Better off deaf?

"I was stunned when the deaf culture ostracized me for not being deaf enough."

Published May 30, 2000 7:46PM (EDT)

Sound and fury
BY ARTHUR ALLEN (05/24/00)

To say it is right to specifically deny a child one of the five basic senses is disgusting. How far does this go? When we develop the ability to replace the leg of someone with a severe and disabling deformity, should the procedure go unused? What about the blind? Should we go ahead and fix their vision when we can because they do not have their own special culture to protect? That is, I think, the key to the issue. Anti-implant deaf people simply don't want to be seen as disabled or defective or whatever. Too bad! They can't hear! Under NO circumstances does that make them any less valuable as humans, but it is morally reprehensible to deny treatment to children with a disability.

-- Matthew Rosenberg

As an adult who has a cochlear implant, I can attest that Arthur Allen has written an accurate article about the controversy in the deaf community over cochlear implants. I can assure you though that they are equally opposed to implants for those who lose their hearing later in life. As someone who was born with a moderate hearing loss and has had a progressive hearing loss over the last few years, I was stunned when the deaf culture ostracized me for not being deaf enough. Of course those who were born deaf have the right to use ASL and not get implants, but they are not the only ones with hearing losses.

-- Jane Van Ingen

I appreciate the thorough and thoughtful job that Arthur Allen did with this complex and still rather "hot" story.

I would like to clarify, however, that I do not believe that deaf culture will die out any time soon since even those of us who are fortunate enough to benefit from today's cochlear implant technology are still, in fact, "deaf." The closing paraphrase of my remarks leaves the impression that I think otherwise.

What I truly believe is that deaf culture will now further evolve and change -- it is being forced to.

Still, there is a huge difference between the "death" of a culture and a dramatic "evolution": Deaf culture will weather this storm. Of that, I have no doubt.

Someday, if inner ear hair cell regeneration succeeds, then -- and only then -- will we be able to talk about this remarkable and valuable culture's demise.

-- Anne-Marie Liss

As a deaf journalist, I am disappointed in this article, which does a great disservice to the general public and its clear bias toward deaf people opposed to oralism disobeys a basic tenet of journalism: objectivity.

The author implies that all deaf people use ASL to communicate, an erroneous assumption I'm constantly fighting to change. Where are the quotes from oral deaf people such as myself? Why weren't people with successful cochlear implants interviewed as well?

A big hole in the story is that it implies there is no middle ground (i.e., hearing aids) between cochlear implants and ASL. The author suggests that if the CI doesn't work, the implantee cannot be mainstreamed and will have to rely on ASL. I am one of many successful deaf people who use hearing aids instead of ASL or CIs, yet the author chooses to ignore this sizable community.

Another significant error is saying that if CIs don't work, the person will have no language skills. Even if the CI fails, it is likely that the person in question will have some language skills as a function of their therapy. The written responses by Osbrink show that even though he deems his CI a failure because he feels his spoken English is inadequate, his language skills certainly have a solid foundation.

A further weakness in the story is the failure to identify a key benefit of oralism and CIs: A person raised with these techniques is steeped in English at an early age, taking full advantage of the very short language developmental window. ASL is a less complex language than English, thus people raised strictly in ASL have a much harder time learning English than the reverse. The argument that deaf people should not be implanted until they are old enough to understand the decision removes the chance of fully optimizing critical developmental opportunities.

-- Lisa A. Goldstein

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