A few of my Facebook friends have been posting those videos of people getting their cochlear implants activated. The people in the videos respond with shock and happy tears, mostly, and from what I can tell on Facebook, the videos are meant to be uplifting.
As always, I HAVE SOME THOUGHTS on this.
Let me start by saying that I’m always, always glad to see hearing loss, cochlear implants (CIs), hearing aids (HAs), etc., become a more comfortable topic to discuss publicly. I’m happy that people who are not deaf or hard of hearing are thinking about hearing loss and sharing stories related to it on their own walls. I sometimes get weary of educating people about hearing loss, so anytime anyone else wants to step in and help, I am all for it! 😉
However — and this is a strong however — I want to set a few things straight.
1) CI activation is just the beginning. I don’t have a CI myself, but I have several friends who do. I have never heard of any of them leaving their activation appointment with perfectly adjusted hearing. It can take months or even years to acclimate to the new sounds, and takes a lot of work to get used to. It can be frustrating, annoying and even scary. There aren’t happy tears during those times. It’s an emotional experience for sure, but it isn’t all happy-happy-joy-joy like the video depicts.
2) Getting a CI does not “cure” someone of their hearing loss. What you see on the videos is not someone becoming hearing for the first time in their life. They are not hearing. They will always be considered deaf or hard of hearing, or however they choose to identify themselves. I know many people with CIs who still need to turn the captions on the TV, still use sign language, still request a sign language interpreter or live captioning at school or work, still need you to face them when you talk so they can lipread, and so on. A CI can definitely be a great help, but it is not a “cure.”
3) Why is this kind of video so popular? I am scared to death that it’s because it sends a message along the lines of: “Oh, good, they can hear, so they’ll be happy now. They’ll be normal now. Everything will be easier now.” If that’s the message it sends, if that’s the kind of thing that my hearing friends are thinking or feeling (however subconsciously) when they watch the video, then I cannot stress this enough: It Is Not True.
It Is Not True because as I outlined in a crazy long blog post a few months ago, hearing loss itself is not the problem. Being D/deaf or hard of hearing is not the problem. Not being able to hear sounds without the help of CIs or HAs is not the problem. The real problem is that it divides, and makes those of us with hearing loss the Other. People are always trying to “cure” us, to make us more like them, to make our disability easier on them. My D/deaf and hard of hearing friends and I could fill a library with stories of how people have wanted to “fix” us — my favorites are the church people who have tried to “pray the deaf away.” TRUE STORY, and ALL THE SIDE EYE.
We don’t need more uplifting videos of people’s CIs being activated. What we need are more friends who know and love us for who we are, and who are willing to put their discomfort aside, look at us when they talk, ask what they can do to make group conversations easier, find ways to fold us in the group. We are people just like you. We are smart and funny and warm and loving and have so much to contribute, not because of our hearing loss or in spite of it, but just because of who we are. If you’re waiting for us to be “cured” before we can be part of the conversation, then (I say this with love) you’re the ones missing out, not us.
4) I’m going to go churchy on you now. I’m worried the video perpetuates the myth of, “If I only I had ______, then I’d really be happy.” Christians, anytime and anywhere and any way that message is delivered, what do we do? Preach the gospel. Preach the gospel. Preach the gospel. We know and need to proclaim that It Is Not True because being able to hear — or, for that matter, being able to see or walk or speak —is not anyone’s ultimate joy. I could get a CI and perhaps improve my speech comprehension and have an easier time keeping up in a group conversation, or be able to talk to someone without having to look at them all the time. And maybe I would be excited and happy for a while, but you know what? I would still be a great sinner in need of a great Savior. CIs might appear to mask hearing loss, but they can’t erase a soul’s brokenness. Only Jesus can do that. Let’s make THAT go viral.