Cochlear Implants – A Cultural Threat

This article discusses a common Deaf cultural view of cochlear implants. Not everyone shares these views and this article is for educational purposes only. The company’s name used throughout the article has been omitted.

A cochlear implant is a new mechanism for hearing when a hearing aid is not sufficient. A hearing aid amplifies sound to make it loud enough to hear, while an implant sends sound signals directly to the auditory nerve.

There are many issues involved with the implants and deaf culture. Evidence of issues such as “fixing” deaf children, giving a false sense of hope, and forcing a choice of culture are all found on a cochlear implant manufacturing corporation’s website.

Cochlear implants are a threat, and the website I am going to use as an example, is a prime example of this.

“Fixing” Deaf Children

The corporation’s website exhibits the issue of the implants being used to “fix” deaf children. The mission statement of the corporation states, “Our mission is to improve lives by developing, manufacturing and marketing bionic technologies.”

The cochlear implant is often forced upon a deaf child by hearing parents. This corporation believes they are improving a deaf child’s life by giving them the ability to hear.

A deaf person can have a perfectly happy life being deaf. Who is to say their life is better because of the implant?

The mission statement goes on to say, “We attract technologists and professionals from all over the world who are dedicated to improving the lives of individuals who suffer from neural disorders, such as deafness.”

Again, the corporation states they want to “improve” deaf people’s lives. However, they now state that people are “suffering” from deafness. This use of language framing makes deafness seem like a burden–like it’s something that is weighing down on a deaf person’s shoulders and must be lifted off and must be fixed.

The history of the corporation began with distributing the CLARION cochlear implant whose primary principle was “that deaf patients would hear better with more options in how sound information is delivered to the auditory nerve.”

The primary reason for the implants was always to make deaf people hear. The only reason why anyone would want that is because deafness is seen as a handicap that needs to be fixed.

This is a huge issue in deaf culture. Deaf people believe that deafness is not a handicap, but a culture. Attempts at “fixing” the deaf are seen as offensive and are met with protests. Children should not be “fixed” to be like hearing people, but should be introduced to deaf culture where he or she was born to belong.

False Sense of Hope

The corporation shows on their website the false sense of hope they give prospective patients. The corporation states that the cochlear implant “is the only medical technology able to functionally restore a human sense – Hearing.”

This is not true. The cochlear implant cannot actually restore hearing. A cochlear implant, as stated on the website, “captures sound from the environment,” “processes sound into digital information,” “transmits to the implant over a transmitting antenna,” “converts digital information into electrical signals,” “sends signals down tiny wires to the electrode array in the inner ear,” “delivers electrical signals through tiny contacts, or electrodes, to the hearing nerve,” then “the hearing nerve carries the sound information to the brain, where it is heard.”

An ear does not normally work in that fashion. For that reason, people with these implants cannot hear the actual sounds. The sounds are digital, and the hearing is not normal. The false sense people get about these implants actually bringing back the ability to hear is nonsense. Children cannot actually regain their hearing with a cochlear implant. It is a synthetic sound–it does not fix a broken sense.

There are also biological and technical issues that need to be taken into consideration. The corporation actually states that depending on the age of hearing loss, the age of implantation, the status of the inner ear, and other medical conditions, there is not a guaranteed level of benefit from the cochlear implant. Though these precautions are posted on the website, and each patient is evaluated individually, there is always a chance that the cochlear implant will not work as well as expected.

With a cochlear implant usually being one of the first options given to hearing parents of a deaf child, risks are usually taken and children may be stuck with the implant even though the desired result was not met.

A frequently asked question on the website is “Why do people get a Cochlear Implant?” One of the answers was, “They want to be included instead of left out.”

This is another false sense of hope. Children with the implants are not easily accepted and included. There is still a visible implant on the child’s head which will be an easy target for teasing in mainstreamed schools. The child will more likely be included without a cochlear implant in a deaf school than with a cochlear implant in a hearing one.

Children are cruel and will seek out anything to put another child down. A bionic ear will be an easy target for low self esteem. False hope of a cochlear implant’s success is an issue that needs to be more thought out and assessed. This false hope can lead to a child’s disadvantage.

Forcing a Choice of Culture

A video on the corporation’s website shows that a culture is chosen for many deaf children of hearing parents. In the video, the parents found out that their daughter was deaf at the age of two. “Immediately she was fitted with hearing aids,” and “everyone told [them] initially that it’s a severe impairment but with hearing aids, she should do well.”

Immediately, the answer was to get this little girl to hear again. They wanted to capture any residual hearing she had left. She was already being forced into the hearing world, and at the age of two, she had no choice.

They also used the word “impairment,” already acting like the little girl had a problem that needed to be fixed so she could function in the hearing world.

The video goes on to say that “for months, she struggled” and her parents “learned subsequently that whole technology only provided her with a small benefit.”

The benefit is the functionality in the hearing world. The first sign that something was wrong was that she was struggling. They could have used an alternative method at that point–deaf culture. However, her parents wanted her to be with the hearing, and turned to the cochlear implant.

Her parents said, “We explored every possibility we could think of how we were going to teach our daughter…language.” They went on to say none of the possibilities worked until they found the cochlear implant.

The young girl received her cochlear implant at the age of three and a half. If her parents had tried every possibility, then they tried sign language–it was seen in the video.

However, if the girl was implanted at such an early age, her natural language of American Sign Language was not even possible to fully learn in that amount of time. If she were to learn ASL, then English, she would be fine. But her parents jumped to the cochlear implant, and she had no choice herself. She could have functioned fine in deaf culture, where she was born to be.

Many deaf children of hearing parents are forced into the hearing culture where they were not meant to be. This is an issue that these implants bring up. Hearing aids can be removed, but implants cannot.

What is Right?

What is happening is not the fault of the parents who decide to have their children implanted. It’s the system that hearing parents go through–the information that is given to them. Information is given to them through doctors and scientists–both of whom see deaf people as needing to be “fixed.” They do not offer information about Deaf culture or the fact that deaf children can have a happy and fulfilling life being Deaf–without being told that something is wrong with them.

Cochlear implants raise many issues in the deaf community. Three of which are: “fixing” deaf children, giving a false sense of hope to hearing parents, and forcing a choice of culture upon deaf children.

Evidence of these issues can be found on a cochlear implant manufacturing corporation’s website. I found exactly what I expected to find on this website. I found advertising hype, language of hope and change, and language that would make hearing parents of a deaf child’s minds up before they even knew it.

This website was very informational in how audiologists think in the absence of deaf culture. I learned exactly how a cochlear implant worked, which I have always wondered.

However, I am still wondering about the success statistics. I know that the implants do not work for everyone, but I want to know how many people receive a cochlear implant and have their hearing remain the same or get worse.

I have also heard from several of my professors that the implants tend to die after 15 years, and that medical insurance only covers one implant. When the implant dies, many get an implant in their other ear, spending several thousand dollars. This is not a choice that should be made for a child.

People should have the right to choose which culture they will belong to. The implants cannot be removed and therefore one culture is chosen for a child–one path. They have no choice but to be fixed and shoved into hearing culture while their parents have a hope of success that may never come true.

These issues need to be assessed, and the administers of these implants need to provide both sides of the story as well as all the options.

Check out this fantastic video by JoJa+ that takes a deeper look into Deaf culture and how it relates to society’s need to “cure” deafness:

Again, this article discusses a common Deaf cultural view of cochlear implants. Not everyone shares these views and this article is for educational purposes only.

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