How Will They Hear?

The issues surrounding the Cochlear Implant (CI) are vast, as is the Deaf Culture.  This post will only cover a miniscule portion of the CI controversy.  Expect additional posts in the future.

Oddly enough, even though I have multiple Deaf family members I had never heard about the CI controversy until I went back to school in 2000.  In fact, my knowledge of the CI was almost nil; the amazing device nicknamed “The Bionic Ear” that allows some deaf people to hear. I began to learn about the Cochlear Implant (CI) and the debate that surrounds it, almost from the first day of class.

Research for the CI had begun in the 1950’s with the FDA approving them for adults, in the US by 1985.  In 1990, the FDA approved them for children and in 2000 one CI was approved for children, as young as, 12 months of age.  Today more than 220,000 people have received CI surgery world-wide.  In the US alone, more than 43,000 adults and more than 30,000 children have received CI surgery. 

I have come to one conclusion, after 11 years of researching the CI, intentionally and through life-experiences, there will always be a debate surrounding the CI.  I will devote this post to only four of the reasons why I believe this is so.

1) The CI success is not always fully experienced by all CI recipients; often success– or the ability to function normally in a hearing world-is based on each unique individual.

Allow me to stop and explain the diverse meanings for that word success as it relates to the CI. Success used by the CI medical community most often is talking about the surgery itself being a success, not whether or not the recipient is eventually granted the ability to function and communicate normally (hearing and speaking with ease) in the hearing world.  Success can simply mean the recipient can hear sound, but not necessarily interpret its meaning accurately.  Honestly, the word success can take on many different meanings when talking about the CI.  Make sure you know which one is being used when.

Many variables are related to the success of a CI.  Those variables include, but are not limited to, the recipients own unique form of deafness (see the blog post “The Uniqueness of Deafness”) and the recipients drive from within to please and master speech.  Another defining factor is whether or not the recipient is post-lingual or hearing and speaking prior to the implantation.  The amount of parental involvement, or lack thereof, can also greatly impact the CI recipients success.  The quality of the CI recipients post auditory/oral therapy (training for speech) will impact the level of success attained, as will, how these two interact with each other. Sometimes speech may develop greatly for the recipient, but the ability to hear clearly may not, and vice versa, and the list goes on. 

2)  This is related to number 1, in result.  Number 1 deals with the individual, while number 2 deals with the CI device. 

The CI is not a perfect replacement for natural hearing.  It does not  duplicate the sound of God’s own creation nor does it provide clear communication in speech and hearing for all recipients. 

The sound a CI recipient hears is much different from the sounds one hears with natural hearing.   Sometimes those sounds can eventually be determined with clarity by the recipient’s brain and sometimes they cannot.  Often those who had the ability to hear before implanting the CI have an increased ability to acquire this skill.  However, this ability varies greatly from one individual to the next.  There used to be sample audio tapes on the Internet of how a CI sounds to the natural ear, but those have now been removed.

3) Not all deaf people are candidates or qualify for a CI.

This article explains the criteria necessary to be considered a candidate for a CI.  This fact ensures the world will always have deaf people who will use sign language as their mode of communication.

4) Those we associate with most will greatly impact our perspective of the CI and its controversy.  If we associate with those who are in the Deaf Community or have Deaf family members our perspective will be influenced by that more intimate association.  But if someone (hearing or deaf) is never exposed to the Deaf Community they will obviously be influenced by them very little, if at all.  And if we only associate with those in the medical community we tend to hold only to their view.

For those of you who do not know, many times when a child receives a CI their parents are told not to allow them to sign for fear they will not learn to speak.  Research proves otherwise.  Some parents are deciding on their own to go ahead with both. 

I am fully aware of the many reasons given for why hearing parents-and yes, some deaf parents-want their deaf children to learn to speak and to hear.  I know they want them to be like them and to be able to communicate with them freely.  I know they live in a hearing world and they must therefore function in a hearing world.  I know hearing and speaking will give them a better chance at a better job.  I know they would have unlimited access to everything out there.  I know.  I know.  I know.  But, what if….?

What if…we the hearing people are missing His plan as to how we should relate to people who are deaf and/or Deaf?  What if…the Deaf Community is missing His plan as it relates to the hearing world that surrounds them? 

We have so much to gain from knowing and getting to know each other better.  We need the Deaf and they need us. 

Do you know that the US percentages fall grossly behind the rest of the world in bilingualism?  Most countries utilize an educational system of bilingualism, but not the US?  The majority of the world’s population speak at least two languages and some three or more.
So how can hearing people improve their ability to relate to those who are deaf and use sign language to communicate?  Is this a valid question?  Or should we just stay in opposition to each other, divided by mode of communication and culture?

What if it wasn’t the ASL team against the CI team? What if we all became the Bilingual and Bicultural team?  All of us fluent in English and ASL simultaneously!  I can’t begin to comprehend the impact this would have on our world, can you?

If God had wanted hearing people and deaf people to be totally separated from each other He would have allowed a much greater percent of Deaf parents to give birth to deaf children.  He has not done that.  95% of all deaf children are born to hearing parents. 

The vast majority of the hearing world never identifies with the deaf world or even realizes there is such a thing.  However, almost all deaf people are exposed to the hearing world-first by their own hearing parents and family members-and then on a daily basis for the rest of their lives.

Obviously, God’s plan allows for some deaf people to remain deaf since no technology has been developed to eradicate all deafness in the world and since He has never chosen to heal all people who are deaf and since there those deaf people whose CI success is limited and since there are those Deaf people who like being deaf just fine.

The Deaf are an unreached people group, meaning less than 2% know about and follow Christ, here in America and world-wide.  Who’s going to tell them if we don’t allow our deaf children to learn sign language?  If none of the CI children ever learn sign language nor their parents or siblings, will there be anyone God can call to those fields that are ripe unto harvest?

We jump at the opportunity to teach our hearing babies sign language; why is it that we forbid our deaf babies to sign?

Maybe, just maybe, God has a plan to use some of the deaf children born to hearing parents or adopted by hearing parents to reach the more than 2 million Deaf people (those who identify with the Deaf Culture) living in America who do not know Jesus.  Maybe He plans to call them overseas to share the gospel in sign with millions of other Deaf peoples around the world.

Please don’t limit God’s plan for these deaf children or for yourselves; His plan for reaching the Deaf with the love of Christ is much greater than any of us can ever imagine.


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