The Cochlear Revolution

pondering2One comical day in July last year I was referred for a Cochlear Implant. My middle son had a routine check up with the Ear Nose and Throat Department at the Hospital. There were some concerns that he was suffering from a conductive loss of hearing. He received a clean bill of health. However, before signing him off, the doctor felt the need to consult with his boss. His boss, the head ENT surgeon, took a quick look and declared herself to be satisfied. The conversation that followed went something like this. “Are you the father?” I replied that I was. “Are you deaf” I replied in the affirmative. “But you speak beautifully.” I thanked her and in an effort to refocus her on my son jokingly stated that he was responsible for my fine speech. She was not to be distracted. “Have you heard of cochlear implants?” Again I replied in the affirmative. “You could benefit from one. I will refer you to the Ear, Nose and Eye Hospital.” She left the room, came back a few minutes later and told me the deed had been done. A week later we received my son’s ENT report and there at the bottom of the report it confirmed that I had been referred for a Cochlear Implant.
Since July I have not heard from the clinic. I have to confess that the referral left me in a bit of a quandary. After first laughing off the way the referral was made I have found myself seriously contemplating whether I should have a Cochlear Implant. I live in the country where sign language interpreters are expensive and hard to come by. I was born hearing, losing my hearing around the age of 10. This makes me a prime candidate for the implant owing to the fact that I have a memory of sound. I have three hearing children who prefer speech over signing. They try very hard to sign but are not yet fluent. I miss music. Deaf friends are hundreds of kilometres away. An Implant could help me socially. The list of reasons to have one continues to grow.
It is not just me. There is, in fact, a bit of a revolution going on. More and more individuals who are considered active members of the Deaf community are beginning to consider Cochlear Implants. Several in recent years have gone through with the Implant and have been pleasantly surprised with the benefits that the implant has provided them.
Adrian Doyle has been Deaf since birth. Adrian is well into his thirties and has been an active member of the Deaf community for all of his life and has other members of his family who are also Deaf. Adrian wore hearing aids pretty much from birth and enjoyed the benefit that the aids provided him. In Adrian’s words “ …sounds like a car zooming by, doorbell, dog barking, door closing, one to one conversation within limited range, telephone ringing ….” , all these sounds were part of his everyday life.
At age 25 Adrian’s hearing declined rapidly to the point that he no longer could hear any of these sounds with his hearing aid. Adrian went through a process of researching the benefits of the Cochlear Implant and decided after some intensive research to go through with the surgery. He professes that he was very sceptical about the benefits that he would get from the Cochlear Implant. However, he felt that as he could no longer get benefits from hearing aids there was no harm in trying.
Adrian has been very surprised at the benefits he has received from his Implant. He has no regrets and enjoys the benefits of access to sound. He has also found communicating with hearing peers much easier. Despite his initial scepticism he is rapt with the outcome.
Peter Miller, 47, is another who has recently had a Cochlear Implant. Peter has worked in fibre optics with Telstra for a number of years. Peter has a deaf brother and learned to sign relatively late in life. He has strong oral skills and participates in many Deaf community events. Most recently he chaired the awards committee for the Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association annual awards night in Victoria.
Peter decided to go through with the Cochlear Implant because in his words. “I wanted to improve my opportunities to advance my career. No matter how much interpreting I received I needed to communicate with my work colleagues all of the time.”
At Telstra Peter has an empathetic employer. When needed Telstra are always more than willing to provide for his interpreting needs. But for Peter this was not enough. He needed to be able to communicate fluently and at will with his colleagues. Peter was only recently switched on in January of 2009. He said being switched on was “.. a weird feeling.” But he is enjoying discovering a myriad of, “.. weird and wonderful sounds.”
Gayle, (not her real name), has been an active member of the Deaf community since her teens. She lost her hearing at six years of age. Now into her forties she, like me, also has a memory of sound. Gayle is a staunch Deaf community advocate. She has been quite vocal at times about the implanting of children.
After three decades of working and living in the Deaf community Gayle was at the cross roads. Socially the Deaf community was meeting her needs. However, she found that by limiting herself to only the Deaf community she was having difficulty establishing meaningful relationships with the opposite sex. She also had hearing children. Dealing with the school, communicating with the children, their friends and their parents was becoming increasingly stressful.
For Gayle considering a Cochlear Implant was a confronting thing. After some soul searching she decided to have an Implant. She has been surprised at the benefits she has received. She had thought background noise would be an issue but it has proven to be less a problem than she had feared. She is finding numerous benefits from her Cochlear Implant particularly when communicating with hearing people outside the Deaf community. Says Gayle, “ It is still early days but the implant, in the short time I have had it, has opened doors to me I thought were otherwise closed.”
These stories are a far cry from the early emotional days of the Cochlear Implants where headlines screamed that Cochlear Implants in children were child abuse. They are a far cry from the days when Deaf community militants decried the implant as the death of the Deaf community. Like Mark Twain’s death, this would appear to be an exaggeration. Many young people with Cochlear Implants become active members of the Deaf community. Perhaps The Deaf community have matured and mellowed. One thing is for sure, like it or loath it, we are likely to see more deaf people who are active members of the Deaf community have an implant in a similar vain to Adrian, Peter and Gayle. Is it the way of the future?

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19 thoughts on “The Cochlear Revolution

  1. Sort of the way of the now, isn’t it? As you say, many adults who are involved in the Deaf community have chosen to get a CI as an adult. Very few of them seem to regret it, even those who had problems and had repeat surgeries.

    And you are right – many of the young kids who were implanted as children are quite solidly incorporated into the Deaf community.

    Many, many years ago (like about 9) an elderly Deaf person told me “It was the same when they started putting hearing aids on profoundly deaf children – the Deaf community were all upset about it. Now most of the Deaf community use hearing aids.”

    I think we are less black and white about just about everything now – the Deaf community is becoming less black about CI’s and the hearing parents are become less black about sign language.

    A good result all around, I think.

  2. Well done Rebuttal!

    Really interesting articles and express a good range of views from a variety of people. This sort of dispels a myth in many ways, because I might suggest that if some people (working in the Deaf community) were asked their opinion regarding the CI, and these people were none the wiser, they are likely to respond critically of the CI. I’m an interpreter and I often asked about the CI when I was training, and was usually responded to with a snarl or a biased response. I reckon I’m more experienced now, and my usual action is to not bring it up. I’m happy to talk about it and actually am intrigued by the CI, but do realise that there are different and strong stands for and against. I suspect if everyone was well informed, then there wouldn’t be much argument.

    Anyway, thanks to the 3 people who generously gave their private experiences to share.

  3. The problem with discussing the implant, or any assistive hearing technology, is that people never question why should we [meaning us Deafies] be the ones to put in all the effort [well just about] into integrating/ interacting with the hearing world.

    I do understand the reasons people, such as those named in this article, give for getting the implant. But in all the stories there is hardly any recognition of the underlying reasons that drive Deafies to use technology such as the implant.

    Wanting to hear is a valid response. Less isolation is another. All good points. BUT…!

    I still remain extremely ambivalent about it. After talking to a mate of mine, who has two, b-lateral, and getting a bit more background to it, I’m still…….. it seems like an awful lot of effort [in spite of lots of positve feedback], where I have enough problems updating my hearing aids and adjusting to the sound.

    Still we should be asking the other questions too. It still reeks of the little man accommodating the big man…

  4. Tony

    In many ways I agree with you BUT!

    Waiting for the world to take responsibility and share the load is something that requires enormous patience.

    The variables are so enormous as well. You can get your workplace all aware and functional, all communicating and then three leave another gets promoted and you have to start all over again.

    You can move jobs. Your work mates will be willing but the time to change and teach and train is exhausting. Who can blame someone for wanting to find a way to simplify things or make things a little easier for themselves or others.

    Time waits for noone as they say. Sometimes the odds just become so unbalanced that people will take things into their own hands. For some it will be great and for others it wll be a let down. Thems the breaks I guess.

  5. Gazza’s writing in “The Cochlear Revolution” is concise and thoughtful; attracts a lot of attention from the existing and new rebuttal readers. Every article and editorial always has a purpose that is obviously attracting more readers. His writing skills are his tool and he can use them to write article as a powerful weapon.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect to the people who working with the CI as they are making the best out of it. It’s a wonderful technology that benefits a lot of people who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The key word “benefit” was written 10 times in Gazza’s article.

    Please remember this quote, in fact, one of my favourite quotes:

    “What matters deafness of the ear when the mind hears? The true deafness, the incurable deafness, is deafness of the mind.” Victor Hugo, 1845

    This 164 years old quote never changes whatever the technology is trying to help Deaf people to hear. I will accept if one of my Deaf friends receiving a Cochlear Implant with a PURPOSE. What is the difference between “receiving the benefit” and “a purpose for receiving” the CI?

    CI and Hearing aids technologies aren’t perfect, no technology is, but we need to learn how to work with it effectively. Many people will focus on the benefits of CI and hearing aids technologies, and there are clearly many benefits, but ignore the drawbacks.

    The only drawback of using the Deaf language that Australian Deaf community used daily is 99 % of the population in Australia don’t know how to communicate with Deaf people in AUSLAN. I rest my case.

  6. Tim, you are absolutely right. No dispute from me. The purpose of the article is to have people see all sides of the story. This article showed the benefits. Out there there is an article that will show the negatives. I invite people to submit such an article. The three people in the article had a message to convey and they did. Your view is of equal value. Thanks for your response it is important that people air their views and you have in a very articulate way provided another side to the story.

  7. Gazza,

    I have to agree with you in your reply to Tony. Yet…at the same time…disagree. Look at how long it took African-Americans to attain “equality”. Bloody – and – hard work and many years. Look at how, in many countries, the natives know how to speak a second or third language.

    I think the difference lies in the numbers out there who are “different”. Different colour, different language, different culture. And also the cost or price or profit of knowing a different culture/language/colour.

    Yet, I also agree with you….tems the breaks! I know for myself that I have learnt not to waste my time on any hearing person who mumbles, covers their mouth, won’t face me or any of the other important points for a hearing impaired person. I give them pretty short shrift, believe me! And I really appreciate those who DO make the effort!

    If it’s hard enough for me, what is it like for the Deaf in the hearing world? So, can they be blamed for wanting to take advantage of anything that can help them? Can they be blamed for taking advantage of technology which minimises that isolation, that access to the full meaning of communication?

    For at the end of the day, that is what it is all about – communication. The more access to ideas, resources etc one has, the more broad-minded and learned the individual becomes, the more rich their life is. I am not decrying Auslan or anything like that – my belief is that, if speech is not possible, then don’t waste too many years on speech, focus on sign language, to give them access to that richness in another way.

  8. I’m not saying never get one. And I do understand why people use technology..cos I use hearing aids, can’t do without them, they bring me enormous benefits.

    All I’m saying is that only one side of the story gets told, and it is largely Deafies making most fo the effort.

    But, if a doctor/ audiologist ever goes over my head,and makes an appt for me, the way the one in this story did, they will get told off.

    Her behaviour was unprofessional, and she was arrogant in her assumptions. She needed a very big slap across the face!

  9. I agree with you that this is happening. Deaf leaders in the Deaf community here in Auckland have implants and its very widely accepted.

    I feel though that there are still a lot of militant Deaf in the USA. Take a look at the comments on my blog..

    http://robyncarter.blogspot.com/2009/01/total-deafness-brings-out-my-evil.html

    There are still rabid militants out there who spout the same thing over and over. Sad really as they only show how ignorant they are over the whole topic.

    Anyway – I wish you all the best, with whatever you may decide.

    Cheers
    Robyn

  10. I had a CI nine years ago and have never looked back. I had hearing until about 19 then hearing aids which are very uncomfortable – give a terrible sound and are just disappointing. So was not interested in a CI. I too was forced into it by a family member and I cant believe the difference. Life is wonderful. I get so much joy from hearing birds, dogs and even thunder. My hearing has slowly got better and better with cochlear as new software comes available. I am a firm advocate as the benefits are just remarkable. Just to be able to go to cinamas, make phone calls, hear public address systems – it must be the most remarkable technology of the last century.

  11. I was referring to Robyn Carter’s comment and also her blog in relations to article “Total Deafness Brings out my Evil Streak”. This is an example of a bad drawback of the CI technology. I felt so sorry for her for the stuffed up. It is not really her fault; it’s the bloody Government’s fault. I like to see more of the drawbacks and make or convert them into practical ways. You can’t have one way or another.

    For example, in terms of Information and Communication (ICT) industry, I know most people use software tools purchased from the off-shelf store or online shopping without having writing the programming language or “don’t have go to university or TAFE to learn how to write programming language”. They used tools to designed systems, but at the end of the day, there were so many drawbacks and the maintenance costs were very high. They were focusing on the software tools’ benefits from the authors’ or bloggers’ article recommendations. Use the Practical or manual ways are always the best solution to the problem, don’t you think. So in terms of Deaf education/social/family/social life, use the Deaf or sign language to communicate which is more of a manual or practical way, of course, very natural. Oral and lip-reading are just the skills you needed to communicate with hearing people. CI technology is trying helping you to hear that make you talk. Like Robyn mentioned in the blog’s article saying her implant stopped working after 15 years of acquiring digital sounds in which she thinks it was almost a “normal hearing”. Now she is having trouble of waiting to be reimplanted once more due to the bureaucratic process and red tape. If that doesn’t go through then it will be a really massive stuffed up for her! What are you doing to do eh? Thank god I can sign.

  12. I read all CI contributions with interest but there are not enough of the “long” term contributions? They are all new at CI and I’m intererested to know other old timers of CI. My sister is very deaf and had a CI earlier this year, her views are different to AD, Gayle and PM I think so everyone has different opinions.

    Sharing a personal view of CI I find I dont have any interest to wanting to hear more…I have an hearing aid and do find it useful if I wear it in quite surroundings with my parents, for example, who still speaks to me mostly with a bit of gesture there and that and the occassional fingerspelling of a word. However, in my household filled with three kids I find hearing aid is not useful. I always turn it off once the house gets noisy with excitment or playing 🙂 However, Simon enjoys wearing his hearing aids at all times. He has more hearing than me.

    You might like to read a philosophical quote and my views attached here. I would be interested to know if you understand ?

    Coming to our senses

    The role of the senses, such as sight and hearing, in providing information to the mind has far-reaching effects. They are the doors of perception and we are often their slaves. But can we not examine what is even more powerful in us than our senses? Can we not make them sharper and at our disposal? By regular inquiry into the role of the senses we can reduce mental distortions. Sutra 1.35, The Heart of Yoga – Developing A Personal Practice, T.K.V. Desikachar

    This quote strikes me as something perfect and complete. I think about the essence of yoga that really emanates within myself and in others. I see myself with my purusha (soul, the perfect complete soul) choosing to live in a not-so-perfect body. But with yoga, if you let the purusha, with its clear perception, radiate through you to your imperfect body, you only feel joy, peace and love. Then your purusha will invade your imperfect body and mind and it becomes a holistic perfect body. The differences, the problems, become smaller and disappear. The purusha expands and spreads throughout your body and onto others. Life is like that. Life has a lot of hurdles. Everyone has them. But if we have faith in our wonderful, perfect inner selves, we can overcome anything in life.

    Karli Dettman, deaf certified hatha yoga teacher, 2006

  13. The important thing is that what ever your view that you respect the decisions made by others. there are people who have Cochlear implants or advocate for them who try to shove their values down Deaf peoples throats. Like that Dr.

    equally there are deaf people that are so blinkered so anti cochlear that will neither listen to reaso nor will they support and understand the reasons that others have decided to have a cochlear implant. They are just as bad as the group above.

    Unfortunately such individuals still exist. Thankfully they are outnumbered by sensible and open minded people who respect the choices of others.

  14. Thanks for recent article on CI’s. No doubt CI’s can be beneficial and positive experience for some.

    Maybe should take care not to blend the views of adults (Adrian in his thirties and Peter and Gayle in their forties) and the comment in the last paragraph which states that ‘these stories are a far cry from the early emotional days of the Cochlear Implants where headlines screamed that Cochlear Implants in children were child abuse’.

    The difference is that these people are making the decision for themselves. Some people view deafness as something broken that needs to be fixed and therefore find ways to try fix it to better themselves. Nothing wrong with that. Some totally accept their deafness and don’t want it fixed. Others do not see their deafness as being broken and therefore do not want to fix what is not broken. Isn’t it great to have an opinion and choice!

    Implanting infants (under two) is a totally different scenario. The pro CI’s may give many reasons why this needs to happen. The infant has no choice but to endure an operation that is not without risk. Sure some may grow up and be grateful but there are others that will not. One fact remains; the child was seen as having a defect. Therefore I can see why some people would be emotional about the topic.

    Remember that this is just my thoughts that are not necessarily right or wrong. As Lord Chester is quoted in the same article, ‘Hear one side and you will be in the dark. Hear both and all will be clear.’

  15. Dan

    I understand your point about the kids and cochlear implants. In retrospect it perhaps was not a good comparison. Parents reading it could get the wrong impression and fail to explore all the issues, many of which you raised.

    That said parents have to make a choice and provided they are given fair and unbiased information we all need to support them in that choice. Unfortunately, as the Dr in the article shows, there are still many zealots out there and unbiased information from both sides is hard to come by.

  16. I have been working with the Deaf community as I am the Manager of Family Services and Community Outreach Program. I have encountered some Deaf adults with CI, let alone teenagers. Their main complaint is that they are experiencing discrimination from the hearing society. I realize that no matter how much one can hear with hearing aids or CI, not to mention how well his/her speech is, there will ALWAYS be discrimination, period!

    A former student of mine has just gotten a CI last fall. She tells me that she has gotten popular with her hearing classmates all of the sudden upon discovering that she could “hear”. That makes me think that the hearing society is not that willing to look into a Deaf person’s underlying talent, wonderful soul, etc. Many years ago, a friend of mine was in progress of getting a CI but she noticed how her family became more attentive to her than ever. She was disgusted with such behaviour and decided to cancel the surgery. She forced the family to accept her true identity and she could not be more happier.

    Maybe a CI could benefit someone regarding ENVIRONMENTAL sounds but it still does not change the society’s attitude towards Deaf people – ONLY us, Deafies, could influence them for the better with our positive attitude, and most importantly SELF-ACCEPTANCE. Hearing people would think that if a Deaf person gets implanted, that means he has an issue about being deaf, a big misconception, thus feeling the urge to implant babies and children to prevent themselves from having such issue.

    That is my number one concern about adults getting implanted themselves: doctors would use that fact to justify their encouraging parents to implant their offsprings. “Oh, you know, there are Deaf adults that are getting CIs so better give your child CI to get it over with.” That is MY quote but I could imagine the doctor in his office telling parents something like that.

    Being Deaf does not make us suffer but being in this hearing society does. What does not kill us makes us stronger.

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