How Does The Cochlear Implant Affect Deaf Culture

Sunday, September 19, 2021 9:43:56 AM

How Does The Cochlear Implant Affect Deaf Culture



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Cultural Issue: Cochlear implants and Deaf Culture

Audism is a term used to describe a negative attitude toward deaf or hard of hearing people. It is typically thought of as a form of discrimination, prejudice, or a general lack of willingness to accommodate those who cannot hear. Those who hold these viewpoints are called audists and the oppressive attitudes can take on a variety of forms. Audism has been picked up at many other times over the years. Among those who have explored this attitude in great depth was Harlan Lane. While Humphries took an individual approach to the idea of hearing privilege, Lane looked at the broader scope of communities and society as a whole. One poignant quotes from Lane says, "in short, audism is the hearing way of dominating, restructuring, and exercising authority over the deaf community.

Audism can be found in many different forms in various parts of society. It may affect someone's work, education, living circumstances, or simply be infused in casual conversation. Yet, it's also pointed out quite often that both hearing and deaf people can have audist attitudes. Among the ways that audism can be witnessed are:. It's also important to note that audism does not necessarily refer to people who may not be familiar with deaf culture. As the authors of the Deaf Choice website point out, if you are not familiar with the deaf community, you may not be expected to know all the finer "rules" established within it to be considered polite.

Instead, the audist label is used most often for those who do have knowledge of deaf culture but choose, for one reason or another, to ignore or defy it. As with any form of discrimination, the intent must be considered when discussing audism. The deaf community has a certain pride that is often defined by deaf culture. Understandably, audism often makes its way into the conversations of that community. Just as you can find themes of racism or sexism in culture, you can find audist themes within deaf culture. For instance, a number of people who have encountered audist attitudes have written about them in books, plays, poetry, and other venues. It is also a common topic for deaf student newspapers and researchers interested in the societal and cultural aspects of the community.

Likewise, organizations that advocate on behalf of the deaf community often take part in the fight against audism. The Canadian Association of the Deaf notes that audism occurs at all levels of society and finds it as unacceptable as any other form of bigotry. The National Association of the Deaf in the U. Audism is as real as any other form of discrimination and its impact can be felt just as deeply by deaf and hard of hearing people. The day after he was born, four weeks early, in April , a nurse appeared at my hospital bedside. I remember her blue scrubs and her bun and that, when she came in, I was watching the news reports from Baghdad, where Iraqis were throwing shoes at a statue of Saddam Hussein and people thought we had already won the war.

The nurse told me Alex had failed a routine hearing test. Relieved, I put hearing out of my mind. Nonetheless, he still had usable hearing. With hearing aids, there was every reason to think Alex could learn to speak and listen. We decided to make that our goal. He had a lot of catching up to do. He was now profoundly deaf in that ear. We had discovered in the intervening months that in addition to a congenital deformity of the inner ear called Mondini dysplasia, he had a progressive condition called Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct EVA. That meant a bang on the head or even a sudden change in pressure could cause further loss of hearing.

It seemed likely to be only a matter of time before the left ear followed the right. Suddenly Alex was a candidate for a cochlear implant. Then he turned and looked directly at us. A deadline? What would happen when it reached zero? We were talking about his brain. When they were approved for adults in and children six years later, cochlear implants were the first device to partially restore a missing sense. How could it be possible to hear without a functioning cochlea? When acoustic energy is naturally translated into electrical signals, it produces patterns of activity in the 30, fibers of the auditory nerve that the brain ultimately interprets as sound.

The more complex the sound, the more complex the pattern of activity. Hearing aids depend on the cochlea. They amplify sound and carry it through the ear to the brain, but only if enough functioning hair cells in the cochlea can transmit the sound to the auditory nerve. Most people with profound deafness have lost that capability. The big idea behind a cochlear implant is to fly direct, to bypass a damaged cochlea and deliver sound — in the form of an electrical signal — to the auditory nerve itself.

To do that is like bolting a makeshift cochlea to the head and somehow extending its reach deep inside. The processor has to encode the sound it receives into an electrical message the brain can understand; it has to send instructions. For a long time, no one knew what those instructions should say. They could, frankly, have been in Morse code — an idea some researchers considered, since dots and dashes would be straightforward to program and constituted a language people had proven they could learn. By comparison, capturing the nuance and complexity of spoken language in an artificial set of instructions was like leaping straight from the telegraph to the Internet era. It was such a daunting task that most of the leading auditory neurophysiologists in the s and s, when the idea was first explored in the United States, were convinced cochlear implants would never work.

It took decades of work by teams of determined even stubborn researchers in the United States, Australia and Europe to solve the considerable engineering problems involved as well as the thorniest challenge: designing a processing program that worked well enough to allow users to discriminate speech. When they finally succeeded on that front, the difference was plain from the start.

Kennedy was being run through the usual set of word and sentence recognition tests. So did I. The device sounded momentous and amazing to me — a common reaction for a hearing person. As I began to investigate what a cochlear implant would mean for Alex, I spent a lot of time searching the Internet, and reading books and articles. I was disturbed by the depth of the divide I perceived in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

There seemed to be a long history of disagreement over spoken versus visual language, and between those who saw deafness as a medical condition and those who saw it as an identity. The harshest words and the bitterest battles had come in the s with the advent of the cochlear implant. By the time I was thinking about this, in , children had been receiving cochlear implants in the United States for 15 years. A few years earlier, the National Association of the Deaf, for instance, had adjusted its official position on cochlear implants to very qualified support of the device as one choice among many. No doubt those quotes had made it into the press coverage precisely because they were extreme and, therefore, attention-getting. But child abuse?!

I just wanted to help my son. What charged waters were we wading into? Cochlear implants arrived in the world just as the Deaf Civil Rights movement was flourishing. Like many minorities, the deaf had long found comfort in each other. No one had ever tried to name that world. They called that world Deaf culture in their influential book Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. Thinking about the linguistic richness uncovered in [work on sign language] has made us realize that the language has developed through the generations as part of an equally rich cultural heritage.

It is this heritage — the culture of Deaf people — that we want to begin to portray. In this new way of thinking, deafness was not a disability but a difference. With new pride and confidence, and new respect for their own language, American Sign Language, the deaf community began to make itself heard. At Gallaudet University in , students rose up to protest the appointment of a hearing president — and won.

In , the Americans with Disabilities Act ushered in new accommodations that made operating in the hearing world far easier. And technological revolutions like the spread of computers and the use of e-mail meant that a deaf person who once might have had to drive an hour to deliver a message to a friend in person not knowing before setting out if the friend was even home , could now send that message in seconds from a keyboard. They saw the prostheses as just another in a long line of medical fixes for deafness. Beyond the complaint that the potential benefits of implants were dubious and unproven, the Deaf community objected to the very premise that deaf people needed to be fixed at all.

The medical community was not able to see that we could possibly see ourselves as perfectly fine and normal just living our lives. To go so far as to put something technical in our brains, at the beginning, was a serious affront. The Deaf view was that late-deafened adults were old enough to understand their choice, had not grown up in Deaf culture, and already had spoken language. Young children who had been born deaf were different. The assumption was that cochlear implants would remove children from the Deaf world, thereby threatening the survival of that world. The Deaf community felt ignored by the medical and scientific supporters of cochlear implants; many believed deaf children should have the opportunity to make the choice for themselves once they were old enough; still others felt the implant should be outlawed entirely.

The medical community agreed that the stakes were different for children. By the time Alex was born, children were succeeding in developing language with cochlear implants in ever greater numbers. The access to sound afforded by cochlear implants could serve as a gateway to communication, to spoken language and then to literacy. For hearing children, the ability to break the sound of speech into its components parts — a skill known as phonological awareness — is the foundation for learning to read.

We wanted to give Alex a chance to use sound. In December , four months before he turned three, he received a cochlear implant in his right ear and we dug into the hard work of practicing speaking and listening.

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