As I watched the documentary, Sound and Fury, I began having more and more questions about the Deaf community and cochlear implants. Cochlear implants have been a contested issue in the Deaf world since they were introduced about 30 years ago. Members of the Deaf community see cochlear implants as an affront to their culture and community. As ASL users, they do not rely on speech or sound to communicate and they do not view deafness as something to be “cured.” For pre-lingually deaf (deafness before language learning occurs) children, the implant is most effective before age one or as young as six months. In this case, children are not deciding to get implanted but rather a parent is making that choices. Because they cannot decide for themselves, Deaf community fears that the CI affirms deafness as a disability rather than allowing deaf children to learn sign and develop a sense of Deaf culture and pride.
Since the CI was first invented, technology has improved vastly. The number electrodes used has increased allowing for better and more diverse reception of speech and sound. Cochlear implants have gotten smaller and easier to use. The CI works by bypassing the hair cells of the inner ear and directly stimulates the cochlea nerve with electric pulses. A microphone outside of the skull receives sound input and the processor must determine the frequency of the sound and how it is to be interpreted.
When I studied this in several of my speech and audiology classes, we were told that speech through a cochlear implant does not sound like the speech a hearing person listens to. Some people describe it as robotic or electronic, but what does it really sound like? Thanks, YouTube for answering that question!
This video plays the speech stimulus given and how it is heard by a deaf individual through a cochlear implant.
As I worked on my project proposal, the importance of self-identification made its way to the forefront. This concept of knowing oneself and your relationship to others is essential. Being able to relate and empathize with other people in a community is an important goal. So when I stumbled upon this article, I got incredibly excited.
Now, I’m not a huge fan of Marvel or comics. But a superhero with cochlear implants—that I can love.
Marvel teamed up with the Children’s Hearing Institute and the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary to create the newest hero, “Sapheara.” This character with bilateral cochlear implants will appear alongside Blue Ear, another superhero that sports hearing aids. Not only will the comics tell an entertaining story, but they will also serve as an educational tool about devices used by the hearing impaired.
Every time I read a novel or watch a movie or marathon a show on Netflix, I look for characters that I can see myself in. How is this experience different for someone with a hearing impairment or other disability? Do they struggle to find relatable material?
Often kids with hearing impairments and issues are embarrassed or anxious about their diagnosis. Too many times, these children hide their hearing aids or unplug their FM devices. They struggle through classes without their assistive devices because they fear ridicule and scorn. But a new superhero may change that. Sapheara is a character that they can relate to. Suddenly, someone that looks like them, acts like them, struggles like them is coming to life on the page of their favorite comic book. Seeing these heroes as strong and successful while utilizing their differences can be so encouraging to the young readers.
As a soon-to-be clinician, this news is thrilling. I think Marvel’s new superhero will bring empowerment and motivation to this population. Because these comics aren’t just targeted to hearing impaired children, other readers will also benefit from a new understanding of cochlear implants and other assistive devices.