We The Deaf People

3. Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implants are touted as a miracle fix, something that gives deaf people “the gift of hearing,” and that to deny them the “blessings of technology” is to be guilty of criminal neglect.

The rhetoric surround CIs can be heated, the debate bitter. We are far more interested in the facts than in propaganda. And the facts are that CIs do not cure deafness. They do not restore a complete sense of hearing. CI technology is imperfect. There is no reliable way to predict results, which can range from excellent to catastrophic. Many users have told us that they have not experienced good results, or any noticeable results at all.

We the Deaf People is not an enthusiastic supporter of cochlear implants for babies and toddlers. We recognize that parents are pressured to have their deaf children undergo CI surgery at the earliest opportunity to guarantee optimal spoken-language development. But since CI surgery is not performed until the baby is one year old, this raises the question of what language exposure the baby has until that time. Too many CI babies have none. Too many start kindergarten with language delays and language deprivation. CIs do not ensure proper spoken-language development. They do not guarantee the ability to intake and process language as a “normal” hearing child does.

Those CI children who achieve great success tend to receive the lion’s share of publicity, with their parents boasting and evangelizing. How typical are these children? We do not consider them representative of the majority; we consider them the “ten-percenters.” Most children with CIs require extensive support services, ongoing speech therapy, and a good number of them use sign-language interpreters. Many of them struggle to acquire language and literacy. Hardly a miracle fix.

We believe that cochlear implants should be a matter of voluntary choice. We have no problem with teenagers and adults choosing CIs for themselves. They understand the risks and the very real prospect that the CI may not benefit them. Newborns and toddlers depend on their parents to make these momentous decisions. And we know of instances in which these decisions have led to disastrous outcomes. CI evangelists do not acknowledge these disasters, but we, as Deaf people, assuredly do.

We have profound misgivings about the auditory-oral-CI industry and its ongoing campaign to weaken Bi-Bi programs, denigrate ASL, and aggressively recruit parents to its ranks . . . and its campaign of bias, misinformation, and deception.

We support parents who, whatever their technological/audiological choices, incorporate ASL into their everyday lives and establish positive connections with the Deaf community.

We do not automatically reject parents who have already given CIs to their deaf children. We welcome them into the Deaf community. We welcome nonsigning families with deaf children and encourage them to connect with the Deaf community. The connection will enrich their lives.

Our position:

We respect the choice of teenagers and adults who decide on cochlear implants for themselves, since they’re capable of conscious choices. We consider the cochlear-implantation of infants, toddlers, and children ethically problematic, since they cannot give informed consent. We do not, however, reject parents of CI children; we encourage them to learn ASL and establish positive connections with the Deaf community.