Monday, April 16, 2012

The Ongoing Misconceptions

I already talked about this subject in a previous post in detail but a recent article reminded me that this is still very much a passionate issue in the world. What am I talking about? The marketing and cultural debate around Cochlear Implants.

The news side of NPR last week posted an article entitled "Cochlear Implants Redefine What It Means To Be Deaf".

Unfortunately, it reads like a bad piece of Oralist propaganda and this angers me. I generally respect NPR and enjoy a lot of their articles. As a bonus they usually even supply transcripts of their audio interviews posted online. This one though is badly researched and I can't even call it a one-sided view. It is worse than that. Not only does the article gloss over any and all negatives about Chochlear Implants, but turns into a marketing promotional. This is actually a disservice. It confuses people who don't know anything about this technology, it confuses parent's trying to make decisions for their children, it makes it harder for employers to understand the issues, and it punishes the Deaf community and HH people in general by presenting false information and false expectations.

I'll give you an example. The NPR article interviews people and represents an implant as restoring 100% of hearing ability. Society has already heard enough about these implants to think they magically restore your hearing to "normal" levels. This reaffirms that and says, yeah, look 100% hearing with one simply little device, amazing! I don't blame people for asking things like, "Why don't all Deaf people have this, I mean, who wouldn't want their hearing restored?" the problem is that that is a false expectation. Go ahead and read the Facebook comments to see the reactions. The Deaf community is annoyed and the hearing people are completely confused as to why. If it were true I might be tempted to ask the same questions myself. Implants don't give you 100% hearing. They are like fancy hearing aides. In profoundly Deaf individuals they will restore some ability to hear sounds. Partially Deaf people will gain some ability to hear more and it isn't in a natural way the brain is used to. Even after conditioning the brain it isn't 100% like the article alludes to. Even ability to hear sounds doesn't equate ability to comprehend speech, they are related but different things.

If you read the article very carefully between the lines, you will notice that these Deaf kids with implants they are championing are in special schools. They are learning the tenants of Oralist teaching. Learn to read lips, talk and interact like you can hear like normal, and use this new technology. The goal is for these kids to act like normal kids in normal schools. I applaud the idea, but the technology isn't what it claims. Expectations here are that with a simply operation and device, disabled people can re-integrate into society at large with no detriment and "normal" people won't have to be bothered by the disability. Employers can employ, teachers can teach, marketing people can telemarket. Life will go on as normal.

You see it is these false expectations that are the most damaging. Deaf people want to be part of society. They have their own community, sure, but everyone has friends and family and jobs in the larger world. I spend a lot of time happily going through life as normal as I can, but what do you do when you are faced with a situation where you have to ask someone else to help accommodate your situation? Maybe repeat something or write something down for me? Do I want people glaring at me like they are annoyed with my request and asking why don't I just get those new electronic implant ears so I don't have to bother them?

Articles like this set expectations in the wrong way. It not only glossed over every single down side, it barely mentions the cost, and then launches right into how these will make people all normal again. It's bad journalism, bad research, and the repetition of this one-sided message is doing untold damage on public opinion against Deaf people.

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