On Being Deaf/deaf: The emergence of the cyborg in our society

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Although it is difficult to find a reliable and up-to-date figure representing the number of people who enjoy the benefits of cochlear implantation around the world at this time, Cochlear Corporation alone claims 550,000 recipients and growing. Those numbers do not include the other two major brands, but it is apparent cochlear implantation numbers are on the rise.

Thirty years ago, many people who were active with advocacy groups for the deaf and hard of hearing were hearing aid users. Many of us were just learning about cochlear implants. The requirements for cochlear implantation were more rigid. The devices were not equal to the sophistication of the devices we see today. Many of those who were hearing aid users are now cochlear implant users. Although many culturally deaf individuals still remain opposed to cochlear implantation, some have decided to be implanted. However, I respect the right for each individual to make the decision that works best for them.

Often, I have heard people ask other recipients, so now am I a hearing person, hard of hearing or deaf? The thing about cochlear implantation is that although with traditional processors the recipient can often hear very well when they are on, when they are removed they are still deaf. While I would agree what we call ourselves is irrelevant, this is the part that is hard to explain to the person behind you in the grocery store who strikes up a conversation about the devices. Pretty amazing is the response I often get.

There has been a lot written about the Deaf/deaf and identity. Those who were pre-lingually deaf often identify with the capital D because it indicates they are part of deaf culture. Those who grew up with a mild to severe hearing loss often identify themselves as either hard of hearing or late-deafened. Three decades ago, I wrote an article for the publication Silent News called “Between Two Cultures.” The focus of the article at the time was how persons who are late-deafened are not part of deaf culture, yet, they struggle to stay mainstreamed in a hearing world. A lot has changed for persons with hearing loss.  

Since then, the Deaf/deaf have been able to reap the benefits of assistive devices and advanced technology and cochlear implants are more widespread in both groups. As a recipient of a cochlear implant many of us have been able to stay mainstreamed. We can communicate with our friends and family, attend theater, talk on the phone, listen to music and live life  in real time.

Yet, many will tell you they are very happy they have the option to remove their implants and not hear the person next to them snoring at night, or that jack hammer outside their window. Pretty amazing to be a cyborg, huh? 

Are CI users part of an emerging culture?  Is it in a formative stage?  Feel free to share your thoughts.

Happy hearing!