Deaf Culture Fading? The Controversy of Cochlear Implants

Remember reading about the Whittingtons?

Jeff and Hillary Whittington’s story of embracing their transgender child has recently gone viral. But as it turns out, their story has not just one, but two levels of controversy.

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At 12 months – prior to their daughter Ryland insisting that she is a boy trapped in a girl’s body – the Whittingtons discovered that their baby was born deaf. They were heartbroken, but Ryland received cochlear implants and eventually learned to hear and speak.


This sounds amazing, no?

According to some, the Whittingtons made a big parenting mistake.

Since it was first approved for testing in 1985, the cochlear implant has been engulfed in a storm of controversy. Is it unconditional love to put your child though this procedure? Can’t you just accept your child as deaf? Does the cochlear implant pose a serious threat to deaf culture? Can people with the implant function effectively as members of the hearing world? Do the results justify the expense of surgery and therapy? These are some of the questions revolving around the controversial procedure.

The National Associate of the Deaf (NAD) recognizes the right of parents to make fully informed decisions on behalf of their deaf children with regard to implantation. While the implants provide the ability to receive auditory signals, the ability to make sense of and use these signals for meaningful dialogue varies greatly from person to person.

Simply put, the cochlear implant is a tool to communication that does not provide normal hearing.

As well, success is a relative term when it comes to cochlear implants. Being able to hear and speak does not necessarily mean the child or adult — with or without an implant — is successful.

“I know what I hear with a cochlear implant (CI) is a far cry from natural hearing,” Cristina Hartmann, who received cochlear implants as a child, tells Newsweek.

Learning to hear and speak with cochlear implants was not an easy journey for Hartmann.

“Frankly, I hated learning how to hear and listen,” she admits. “It took hours out of every single day … and mind you, I was still a child. The last thing I wanted to do was spend even more time cooped up with adults in windowless rooms when my friends were out playing. (Always windowless. Always).”

Check out this YouTube video that acts as a CI simulator.

Even 20 years after getting the implants, Hartmann says it’s still a struggle.

“Even now, more than 20 years after implantation, listening and speaking involve cognitive work,” she says. “I don’t hear every syllable, so there’s guesswork involved. If you say, “Hello, Cristina. How are you?” I’ll probably hear something like, He-lo, Cr-tina. Ow — U? It takes me a few moments to fill in the spaces, and sometimes I make mistakes.”

Knowing this, would you still want your deaf child to receive cochlear implants?

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