Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Diversity Series

Will An Implant Eliminate Deafness And Demolish A Community?
By Jamie Cohen

The Cochlear implant can change many lives. The device works by stimulating any working auditory nerves with the electrical impulses inside the cochlea, the auditory portion of the inner ear. For many, this operation is a complete change of life. It can give a person who is born deaf the opportunity to hear and live comfortably in a hearing society.

In 2002, The University of Michigan conducted a study that said by 2007 approximately 120,000 people will have cochlear implants worldwide; only approximately 10,000 of those people will be in the U.S. This number includes children and adults. Although it is mostly recommended for children because the older a person is when getting the surgery the harder it becomes to adapt to speech and hearing.

While the number of cochlear implant recipients grows every year, there is a fear in the deaf community that deafness will one day be nonexistent. If more and more children are implanted, then even though they are legally deaf, they will still grow up hearing, with the possibility for no use of sign language. This not only brings fear to the deaf, as they have a very strong deaf pride in their community, but to those who work with the deaf.

Laurann Siprell, 61, a retired American Sign Language (ASL) teacher disagrees that the cochlear implant will affect the deaf employment opportunities. “I can understand the fear that the cochlear implant will affect jobs of those who teach or work with the deaf. My job was to teach hearing parents with their deaf toddlers, how to sign, and create that communication between parent and child.” She says. “If for example, their child had gotten a cochlear implant, signing wouldn’t be necessary, but that doesn’t mean the child is 100% hearing. There has to be speech therapy, and other learning techniques to provide to these special children. So, while I could not be teaching ASL, my job might become more focused on speech. I’m here to help these children in any way possible; I won’t stop helping because their problems are different.”

This is only one side of the argument. When discussing cochlear implants and the effects on the deaf community there are two different sides. One side is those who are hearing and have deaf children, and the other is those who are deaf with deaf children. The hearing parents usually opt for the cochlear implant because they are nervous of the overall effect of being deaf in a completely hearing environment.

The deaf on the other hand have no need for hearing, and see no point in one person hearing while everyone who surrounds them is deaf. This is what brings us to deaf pride, which might be the very point that keeps the deaf culture alive.

If you were deaf and grew up in a hearing family in the 1950s and 60s there weren’t many options available to you. You were often stuck confused and isolated from the hearing world. Like many handicaps, you might also have found yourself as a constant point of ridicule. It is not unfamiliar to the deaf to be giggled at, when surrounded by the hearing, especially the hearing who are uneducated in regards to deafness. But through the years, more schools were created for the deaf, and from those more deaf communities.

Mark “Deffman” Drolsburgh, 38, a deaf online blogger who was raised by hearing parents, describes finding the deaf culture as a life changing experience. In excerpts, Drolsburgh writes, “My own definition is that: deafness is a disability which is so unique, its very nature causes a culture to emerge from it….as a youngster I was downright embarrassed. That is, I was embarrassed until I got a chance to join Deaf culture. I may have joined it late, after years of unsuccessfully trying to be a hearing person, but the old cliché is true: better late than never. Meeting other deaf peers like myself, sharing similar stories of oppression and ridicule, swapping humorous anecdotes, learning ASL, and seeing other deaf adults succeed has completely changed my attitude...I am no longer ashamed of my deafness, I am proud of it.”

The sense of bond that a deaf person feels towards another is very similar to the bond that many people who have gone through traumatic experiences feel towards one another. As Drolsburgh says, “deafness is a disability which is so unique, its very nature causes a culture to emerge from it.”

It is reminiscent of the bond Holocaust survivors share. Once WWII was over, survivors automatically bonded to each other out of the experience that only they could share with each other. Slowly that community has died, because even though the survivors could pass along their stories, the experience could never be transferred. This is where the deaf community is different, and why the cochlear implant will never affect their community.

Those who are deaf, and have deaf children, share that bond of both being a part of the deaf world. There is no need for sound, because neither has experienced it, so neither person knows what they aren’t experiencing. So when the deaf have deaf children, they are quickly emerged into deaf culture from birth, feeling a bond with other deaf people. This is a place where they feel accepted where as in the hearing world someone who is deaf can often feel misplaced.

In email correspondence, Christi Aquilino, 20, a deaf student at Gallaudet University explains her view of deaf pride. “I grew up in a hearing family, and my parents decided not to get me a cochlear implant because they thought the risk of surgery was unnecessary. My mother took ASL classes, and I started learning ASL as soon as my hands would let me. I went to a deaf school, so I always felt part of the deaf world. But when I was home with my family, it was much harder. My family knows sign, but not as well as me so it was frustrating being with my friends all day, and then coming home, where the communication wasn’t as good.”

She continues: “There were times when I wish they would have gotten me the implant, but now that I am older I’m glad they didn’t. I always think about when I go out with my boyfriend, and how he tells me I look beautiful, and I always think would he still think I was beautiful with a machine sticking out of my head. We talk about it sometimes, and being deaf isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It isn’t about proving yourself to anyone. You should not have to prove that you are a part of the world if you’re black, white, yellow, red or purple, so you shouldn’t force yourself to be part of the hearing world if that’s not what you were born a part of.”

While the deaf community fears the day that their community may no longer exist, it is in their own words and beliefs that will keep the future of the community living. They bond together to form a family of their own with each other, creating an environment of comfort when they couldn’t find one among the hearing society. While it is true that the number of cochlear implants is rising, this will always happen as the world will continue to populate itself.

So while the deaf, who hold pride in their uniqueness, might see more and more people with the implant, they will also see their community grow among themselves as they create a larger and better community that will be a place where those who feel isolated from the hearing world can go and feel at home.

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