Is Technology Killing Deaf People?

I’ve seen three miracles this week. I saw a curly headed deaf boy convert from sign to fluent speech. I saw a deaf twin pretending to be her hearing twin and speaking so well we could not tell the difference. I then saw a whole host of deaf kids listening and enjoying music on headphones and, apparently, understanding all the words and nuances of the song. All of this happening here and now. DEAF KIDS CAN HEAR AND SPEAK!

And yes they can, at least the ones that they show anyway. It is not a bad thing. Hearing aids and cochlear implants have all made this possible. Technological advances have meant that there are now listening devices that assist listening devices so that devices are more effective devices. The consequence is that we are now seeing deaf kids with excellent speech.  At least the very successful ones anyway!

I am very much a skeptic. It is not that I do not believe that these kids have learnt to speak well. It is not that I do not believe that they have a significant hearing loss. It is more to do with the spin doctors and the way these spin doctors will pick the cream of the crop to promote their needs and wants all in the name of money. “Give your lolly to us and your deaf kid can be  the same” is what they imply. They conveniently do not show those kids who have not done very well with speech acquisition. They blame parents, social circumstances and the child’s intelligence. They conveniently leave out the issue of interaction, socialisation and isolation which are all part of being deaf. Speak and you shall succeed. It is tunnel vision at its worst.

Our society is under the illusion that technology is so great today that devices like cochlear implants and hearing aids virtually restore hearing. The technology is certainly better and we are now seeing more and more deaf kids developing good spoken language. This is not a bad thing. What is bad is the professionals misleading parents and the public with the illusion that good speech largely overcomes the disability of deafness. It doesn’t!

Deafness is largely a social disability. Speaking well is one thing but interacting with society is another. Being able to make yourself heard is great but not being able to hear others is 75% of the problem. The best technology today still is only beneficial in small groups and one on one situations. Deaf kids will leave school and find once they are out of their support network it is a whole new ball game.

The university lecturer that mumbles, the work colleagues that forget and the friends that start to develop interests beyond the playground towards the more adult social aspects such as bars, noisy restaurants and nightclubs. It is not easy and many of these kids who have learnt to speak successfully will seek out people that have the time to communicate with them. Many will shun the hearing community in favour of the Deaf community.

Many will then become angry, even bitter, that they were denied access to sign language. They will discover the benefits of having interpreters, the joys of communication that is full and not stilted and the relief in not having to rely on one or two people to keep them informed. The period of anger and bitterness can last a long time. It will take them time to learn to sign fluently and they will even become angry with other deaf people for not having the patience to communicate with them. Deaf and hearing rejection. There can be nothing worse.

Most will get through this period and find there niche in the world but some will not. They will spiral into depression and withdraw from both deaf and hearing worlds. They will require help and even medication. A few will take their own lives. Even these few are too many.

This all happens in the name of technology. Blessed technology. The children in these Ads may go on to be happy members of hearing society, some may find the Deaf community and some, having been led to believe that speech and technology will give them a NORMAL life, will be so angry and lonely that they may never recover.

This is why these Ads are so dangerous. They raise hopes and worse they do not tell the story of the many deaf kids that fail to acquire good spoken language or very little language at all. There are so many variables and so many skills that a deaf child needs to develop and understand. Speech is but part of the equation. The agencies responsible for these misleading and dishonest Ads should bow their heads in shame.


Song playing in the background – What is that sound, ringing in my ears. The
Sound that makes the world go round, the sound that makes the world go round

All of us were born Deaf, but now we can hear and speak. Thanks to donations
to the Hear and Say Centre. During the butterfly appeal, buy a butterfly at
Suncorp or KFC and help other young Deaf kids into our world of sound.

My sister Maddie and I are identical twins. Except that she was born
completely Deaf and I wasn’t. The Hear AND Say Centre for Deaf children
helped kids like Maddie to actually hear and to speak just like me so that
they can communicate to the world with confidence like everyone else. And
you’ll be surprised just how much they have helped Maddie.

Other girl talks – You are Maddie silly.

14 thoughts on “Is Technology Killing Deaf People?

  1. Technically ‘Is Technology killing Deaf People? is incorrect. None of them are being killed. They are deaf, wearing assistive devices. When they take off the cochlear implants they are still Deaf.

    Deaf people wearing cochlear implants will not like seeing references of them being killed.

  2. The agency needs to be called on the carpet for its misrepresentation to the public.

    No better people than the Deaf community to do it.

    Get together all the clubs, societies and churches serving deaf citizens and draft a commentary that is released at a public meeting.

    Make the points you have made so ably above and call upon this quasi-charity to represent itself in a honest, not an idealized and unethical way for the benefit of the deaf community.

  3. It’s all about evolution of the deaf society. Its time the deaf community moves up with the rest of the civilization.

    People resist the evolution of deaf society. I profit from the evolution of the deaf society. If those who resist evolution become angry at it, thats too bad for them.

    Next year my university be doing stem cell trials and that will pave the way to fixing deaf babies before they’re born.
    I’ll be part of the univeristy’s new hearing center.

    It’s all about evolution. If you resist and whine, that’s too bad.


  4. Technology is killing…is not meant to be taken literally. But as a metaphor for destroying Deafness, it is true. There is always a loss [hence a death] whenever there is a change or evolution.

    And Richard, all this evolution is not progressing human ethics, morals, perspectives, respect for differences or progressive thoughts at all…… by all means, go ahve stem cell therapy. Don’t let me stop you! Sorry, don’t let us stop you!

  5. One thing I can asset is the spins the doctors and c.i. advocates use to convince the public on the miracles of cochlear implants. I’ve encountered c.i. advocates who went as far as to try to deceive the public and the parents regarding the c.i. kids ending in Deaf programs, with minimal language skills, etc. It shows the ethics are still no better than the old times when they paraded the successful oral kids in front of the public while hiding the not so successful oral kids behind.

  6. Aidan said it best.. I’m signless and writeless too. You’ve said everything I’ve ever thought and put it in writing. THANK YOU!!! Enjoyed reading your piece and will be sharing it with others I know. Keep it up!

  7. MZ, what’s matter with you for not able to tell the metaphor of this blog posting’s title.

    To everybody,

    Technology in general, surely dehumanizes our human civilization and causes us to be more impersonal, unresponsive, indifferent, impatient, illogical, implusive and self-asborbing, etc.

    We still do not know the long-term consquences of so-called technology miracles within our deaf users of CIs and other hearing assistive devices.

    Electromagentic pulses are still the major concern for any CI users and other deaf people with assistive device dependency.


  8. If you want to explore this further consider the impact of mobile phones or even captioned movies on the Deaf community. Or even just basic communication access such as MSN or the humble TTY (TTD)

    Years gone by Deaf people gathered on a regular basis. This made the Deaf community strong. They would meet regularly at the club or HUB.

    Now a quick SMS, chatting on MSN, hours on Facebook, throw on a captioned DVD … Entertainment and communication at the ready.

    But face to face contact is minimalised … The Hub of the community is evolving to cyber space. Socialisation, events and good old fashioned human contact are becoming less and less. Sporting groups are struggling to attract members.

    Is it Killing Deaf people … Not completely but it’s certainly weakening the Community. And yes I am as guilty as anyone 🙂

  9. Tony and RLM, I already understood the metaphor. I am not that clueless! lol.

    Still deaf users of c.i. will not like hearing them referred as ‘killed’… even as a metaphor.

  10. Interesting article…

    I gave a speech to the audience of the Deaf children parents in regards to the (information) technology many years ago. The so called “textual communication” was mentioned in my speech because technologies are mostly based on text. I told them at the time that the Deaf children must learn English if they want to work in the technology industry (but now it’s everyday factor). I met Dr. Don in cafe the other day he signs that the schools in Australia should adopt the bilingual approach, both oral and AUSLAN apply to all Deaf children including CI from the age of two. It is doesn’t matter how good they can hear things or talk. Social is virtually important because that’s where you get the “information”, no matter how big or small. The key to access the information is the communication. I think it’s time for a change as the technology evolves so quickly.

    Cheers 🙂

  11. Well .. As the writer of the article I can say the title was not totally a metaphor.

    Technology and the way it is used to promote false hopes, particularly in terms of aids .. Is indirectly responsible for many of the issues that arise in later life for deaf people and that can lead to depression and suicide.

    Equally technology is directly responsible for opportunities in employment and education. These lead to increeased quality of life. But deaf kids at school in Australia largely don’t discover this technology til they leave school. Mind boggling really.

    Simple things like captioning, the relay service and the Hiptop (Sidekick) are unbeknown to many.

    Perhaps it is not really the hearing technology itself that is the cause, but more the people that promote it as THE ANSWER. The Ads are an example of this, perhaps?

    Food for thought.

  12. As homo sapiens, we are always evolving. Changes are static, essential for our survival.

    Who knows what the future will bring? The army may eventually start using temporary cochlear implants with its hearing soldiers in order to have superior hearing, addition of tools to help the soldiers run faster, and also have eye implants to enable them to see far and in more details. In fact, the soldiers are already using Provigil to increase their mental alertness during the combats, on the order of the military organizations.

    Already there are research about artificial neural implants to improve the neural networking.

    Is this good or not? I am not comfortable with these changes. However, with the developments of the digital technology and nanotechnology the world has been revolutionized as never done in the past.

  13. I believe it’s not the technology so much as how the technology is being pimped towards only one end– speaking. The promotion is directed at hearing parents of deaf children, not the deaf children themselves. At the expense of the child’s eventual well-being, which in turn affects how the adult he becomes perceives himself and how (hearing) others perceive him.

    The promotion of speaking at the expense of a deaf child’s education, social skills, and psychological well-being is what “kills” a deaf child’s true spirit. The concept of “normalcy” and its resulting solution of medicalizing deafness is at the root of this kind of promotion.

    Societal values will have to change before there is an acceptance of “differentness” and a focus on the whole child, not on just his “differentness”, in this case, his deafness. For too long, deafness has been considered a negative value.

    This is not to say that I’m against technology per se, CIs and hearing aids have helped many people. The technology should be seen as the tools that they are, not as the life-defining, God-like fluff that hearing parents today often perceive, because of how the technology is being marketed.

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