A Brief Discussion on C.I. Debate with Jean F. Andrews

By BitcoDavid


There appears to be an ongoing debate on the value of Cochlear Implant technology within the Deaf community. Many people see these devices as a threat to ASL. Others believe its an attempt by the medical community and other hearing people to fix what isn’t broken. Still others feel that C.I.s can enhance the living experience of Deaf people with no detriment to either their Signing ability or their community.

Many doctors refuse to implant Deaf children who are not already oral. They believe that the child will continue to Sign, and that the opportunity to learn oral language will be squandered. Often parents of Deaf children are told that once the child is implanted, the family must stop using Sign altogether, hoping that immersion will force the child into speech.

Also raised, is the question of filtering. We learn to hear. We learn to differentiate between say, the person we’re talking to – in a crowded restaurant – and the ambient noise from the 400 voices surrounding us. Your brain does this automatically, but only because you grew up, training it to do so. Sign provides a natural filtering. You are looking at the person you’re Signing to, and she is looking at you. It could be quite a shock to take someone who has lived their whole life in silence, and to suddenly throw them into the deep end of the audio pool.

Some people also question the efficacy of taking a Signing child out of her Deaf school, where she has friends and is socially accepted, and placing her in a mainstream school – while she’s wearing this linkage on her head. Bullying of the Deaf and HoH is a real problem, and one which we – in the Hearing community – must address. But it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to put an end to bullying before any more children suffer from it. Many people feel that CIs can place their children in a position of being unnecessarily bullied.

In response to a piece entitled, How To Learn About Deaf Culture? Read Tom Holcomb’s Introduction to American Deaf Culture, by Jean F. Andrews, I posted the following:

I find the Cochlear Implant debate to be a fascinating one. On one hand, proud Deaf people feel that this is a feeble attempt at curing deafness – fixing that which isn’t broken. On the other, the world is definitely biased in favor of the Hearing, and CIs could provide Deaf children with an added weapon to carry into the battlefield of life.

In Rachel Coleman’s video – which we published here: https://deafinprison.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/this-video-will-rock-your-world/ – she states that although her child was raised signing, and was doing quite well, the child herself indicated a desire for the implant. This child was OK with being Deaf, but wanted the extra advantages afforded her by the implant.

Unlike many in this world, I have had my share of rough patches. I know full well, just how hard life can be – even if you’re firing on all eight. My attitude is, any asset we can provide to our children is one more asset they can exploit. I don’t think this technology will destroy Deaf culture – I think it will help it.

Here is Dr. Andrews’ reply:

Tom Holcomb presents one view of the Deaf community about CI. There is diversity in the Deaf community about the CI. About 10% of students and faculty at my institution who are Deaf wear the CI and consider it beneficial while still using ASL as their dominant language and considering themselves part of the Deaf community.

While CIs have resulted in some speech production gains for young deaf children, we are still not certain of the long term effects in terms of their language and literacy growth.
There is also little documentation of surgeons, audiologists and SLPs on the many deaf children who fail to benefit from CIs.

More often than not, ASL is not provided as an option by pediatricians, SLSs and pediatric audiologists and this is unfortunate. There is no evidence that ASL hurts a deaf child’s speech. In fact, the opposite is true. Signs help support the acquisition of speech because it provides the underlying concept for the child.

Dr. Laurene Simms at Gallaudet University is leading a national reform movement aimed for Early Child Educators and parents. She and her colleagues are developing curriculum for parents and Early Childhood Educators that present both languages–ASL and English as early as possible. It is called the bilingual/bimodal approach as many deaf CI children will use speech and signs with their hearing families but then switch to ASL with deaf peers and adults.

Both languages–ASL and English–should be presented to the deaf child as early as possible. And more research in Emergent Literacy is needed to document how deaf children develop both languages through the use of picture books, parent/shared reading and teacher/shared reading.

So, CIs are not detrimental in themselves. Short-term, they are a feel-good solution to hearing parents and professionals who are elated when the deaf child says “mama,” or “thank you,” or “hello” or “how are you?” ASL carries the child much further and quicker. ASL allows the young deaf child to go beyond social, superficial chit-chat and develop cognitively rich concepts, and thus learn to think, reason and communicate at an early age like their hearing peers, but using ASL.

What is detrimental to the long-term development of the deaf child is how CIs have been indiscriminately used with deaf children without signing support and the Deaf community’s input.


ASL is proving its value everyday, and in every walk of life. Deaf, Oral Deaf, CI patients, HoH and yes, even amongst the hearing. Many Hearing learn ASL to become Interpreters, teachers at Deaf institutions, or simply to communicate with Deaf family and friends. It has demonstrated a usefulness in environments where hearing is difficult, such as construction sites or sound stages. Above all, Hearing parents of Hearing infants are beginning more and more, to use Sign as a way to introduce their children to language and speech. Numerous studies now reveal that visual language is easier for pre-lingual children to assimilate.

Deaf people can make use of this stunning advance in medical technology – Cochlear Implants – without sacrificing any of the benefits of their community or of their language. Furthermore, a Deaf child who does gain oral proficiency, will attain all the cerebral advantages of being multilingual, long before her hearing peers.

There are 2 things that I feel need to be said. First, this is implant technology. So, yes, doctors are putting cybernetic devices inside your body. That troubles a lot of people. Mankind isn’t as smart as we like to believe we are, and the thought of installing tiny machines inside our fellow Human beings can be pretty scary. Secondly, this technique replaces a damaged or non-functional ear-nerve connection. Deafness due to brain damage may not be corrected by CI technology.

BitcoDavid is a blogger and a blog site consultant. In former lives, he was an audio engineer, a videographer, a teacher – even a cab driver. He is an avid health and fitness enthusiast and a Pro/Am boxer. He has spent years working with diet and exercise to combat obesity and obesity related illness.

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