This is part three of what has become a three-part series about cochlear implants or CIs. This time I want to conclude with more about what I briefly discussed in part one regarding the attitudes and reactions by some in the Deaf community of the use of CIs and CI users themselves.
In the past, there were many who had very negative reactions to and refusals to accept the use of CIs by the Deaf. Those who opted to use CIs were often criticized and even ostracized from the community they loved and needed for acceptance and support. Over the years, the situation has improved, but in places there is still much room for improvement. I have lived in one of those areas. Often, when the subject comes up, the Deaf who feel this way respond with almost the same line, “God made me deaf.” Then almost always adding, “I am proud to be Deaf, and I don’t want any one trying to fix me because I don’t need to be fixed.” This is said by those who are religious and not religious often times, so I want to address these statements with a sort of rebuttal that I hope will encourage some to re-think how they feel about others who use CIs. I don’t want to change their opinions about CIs if they don’t want to use them. That should be an individual choice. I do want to encourage them to see that it is an individual choice based on factors that vary by the person, so no one should be judged and especially not ostracized for their decision to use or not use a CI. I also feel there is a lesson that can be learned by any who feel the need to judge others based on their decisions to deal with the stresses that life can bring. I emphasize that it is not my intention to insult anyone. I just hope to give people another perspective to consider.
First, the perception that some Deaf have about CIs, CI users, and the hearing world/medical world wanting to “fix” them probably comes from several factors. One being that the hearing world has long since seemed to try to force Deaf people to fit into the hearing mold. This is evidenced by the attempts of Alexander Graham Bell and the movement he essentially started called Oralism. Bell, probably with good intentions, felt that Deaf people could learn to read lips well and talk if they were immersed in the oral world. This ultimately led to schools for the Deaf banning ASL or any form of signing and pushing a curriculum based on oral lip reading and speech therapy. The Deaf resisted and often hid the fact they were using sign language amongst themselves whenever out of sight of school officials. Deaf advocacy agencies led the push to stop this forced teaching after several decades. Now, many schools teach both ASL and English, but using ASL as the primary language. There are still schools that use the Oral method, but the choice to attend falls to the Deaf and their families.
The push to “fix” the Deaf is still witnessed in the medical world where not only is there research to cure deafness, but medical professionals push medical devices such as hearing aids, FM systems, and CIs as a way to try to accommodate the Deaf in the hearing world. These are all good things, but the lean toward pressure to change is often seen negatively by the Deaf because the pressure to accept these devices is sometimes very intense. This pressure has led to some resentment, if not outright prejudice, to the hearing and medical field to some degree. That resentment spilled over at times to fellow deaf or deafblind persons who found the need to seek hearing world help and medical advancements like CIs, especially in earlier years when the pain of Oralism was fresh. The acceptance of the “cure” was probably seen as “selling out” to the Hearing world. Time and reflection has seen an improvement in these attitudes, but there are some lingering effects of history’s pain. One of the main effects is the fear of losing their language, culture, and community if Deafness is cured or otherwise, negated by the Medical field.
It is to these lingering effects that I now ask that further reflection be given. I will first use the perspective of Biblical scripture because the argument against CIs has almost always been presented to me beginning with these words, “God made me deaf.” Culturally then, are these Deaf saying, “I am proud that I can’t hear sound?” Maybe. I can’t say for sure about being physically deaf, but I do know what they are saying about being culturally Deaf/DeafBlind because I feel the passion that comes from loving American Sign Language and the love of being part of a community that is like me and can understand me and supports me in either the Deaf community and the DeafBlind community. I can understand the love of the language and the passion not to lose that language or change how I fit in that culture and community. And, as I described in part two of this series last month, I can understand a person choosing to avoid the surgeries, the expense, the annoyances that can come with CIs. However, I can’t support the argument that God made me deaf or to be deaf and using that premise to reject others who disagree. Being blind, I also don’t believe that God made me blind or to be blind.
Let me explain why I don’t believe that God made me deaf and blind. To do that, I have to use God’s word because only God can say how He made me and intended me to be. God created life, all life. God is perfect. Do you think God creates imperfection? He said, “No.” He said that all of his creation was perfect and good. His creation was perfect. Adam and Eve were not deaf or blind. They were perfect and good in God’s eyes. Perfect until they disobeyed God and allowed imperfection into the creation. If they were perfect, why did they choose to disobey God? God, being so loving, gave them the free will to decide if they wanted to obey Him. If they did, they would always have God’s love and protection and guidance in perfection and living in a perfect world. If they chose to disobey, then they would lose that closeness to God and would walk in an imperfect way unguided by His hand, and their world would begin to die just as their bodies would begin to die, too. God says we and all life are now imperfect. He doesn’t want us that way. That is why He sent Jesus to provide us the way to be reconciled to Him. That was the plan from the beginning, so it was perfect. It was a perfect plan of love that gave us the choice of who we would serve and a journey of life to teach us the nature of God and His unconditional love for us. It is only Deaf cultural thinking that has led to the belief that being deaf is not broken. God says it is. If you were perfect, He wouldn’t have healed deafness here on earth in the form of Jesus as Jesus did for blind persons and deaf persons when He was in human form on earth. He probably doesn’t give out new bodies in heaven that can’t hear.
Deaf people don’t want to be blind. That would be bad, they agree. Blind people don’t want to be blind. They may say they are ok with it if God chooses to not heal them on earth and ask that they allow Him to use their blindness for his glory. I am totally DeafBlind. I don’t like being deaf or blind. I do love knowing ASL and knowing Deaf culture and being part of the Deaf and DeafBlind communities. I accept being deaf and blind knowing that God gives me strength in my brokenness (His word not mine from Scripture) and uses it for His glory and my benefit.
I might, as many DeafBlind would, one day accept a treatment for my eyes, as I mentioned last time, because that is an added hardship even though I know braille. I have never desired a change as far as my deafness goes before I lost my sight. Some who are deaf might, though, if they do not have support of a loving family or the Deaf community, or simply aren’t allowed to rise above the discrimination felt in the job world. Truthfully, I do not remember even thinking about it. I was used to it. I was comfortable with it. I read lips well. I later learned some ASL. I had few problems even in the hearing world. That is probably because I was born with hearing and lost it slowly as a child. Others who are deaf may not find the world as easy to access. As far as sound, I only miss music, really. That is special. Vibrations without the full sense doesn’t compare. If that could be given back, maybe, but I do not want to accept the tonal quality of CI in substitution. That was and is my decision for now as I explained before. Others who are deaf or deafblind may find the need to choose differently. Though I am comfortable being deaf and now even blind and accept that God is using me through these adversities to strengthen me and use me, I am broken. I just am ok with it as things are for now.
None of that matters, though. Regardless, I don’t feel that getting a CI or other implants is wrong or should be against Deaf culture based on the fact that I can’t be broken because God made me this way. That isn’t scripturally-based. God gives man knowledge through medicine to heal. Medical knowledge is not a bad thing. The knowledge comes from God. Man can misuse it, of course, but for the most part, God heals through doctors, so it can’t be bad. It is fine for some of us to say we don’t need to spend the money on surgeries or whatever because we get along fine deaf especially as a Deaf person with the capital “D” because of our place in the culture and community, but we should say it differently if we wish to reference God for our argument. It is perfectly right and scriptural to say that I accept that God has allowed Deafness in my life to help me grow closer to Him, to strengthen me, and to show His glory in my life despite my adversities.
Plus,this attitude of not being broken and not needing to be fixed can truly hinder and cause pain to the deaf and deafblind who want to have some way to hear to better handle the issues of life. Some Deaf have turned their backs on those who have gotten CIs. That is sad. We all need each other, and God never said He wanted us deaf or blind. That is the result of a dying world and body because we had to be separated from God due to the sin. Again, it is ok that some of us feel we don’t need to be cured of our deafness, but the Deaf shouldn’t see the cure, which isn’t really a cure, as wrong or against God. This is just something to think about and only spoken in love.
Now, let’s speak to the true heart of the issue. Ultimately, it is the fear of losing the language of ASL and the unity that the language brings to a culture and community that causes these attitudes of rejection and prejudice. If Deafness is really cured on this earth as it is, I can’t say whether the Deaf language, culture, and community will be lost. I can’t even say if that possible loss would bring a change for bad or good. Sometimes change can be good even if we can’t see that possibility beforehand, but the fear of change is almost always negative. If we keep our traits of love and support, the loss of language may not be a negative because even though our language is the key to our unity, it doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be the key to our loving and supporting one another. For now, though, realize that CIs do not cure deafness. There is still a need for ASL. Those who are hard of hearing/Deaf, be they CI users or not, need a culture and community that accepts them as they are and supports them in ways not found anywhere else.
Let us rise above the fears and provide that acceptance and love in the Silence and the Dark Silence to everyone. And, let the hearing and the sighted see us as equals with differences because of our unity in love and empowerment. For it is in the acceptance and mutual support of these different cultures and communities truly working together that we will find the best love and the best support that we all need regardless of how we are broken.