Deaf Culture and Cochlear Implants

Since the mid-1980s, there has been a dramatic growth in the so-called deaf power or deaf culture movement in the United States, in which some people who are deaf have worked to legitimize deaf culture and to promote its adherents into positions of responsibility in educational institutions and agencies for the deaf. Among deaf culture adherents in America, American Sign Language (ASL) has been argued to be their natural language. Thus, speaking and English-based sign languages are often rejected as the trappings of "oppression" by people who hear. These trappings also include hearing aids in general and cochlear implants and oral education in particular. The motivations of implant surgeons, audiologists, speech/language pathologists, educators of the deaf, and even parents who support cochlear implants, have been questioned both in the media and in the press.12 Cohen13 and Balkany et al.,14 offer strong counterpoints to those who question the motivations of surgeons and other professionals engaged in the cochlear implant process in young children.

One point in this controversy that must be recognized by any family or professional involved in the implant process, however, is that many people who do not talk (and only use signs) are well educated, literate, and gainfully employed, have a productive family life, raise well-adjusted children whatever their hearing status, and otherwise contribute to society. They would argue that deafness does not have to be considered a condition to be fixed. It should also be recognized that the deaf community is not monolithic. Some parents who are themselves con-genitally deaf, who use sign language and function socially in deaf culture, have chosen to have their own congenitally deaf child receive an implant. The expressed reason for this decision is generally the wish that their son or daughter will have options with regard to how and with whom they will communicate as adults. That is, they wish their children to have the benefit of being able to both talk and sign. The social and economic realities of society support the wisdom of this decision.

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