Yesterday someone mentioned something about cochlear implants that really bothered me. This person said after having the implant for four years, B.G. “should hear and understand speech better” than he does. If he would make more of an effort to hear, he could. I tried to explain that not everyone with an implant is the same. No matter how long someone’s had a cochlear implant, it may not benefit one person to the extent it does another. So many factors are involved and hearing is nothing like vision. One can’t just put on a hearing aid or cochlear implant and expect to have perfect hearing, especially if the person using the hearing device was born deaf or pre-lingually deaf. This person didn’t seem to understand, nor did they seem to want to understand. And that, my friends, is the biggest problem people with hearing loss and deafness face in this world: the Hearing World’s Attitude.
On an episode of CSI a few years back Gil Grissom and company investigated the murder of a deaf college student. Warrick and Sidle were assigned to interview the Dean at the local college for the deaf. The Dean herself was deaf. After a failed attempt to interview the Dean and being kicked out of her office (they kept looking at the interpreter while speaking and not her), they commented to Grissom that she’d been extremely rude and seemed to have something against them because they could hear. The following are quotes from the episode, Sounds of Silence:
Grissom: “How’d it go at the college?”
Sidle: “They’re not cooperating.”
Warrick: “Yeah, we didn’t have a warrant, so she kicked us out.”
Grissom: “What did you do?”
Sidle: “What did we do? We met with the president, asked a few questions.”
Warrick: “She was kind of hostile.”
Sidle: “Like it’s our fault we can hear.”
— Gil Grissom, Sara Sidle and Warrick Brown (Sounds of Silence)
Sidle: “Well, the president of the college is a real whack job.”
Grisson: “Sara, you see deafness as a pathology. For Dr. Gilbert, her deafness is not her handicap — it’s her way of life.”
— Sara Sidle and Gil Grissom (Sounds of Silence)
“You don’t need to hear or speak to communicate…”
— Gil Grissom (Sounds of Silence)
These quotes from my favorite TV show illustrate perfectly the attitude of deafness by the hearing world. It’s not the deafness itself, but the inability to communicate with the deaf. After my own loss, I slowly came to realize that it wasn’t MY inability to hear or communicate with the hearing world; my speech and language skills are just fine. It’s the hearing world’s inability to communicate with ME that was the problem.
I know a lady who has had a cochlear implant for over twenty years, and her ability to hear and speak are still minimal at best. Why does the responsibility to communicate effectively always fall on the person with hearing loss? If I can not understand you perfectly, even with my cochlear implant, how is it somehow my responsibility, my problem to fix? Science and technology can only do so much, but even with the incredible advances and options available today, limitations do exist. And that is the major hurdle facing people with hearing loss…the limitations and the belief that if you have a hearing aid/cochlear implant, it should “cure” your hearing loss.
To that I say: It is pure unadulterated bulls–t.
I was recently at a seminar and learned a few statistics about hearing loss and disabilities which interested me.
1. Official statistics put 17% of the population as having a disability. That’s about 43 million people. Some experts claim the number may be as high as 78 million. This means people with disabilities are the largest minority group.
2. Over 24 million people in the United States have hearing loss or deafness. This means people with hearing loss make up approximately 50% of the total number of people with recognized disabilities. In other words, Hard of Hearing and Deaf are the largest minority group within the largest minority group. Make sense?
3. Hearing loss is the least understood and most overlooked of all the disabilities.
4. 2 million people in the United States are profoundly deaf.
5. Less than 5% of the population is born with a disability. Meaning, disability in 95% of the disability population is acquired.
6. Disability, in general, is a significant reason for underemployment, and this is especially true for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Going back to the CSI quotes, deafness itself isn’t a disability within the Deaf Community. However, as viewed from the Hearing perspective, it is. Why? Look at the names of classes or disciplines within the medical community. “Speech Pathology,” “Communication Disorders.” Why is deafness considered a communication disorder? Because we are a minority and the majority of the population have no clue as to how to communicate with US. Hence, we are considered defective, when, in fact, there’s nothing wrong with our ability to communicate. Therefore, because of the Hearing World’s perception, we are considered “disabled.” We’re labeled as defective, as having disorders, not good enough, not perfect enough.
This is why so many hearing parents panic when they learn their child is deaf or severely hard of hearing. To them I say, “So what? Deal with it.” They can learn sign language, they can learn strategies to help their child communicate. But most importantly, they need to learn to communicate with their child. Never make that kid feel inadequate, imperfect, defective. Never, ever, ever coddle the child and do everything for the kid simply because they have hearing loss. Don’t go to their teachers begging for the easy way out for their “poor deaf child.” Never, spoil them. Too often, in my line of work, I encounter deaf and hard of hearing adults who have no idea as to how to take care of themselves because their parents did everything for them growing up and then they graduate from high school or college and are suddenly expected to be able to take care of themselves. Now, how can a person take care of himself if he’s never given an opportunity to do so before? The fact of the matter is, you reap what you sow. If you raise a kid to be dependent on you, your kid will grow up thinking the world will always give him what he needs without ever having to work for it. And then he will wonder why life outside of mom and dad’s home is so hard and give up, go on social security, and never become independent, and the worst case scenario: homeless and living on the streets or in a shelter.
I have no problem with implanting a child as long as the parents recognize one thing. If parents want a cochlear implant for their kid, recognize that the child is STILL technically deaf, and STILL should learn sign language as well as speech.
Until attitudes about deafness and hearing loss change significantly in this world, we, the largest minority population, will always face attitudinal barriers. It is, therefore, our responsibility to educate to the best of our ability the people who don’t understand and don’t recognize this.