Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cochlear Implants & Deaf Culture

How hectic it's been lately! School started today. I found that while I know where all the buildings are now and can even direct someone to a building easily, managing my time isn't quite as easy. Sigh.

I know someone who is getting their wisdom teeth out and that person was talking about how they were afraid. I sympathetized but felt bad for the immediate reaction I had in my mind which was this:

Afraid of a simple dental procedure? That is NOTHING compared to consenting to getting your head drilled into, for an implant you hope you'll like but which you really have little clue as to what to expect and where you received 10 stitches and two permanent bumps on your head.

I find that after receiving the CI, I am less worried about other procedures that I or others might have done to us. I also find that the CI has empowered me in other odd ways. I'm more confident about my choice to make decisions because I made what is one of the biggest decisions of my life and I haven't regretted it for a single moment. Some people thought I would but I haven't. Like I say, "The only thing I regret is not having done it sooner."

I was texting with Tess, who I've known since I was 6 months old and who is profoundly deaf. She uses interpreters in school when she goes to school. She said, "I still can't believe you got an implant. I wouldn't have!"

I really can't relate to that sentiment at all, which simultaneously saddened and excited me. Saddened because it is yet another distinction of how I am far removed from the "deaf culture" and excited because I really am that much different than the usual "mindset." I don't mean this in a bad way at all. I am an advocate of sign language (for babies as well!) but I am not an advocate of it when it is used alone.

Many deaf people seem more receptive to the CI than in the 90s. When I tell a Deaf person I have an implant, they immediately ask, "Does it work?" then "Doesn't the constant sound drive you crazy?"

Then of course I get high-spirited and tell them of how much the CI has changed my life and how happy I am I have it. Then the usual reaction I get is one of interested listening and then a statement of how it wouldn't benefit them but it's good I like it. At least they aren't shutting me out. I just constantly wonder, "Do I REALLY think that differently? Why aren't more prelingually deaf people getting implants or at least as curious as I was that it bothers them everyday wondering "What if"?"

There is a slang word that exists in culture today- "Oreo," signifying a black person who is white on the inside. There is actually also a sign in the deaf culture for a deaf person that thinks like a hearing person and is usually integrated in the culture. It is the sign for "hearing," but signed near the forehead to signify they are "hearing-in-their-mind." This person usually doesn't have much sense of deaf culture or chooses to live outside it.

I've been called "hearing-in-the-mind" and finally began identifying myself as "hearing-in-the-mind" when deaf people would ask me if I was deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing. It was ample enough to summarize why I sign in Exact English, why I write and read as well as I do, as well as to explain the fact I (wanted to and now have) an implant which makes me uniquely both deaf and hearing.

There is no word like this in hearing culture. I have to explain I can't understand speech yet, although I hear the fan whirring above us and their voice as they ask, perfectly. I have to explain I don't use ASL. It gets tiring explaining but even tiring when people automatically assume that I use ASL because I am deaf and I never get a chance to explain so I have to find a way to slip it in there somewhere.

I feel a constant worry when meeting new people who have taken ASL classes or who think they know things about deaf people, about making sure those people know I'm NOT in the deaf culture because I fear being grouped and as a result, assigned traits that I don't even possess.

But what is unfortunate is that I believe, in order to have people listen to you, they have to feel they can relate to you. (which is probably why Obama is so popular right now, as a side note!) I want to get through to the deaf population about the usefulness of cochlear implants and about other things they might not be huge fans of. I can personally switch over to following deaf culture and customs, to signing ASL if need be, but I can never truly give myself over to it.

I used to have some people criticize me greatly for that but it seems that the deaf culture and the hearing culture, over the years, have learned how to soften both their positions and find a more common ground. I'm glad to see that because there are advantages to BOTH so there's no reason to have just one if you can have the other as well.


Abbie said...

If you want to talk to someone who has cochlear implants who signs and Cues, you can check out this blog : Deaf Boy in the World His name is Jarom.

Hetha said...

Wow, I really enjoyed reading this! I'm a hearing parent to a deaf child who is only 3 and hears with bilateral implant, yet he goes to a deaf school for preschool and signs instead of speaks. He's straddling the two worlds now and might just find himself in that position for years to come. This post gave me some really valuable insight!