hard of hearing community specifically is the cochlear implant. The first single channel cochlear implant was introduced in 1972 as an electronic device that provides a sense of sound to those who are “profoundly Deaf or severely hard of hearing” (Brown). Misconceptions exist about cochlear implants that should be clarified to help better understand the Deaf community and options Deaf or severely hard of hearing people have.

A commonly-held misconception about cochlear implants is that they are only successful on a narrow, younger age group due to the fact that their bodies can still more easily learn and accept new information, like sounds they would be hearing for the first time. After all, the earlier in life a person receives the implant, the easier it is for them adjusting to learning how to hear and speak. While not everyone is eligible for a cochlear implant, they are not necessarily limited to a specific age group. Ear, nose, and throat specialist, Doctor Robert C. O’Reilly, explains “children who are 12 months of age or older with profound hearing loss in both ears are excellent candidates,” but that cochlear implants are successful on adults as well (KidsHealth). As O’Reilly states, the best candidates happen to be younger, however the eligible age group is not a narrow one. In fact, more adults than children have received cochlear implants in the United States. According to the Food and Drug Administration, “as of December 2012 … In the United States, roughly 58,000 adults and 38,000 children have received [cochlear implants]” (Cochlear). From this statistic, it is clear that adults who have become Deaf or hard of hearing later in life, or have always been, also experience successful cochlear implants, otherwise there would not be such a large number still receiving them in 2012.

While age is not the deciding factor over who can get cochlear implants, there are other reasons that can make patients ineligible. On one hand, children’s hearing may be too good without the use of hearing aids, meaning they could still hear some sound and speech but not a lot. Other reasons include that the “reason for hearing loss isn’t a problem with the cochlea” or “the hearing nerve itself is damaged or absent” (KidsHealth). The latter reasons are necessary to coincide with the anatomy of the surgical procedure, and therefore, to get the desired results. Every potential candidate is evaluated on these requirements by a cochlear implant team to decide whether an implant should be used. The cochlear implant team is composed of counselors and doctors. The counselors evaluate the situation to ensure that the people trying to get the implant would be suitable for the surgery and have the right reasoning for getting one. They also conclude if the motivation to participate in the difficult journey afterward is present in the family. The doctors, on the other hand, are the ones who look at the reasoning behind the lack of hearing and their relative compatibility for the procedure (Kids Health).

Another misconception is that cochlear implants “fix” Deafness, which is a complete misunderstanding of how they are designed to work. After receiving a cochlear implant, the patient is still technically Deaf or hard of hearing. It is not a “cure”. During a two-four hour surgery, the implant package is placed inside the skull, within the inner ear. The microphone is worn, and hooked up to the package on the outside of the ear, which means it can be turned on and off. In essence, regardless of having received a cochlear implant, the patient is still considered Deaf for they are still unable to hear sound when the speech processor is turned off (KidsHealth). Furthermore, even when the processor is turned on, the patient will not hear sounds like a non-hard of hearing or Deaf person would. Doctor O’Reilly describes the process of the conversion of sound as such: “Sound is sent to the sound and speech processor… analyzes the sound and converts it into an electrical signal” (KidsHealth). O’Reilly goes on to explain that the electrical signal is decoded in the implant package, where the electric current determines the sounds’ loudness and pitch. By transportation of the hearing nerve, the message goes to the brain, and lastly, the brain interprets the sound (Nevala). In this way, getting the cochlear implant does not restore normal hearing. The sound heard is similar to a robotic tone.

As stated previously, it is a mistaken belief that all Deaf people want a cochlear implant. The results described above are not necessarily ideal. Not only are the interpreted sounds electronic-sounding, but for those who have never had the ability to hear properly, the sounds can be extremely overwhelming (Cochlear). Unlike natural hearing and speech development, which occurs over a number of years as a baby, these patients are hit with all of the different sounds of the world at once. This process is straining because they can hear everything simultaneously, such as the lights buzzing, refrigerator humming, pets moving, television, and the dishwasher running all at once. They have to train themselves to “focus on only a couple sounds, which non-hard of hearing people have learned to do naturally over time” (Hear).

In the documentary film Hear and Now, Paul and Sally Taylor, a born-Deaf couple in their 60’s, decided to get cochlear implants together so that they might hear for the first time in their lives. Their daughter filmed their reactions as they dealt with this new, profound experience of sound in their Deaf worlds. Paul adapted well to the implants, enjoying everything new he was learning about the world and the sounds that filled it. While her husband excelled with the new device, Sally had the opposite experience as her husband. She could not grow accustomed to all of the new sounds that filled her head and she would constantly have migraines as a result. Due to the stress it caused Sally, she lost the motivation to improve and most days would no longer attempt to wear the outer piece of the cochlear implant (Hear). It is these mixed reactions to the cochlear implants that also play a role in part of the Deaf community’s skepticism toward cochlear implants.

Perhaps the strongest argument the Deaf community has against cochlear implants is that they are genuinely proud of being Deaf and in some cases could not imagine otherwise. This is the case for many Deaf and hard of hearing people I know. Take Kimberly Klock, for example, who I used to play basketball with on our high school team. She would rarely have her cochlear implant on, even around only hearing teammates. I asked her specifically about this in the interview to which she replied, “I didn’t wear it because it didn’t matter that I was Deaf around you guys... I would have needed Nichole [Kimberly’s interpreter] to interpret and I don’t like having it on” (Kimberly). Having the cochlear implant on just wasn’t worth it for Kimberly, and as stated previously, she regrets getting the procedure. I also questioned her about why she regrets having the procedure done if she can turn the device off and still be Deaf, while she still has the option of hearing if she so chooses. “My other Deaf friends don’t judge me for having it ... I love our Deaf ‘family’ I have and I’m not embarrassed being Deaf. Why do I have an implant to correct my hearing if I am fine without it?” (Kimberly). Simply because Kimberly is without something most people have, does not mean she wants it. Following this thought process, it would be easy to find the pain endured, time spent learning and tuning out sounds, and the cost of the surgery not worth it if the patient is content with their life in the Deaf community to begin with. Furthermore, my American Sign Language 1 teacher in high school, Mr. Corey, was an older Deaf man who expressed a similar mentality as Kimberly. While Kimberly claims it just was not for her, Corey adamantly believed any hard of hearing or Deaf person was admitting to having a disability by getting a cochlear implant, while it was actually a gift to be Deaf. Not every Deaf or hard of hearing person is against cochlear implants personally or widely like Kimberly Klock and Mr. Corey, but they are ones who prove the idea that all Deaf people want to hear is far from the truth.

Misconceptions about who is eligible for cochlear implants, the results from the procedure, and the overall Deaf and hard of hearing perspective of them are common. Clearing up these false misbeliefs could give people the opportunity of receiving a cochlear implant and hearing for the first time, rather than thinking they were too old for such a procedure and following experiences. Learning about the variety of results from getting the cochlear implant could make or break someone’s decision in getting one so it is important to understand these different results. It is also important to discredit common misconceptions in order to better understand, accept, and build relationship with the Deaf community. 

 

Works Cited

Brown, Carolyn. "Cochlear Implants." Cochlear Implants. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2004. Web. 19 July. 2014.

"Cochlear Implants." Cochlear Implants. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Nov. 2013. Web. 20 July. 2014.

KidsHealth. "Cochlear Implants." Ed. Robert C. O'Reilly. The Nemours Foundation, 01 Sept. 2012. Web. 20 July. 2014.

Hear and Now. Irene Taylor Brodsky. HBO, 2009.

"Kimberly Klock's Opinion on Cochlear Implants." E-mail interview. 29 June. 2014.

Nevala, Amy. "Impact of Cochlear Implant Electrotechnology." HearAgain.org. N.p., 26 Oct. 2012. Web. 1 July. 2014.

 


                  ARCHIVE               


 

Jennifer Enright

November 5, 2004

 

Cochlear Implants

(Why culturally Deaf people are against them.)

 

I. What Deaf people think about cochlear implants.

a. Do they think it will affect their culture?

b. Would they have one if they had the choice?
 

II. When are people old enough to have an implant?

a. Do Deaf and hearing people want to give their children the implant?

 

     Gloria Cosgrove met with the Metro Silent Club and discussed with them, how they felt about cochlear implants, since most of the culturally Deaf population thinks that the implant is trying to "destroy their culture."

"You mentioned medical practice," Gloria said, "were you thinking about cochlear implants? Where do you stand on that?"

"It’s a sensitive issue," said Jake, "If I may speak for most of us, we don’t have a problem with cochlear implants for adults. But for children who were born Deaf, No! It’s exposing children to an invasive experimental surgical procedure for dubious reasons and even more dubious results."

". . . If more and more Deaf children get cochlear implants and are kept away from the Deaf-WORLD, that would mean the end of the Deaf culture," Henry said.

"I don’t think that’s going to happen," Jake said, "It’s my understanding that though the procedure is very invasive, an implant is just another kind of hearing aid, a built-in hearing aid. When hearing aids came into vogue, Deaf culture never faded away. Instead, we threw away the hearing aids. I think that when these implanted kids get older, they many get angry at their parents for making the implant decision for them when they were young. . ."

"But would any of you have one?" Gloria persisted.

"No!" They were all agreed, though Laurel said she knew of a few former classmates who were either totally in the hearing world or marginally in the Deaf, and they would do it. (A Journey into the Deaf-World, Harlen Lane, Ben Bahan, Robert Hoffmeister, pg. 376)

     As this quote states, all of this club would refuse to have a cochlear implant, one member’s parents asked her to get a cochlear implant and she didn’t speak with them for weeks. According to the member her parents hadn’t accepted her for who she really was. Others state that it would cause the Deaf-World to slowly dissipate and eventually disappear altogether. Although they did say that the cochlear implant would probably soon turn out to be just another hearing aid, a permanent hearing aid, but none the less still a hearing aid.
 

FDA Requirements for Cochlear Implants

". . . candidates must be at least two years old (the age in which specialists can verify the

severity of the child’s Deafness). (Living with Hearing Loss, Carol Turkington, Allen E. Sussman, pg. 100)

     As you can see any Deaf/partially Deaf person can become eligible for an implant once they’ve reached their second birthday. Many hearing parents apply for this procedure as soon as their child’s second birthday arrives. The Deaf community although would leave the child Deaf to join in with the Deaf community.

     "It does not seem to matter that the Deaf say again and again that they value their culture, their language, and their world. The hearing remain perplexed. This, of course, perplexes the Deaf-WORLD. The gulf between the two worlds engenders accusations and recriminations. The Deaf-WORLD is accused of resisting cochlear implants because it wants to ‘steal’ the Deaf child." (A Journey into the Deaf World, pg. 373)

     Unfortunately the more the Deaf try to defend their culture the more the hearing world try’s to bring it down and create an all hearing world.

 



Also see:  Cochlear Implants (2)
Also see: Cochlear Implants: Deaf Community vs. Hearing Society
Also see the sign for: "Cochlear Implant"


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