Cochlears and Culture : Some Context (1/3)

From the blog the image links to. Also includes a good interview.

This series is based on two conflicting assumptions that exist in the circles in which I run – one that non-mainstream culture (either opt-in subculture or historical/ethnic/geographic pocket culture) is worth preserving, and another that there is a universal standard of living which should be adhered to.

My dad’s side of the family is Irish Catholic, and I am a member of a vast family which proves it. A set of cousins have taken an active role in a Deaf Community in Illinois. One has married a lovely Deaf gentleman and is a principal at one of the Deaf-specific schools, the other two are instructors. The whole batch of them live on the same street with a collection of children, mostly adopted from other countries where deafness is considered to be too much of a defect to bother with those affected by it. My interactions with this tight-knit community have been warm, welcoming, and frank. Because of this, I was so immersed in the debate about cochlear implants that part of my honors thesis in college focused on it (Difference Between Therapy and Advancement in Medical Technology). In fact, it’s such a strong community that the D of Deaf is capitalized – it is an identity.

Disclaimer that I am not deaf nor Deaf, and while I represent things here as accurately as my studies and experience allow me, I may be completely wrong. Please notify me if you find anything disheartening or inaccurate here. My contact is available on the About section of this website.

Here is how the debate goes: a child is born and cannot hear. If a cochlear implant is installed early on, the child has a chance of learning the nuances of sound which will allow them to operate pretty “normally” in the world (at least in that regard) – most prominently, they will likely understand spoken language. However, that means they will not be a full participant of the Deaf community. If the parents are Deaf, it means there will be a deep difference between them.

It’s a fascinating moral dilemma – unlike other Birth Stigmas (not all stereotypes are negative, but all stigmas are), this one can be changed during a short window of time. The other two categories of stigma are Choice and Accident (the ABCs of discrimination!) – and what group a trait belongs to changes how the person associated with it is viewed by the culture they belong to. Another interesting example of a mis-perceived is religion – it seems like a choice stigma but is actually a birth stigma – deviation from childhood religion is not statistically significant. Some people might leave religion during early-mid life, but they return to the church if they have kids. The cochlear implant debate is a great example of how subcultures and pocket cultures are constantly barraged by the mainstream to not be the “Other” – to leave behind a trait which is stigmatized.

Your reading/listening before the next of the series (seriously, it will be hard to keep up without this context):
RadioLab episode on language and brains
A great short history