A cochlear implant technology consists of an electronic medical device that replaces the functions of the damaged inner ear. These tiny complex medical devices work differently than hearing aids. Unlike hearing aids which amplify the sounds that help people with residual hearing ability to perceive sounds, the cochlear implant provides a sense of sound by directly stimulating the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants thereby allow in perceiving the sensation of sound by bypassing the inner ear.
The use of electrical stimulation to aid hearing has long been the subject of interest for the scientists. In fact Alessandro Volta in the year 1800 had experimented the stimulation by inserting the metal rod in his ear canal and stimulating them with electricity. He further reported that an auditory sensation was created. During 1950’s electrical stimulation of auditory nerve became a very popular subject of research for scientists and by 1972 the first implantable device was developed. However the success rate of it was really low until the first multichannel cochlear implant was developed by cochlear corporation in 1984. It was initially approved by FDA for adults aged 18 years and older. However within a short span of 5 years the age range was extended down to 2 years and older and around 2000 certain devices were approved to be implanted in children as young as 12 months of age. When it was first approved for adults in 1984 and children 5 years later, the cochlear implant was the first device to restore—even if partially—a missing sense. The NIDCD in year 2012 reported that more than 324,000 people worldwide – including about 58000 adults and 38000 children in the USA have received a cochlear implant.
The cochlear implantation is considered to be a revolutionary technology because of its obvious advantage that it allows a deaf person to perceive the sensation of sound and provides a greater integration into the hearing mainstream. As the reports suggests that 95% of the deaf children are born to hearing parents who’ve probably encountered a first deaf person in their life, Cochlear implant seems to be an attractive option that enables easy communication. Moreover the cochlear implantation allows for a greater safety as it prevents them from getting into dangerous situations. Thus the life changing potential of this device is hard to deny.
However the members of capital D community (deaf people who use sign language) have for years fought the notion that deaf people need “fixing” as according to them deafness is not a medical condition that needs to be treated but a unique culture that has its own traditions, values and a rich language. And the invention of the devices like cochlear implants will result in the loss of their identity as children will then not be encouraged to learn sign language and won’t be a part of this rich culture. According to their belief deafness is an identity and the child must have the freedom to make its own decision regarding the implants. The prevailing Deaf view is that adult CI recipients are old enough to understand their choice, but implanted children, on the other hand, are having an identity imposed upon them and it robs a deaf child of deaf integration. With a device that has been deemed everything from “genocide” to “medical miracle,” the critical question is what should the parents do? Maybe they should just consider the conflicting voices and make decisions that place their child’s language acquisition at the utmost priority. What is your opinion about that?