Thursday, October 27, 2011

Are cochlear implant users deaf?

John Lee Clark's post titled "Cochlear Implants: A Thought Experiment" hit on one topic I have given a bit of thought to myself:

     If you cannot hear without your CI or hearing aids, are you deaf?

This may seem like a simple question, but I think outside the Deaf community, so little thought is given to deafness in general that it becomes unclear what the answer is.

The way I see it is through an analogy.  Suppose someone loses their legs in an accident.  Now they have a wheelchair.  Are they no longer physically disabled?  I mean, the wheelchair gives them mobility, right?  Oh, but we need to pay attention to the imperfections of the solution of the wheelchair.  Much like CI and hearing aids, a wheelchair can provide great help in achieving a more mainstream life, but what about those stairs?  What about those stores that place aisles too close together?  What about climbing on a stepstool to reach a top shelf?  At the end of the day, the person in the wheelchair is in fact still physically disabled, despite the help provided by the wheelchair.

Much the same, if you cannot effectively hear without CI or hearing aids, my opinion is that you are, indeed, deaf.  These tools help in most circumstances, but then leave people high and dry in others (e.g. pouring rain, swimming pools, exercise gyms, sleeping, batteries dead, etc etc etc).