November 21, 2018

"A cochlear implant isn’t inherently bad, but it isn’t inherently good, either; it is a neutral piece of technology, a tool, like a hammer."

"Expecting an implant to cure deafness or magically generate speech is to await the moment the hammer will fly out of one’s hand and build a house on its own. The value of the tool lies only in the skill of its user, and for the cochlear implant user, that skill is learned with much effort. To suggest otherwise is to give a disingenuous prognosis to potential patients and their parents, and discounts the hard work successful C.I. users do to communicate in a way the hearing world deems acceptable."

From "A Clearer Message on Cochlear Implants/Portrayals of this technology as a 'miracle' for deaf people overlook its potential downsides and challenges" (NYT) by Sara Novic, an assistant professor of creative writing who is deaf and chooses not to have a cochlear implant, because — as she explains to her students — "I’m happy with how I am now" or...
I explain that deafness offers me a unique perspective on the world, or joke that I like it quiet when I’m writing, but I always end with a fact: “It would be a big commitment — learning to use a cochlear implant takes a lot of work.”

42 comments:

traditionalguy said...

What did you say?

sinz52 said...

Some deaf people are trying just a little too hard to make deafness sound like an alternative lifestyle instead of a disability.

mezzrow said...

The words of the prophets are
Written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence.

Darrell said...

I don't have one, but I don't want you to have one, either.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

a tool, like a hammer.
or anvil. or stirrup.

Phil 3:14 said...

Is it language that drives culture? Does sign language encourage deaf people to see themselves as of a different culture?

Darrell said...

Hey, Jesus, stay away from me!

-- Sara Novic

MikeR said...

"Children of a Lesser God"

LordSomber said...

Tools and technology aren't exactly "neutral," even when misused.
You're using them because it's an advantage to not using them.

MayBee said...

I find the deaf activists to be a very interesting bunch.

tim in vermont said...

I love those William Hurt movies about Maritime Canada. “Rare Birds” is a cult classic, even if I am the only member of the “cult."

David Begley said...

Tribalism taken to a new low. Only a deaf liberal would think CI was bad.

rhhardin said...

Rush says if you haven't heard recently, a CI doesn't work very well. His first CI worked a lot better than his second one, put in much later. But both together works a lot better than just the one.

So an always-deaf person is likely to have a hard time.

stlcdr said...

Don’t take what an individual does as a way to do things, or the way things should be.

Also, as I read it ‘implants are hard, so I’m not going to do it’; implicitly, others must make accommodations because of my lack of effort to overcome my disability (sic).

iowan2 said...

Rush has one. He talked early on about the tremendous amount of work needed to 'learn' how to use it. Lots of lab time with hearing therapists. It allows your brain to 'hear' sounds. They are not the sounds you know from your hearing days, so you have to learn what you are hearing.
I have a customer that got one a couple of years ago. A farmer that made his fortunes in owning banks in rural IA. He was almost 90, and he admitted he did not put in the work to help him 'hear'. He talked like the price was >$300k. That included lots of hours of therapy. hours he was not willing to spend. He said at his age, money was of little consequence, time was priceless. He was one of those people that was extremely smart, no college education, and you could spend an hour with him and know of his intelligence and talent, and after weeks never know how successful he was. Not being able to communicate with him easily is one of my greatest losses.

stlcdr said...

If deaf people are going to see a doctor regarding implants, I’m sure it is explained to them pretty early on that it’s not a miracle cure. Probably much like any other limit on human technology to fix a disability - such as prosthetic legs after having ones legs blown off from an IED. There’s still a lot of almost insurmountable work.

EDH said...

So the implant doesn't warm the cockles of her ear?

The cockles of the heart are its ventricles, named by some in Latin as "cochleae cordis", from "cochlea" (snail), alluding to their shape. The saying means to warm and gratify one's deepest feelings.

tcrosse said...

On this Thanksgiving, let's give a thought to Him Who made the lame see, the blind hear, and the deaf walk.

exhelodrvr1 said...

You could say the same thing about hip replacements. And glasses/contacts. Also the internal combustion engine. Polio vaccines (because we don't want to hurt the feelings of people who had polio, do we?!).

LarsPorsena said...

Blogger sinz52 said...
Some deaf people are trying just a little too hard to make deafness sound like an alternative lifestyle instead of a disability

This

If deafness is cured then they would lose the moral high ground of victim.

Blake said...

I got a CI about ten years ago and it was an absolute life changer for me. I went from getting 1 in 20 words correct in the hearing test to 19 of 20 correct within a month of getting the CI. It broadened my ability to use the phone so I was able to get a better job and it allowed me to be more socially confident in noisier environments. I have no sympathy for the deaf culture that denies themselves and their children access to this technology. Within five years, it will be fully implantable under the skin once they perfect getting a power source to it.

The Cracker Emcee Rampant said...

“Some deaf people are trying just a little too hard to make deafness sound like an alternative lifestyle instead of a disability.”

Yes. We value most what has cost us the most.

Greg Hlatky said...


Hey, Jesus, stay away from me!

-- Sara Novic


... And the redneck told Jesus, "Don't touch me, I'm on disability!"

Greg Hlatky said...


A viral infection some months ago cost me the hearing on my left side. On the one hand it's a pain. On the other, I can "not hear" my wife when she wants me to do something.

Geoff Matthews said...

On the one hand, I can understand why the deaf community wants to perpetuate itself. Who wants to be the last deaf person, unable to communicate with those around them?
On the other hand, being deaf deprives you of many things. Apart from the spoken word, and from general society, there is music, bird songs, wind, waterfalls. There's the stillness of a snowy day.
Parents who do not avail themselves of today's technology, I can understand. But depriving their children of it is just pure selfishness. Even if you are the last deaf person on earth and want someone to sign with.

Earnest Prole said...

I’d almost forgotten the Rush Limbaugh drama of becoming addicted to opioids, losing his hearing and voice day-by-day on his show, then pulling himself back from the edge through rehab and a cochlear implant that saved his career.

William said...

Blindness is nature's way when you have cataracts. It's organic. When you have cataract surgery, you're depriving yourself of the full appreciation of music that only blind people enjoy.

Sarah from VA said...

There's an excellent graphic novel about a girl with hearing aids (and I seem to recall later in the book cochlear implants, but I'm not 100 percent sure) called "El Deafo". Cece Bell, the author, lost her hearing due to meningitis in early childhood. She could already speak, so she didn't ever have to learn English, but she basically has always perceived herself as being deaf.

It's a really poignant little book. I picked it up from the library for my 7-year-old, but she was a little young for it. I really enjoyed it, though.

The decisions to do hearing aids or cochlear implants over sign are actually very complicated, and the author does a good job of describing just how bad her hearing aids were as a substitute for hearing. (You basically have to combine it with very good lip-reading skills, and people need to look at you and speak clearly when talking to you, or else you can't understand them. And of course they forget that because you don't ACT deaf.) I assume the implants/hearing aids have gotten better since the author was young, but probably not all THAT better.

Anyway, good book! Highly recommend. I'd link to the Althouse Amazon portal for it, but I've got pies in the oven and don't want to bother looking up how to do it. Back to pies, and then later this afternoon, stuffing & green bean casserole.

Sarah from VA said...

Ok, sorry, pies can wait. I was just briefly looking at the Amazon reviews (to see if that would jog my memory about some of the book's details) and one reviewer quoted this bit from the afterward that I think is relevant in this discussion of deafness as feature vs. disability:

"I felt different, and in my mind being different wasn't a good thing. I secretly, and openly, believed that my deafness, in making me so different, was a disability. And I was ashamed."

"As I grew up, however, I made some positive discoveries about deafness and about myself. I'm no longer ashamed of being deaf, nor do I think of myself as someone with a disability...To the kid me, being deaf was a defining characteristic, one I tried to hide. Now it defines a smaller part of me, and I don't try to hide it-much. Today, I view my deafness as more of an occasional nuisance, and oddly enough, as a gift: I can turn off the sound of the world anytime I want, and retreat into peaceful silence."

(Now pies: chocolate, cranberry, pumpkin chiffon)

tastid212 said...

Re choosing to remain deaf: I have heard that blind-since-birth folks feel the same way about the possibly of gaining sight. Professor, do you have any reluctance to go through with the cataract laser procedure and, if so, what is it based on? Not wanting to change something that you have grown accustomed to? Not wanting to change a condition that is not entirely negative?

Mary Beth said...

11/21/18, 6:52 AM

Ha! An ear bones joke!

Art in LA said...

There is a play about this issue -- Tribes. My wife and I enjoyed it. Moral of the story, we all need to be more empathetic to each other and other tribes. More here ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribes_(play)

stlcdr said...

Moral of the story, we all need to be more empathetic to each other and other tribes.
Why? Or, more specifically, who is ‘we’?

Art in LA said...

@stlcdr ... "we" are the different tribes and social groups that I congregate in. Is there a problem trying to understand others? I enjoyed the play.

Breezy said...

Hearing always fascinated me... we talk and hear in the same frequency ranges, generally speaking. That alignment is a tremendous feat of nature that we take for granted, I think. The calibrating body and brain.

Ingachuck'stoothlessARM said...

tcrosse said...

On this Thanksgiving, let's give a thought to Him Who made the lame see, the blind hear, and the deaf walk.


Hear! Hear!!

Darkisland said...

Blogger Earnest Prole said...

I’d almost forgotten the Rush Limbaugh drama of becoming addicted to opioids, losing his hearing and voice day-by-day on his show, then pulling himself back from the edge through rehab and a cochlear implant that saved his career.

Does Rush actually "listen" to callers?

I seem to recall that he has a stenographer who transcribes the caller to a computer screen as quickly as they talk.

This would mean that Rush reads rather than listens to a caller.

Does anyone know?

Either way it is pretty awesome that a deaf person could run a call in talk show.

John Henry

Begonia said...

+1 on the recommendation for El Deafo. My 7 year old really liked it and I did too. She doesn't get cochlear implants though. The "happy ending" in the story is that she finally makes a good friend.

This comment section illustrates both the best and the worst of of the Althouse comment section: The people who have actual experience with cochlear implants (either themselves or people they knew) chime in with their stories. And then the people who don't know anything about it chime in with their uninformed opinions.

I would rather just hear from the former, which is why I shut up unless I can specifically say something I know about. And I know that El Deafo is a great book about how hard it can be to make friends, with the added complication of being deaf.

cubanbob said...

I don't understand why it isn't a stigma to wear glasses but it is to wear a hearing aid. Conceptually a CI is just further on the spectrum of a hearing aid. If you need one, you need one. If it doesn't work then it doesn't and one does the best they can.

Paco Wové said...

"The people who have actual experience ... chime in with their stories. And then the people who don't know anything about it chime in with their uninformed opinions."

It is the way of the Internet.


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Aussie Pundit said...

This comment section illustrates both the best and the worst of of the Althouse comment section: The people who have actual experience with cochlear implants (either themselves or people they knew) chime in with their stories. And then the people who don't know anything about it chime in with their uninformed opinions.

Sure, and the author of the NYT article itself has never had a cochlear implant, so maybe her view is also just "uninformed opinion".