Friday, September 30, 2011

Mori Lecture on Cochlear Implants at Japanese Sign Language「Atelier」

Recently Soya Mori returned to Hirakata-shi and Japanese Sign Language「Atelier」for another lecture, this time about cochlear implants. Mori is the Deputy Director and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Developing Economies (Poverty Alleviation and Social Development Studies Group, Interdisciplinary Studies Center) and as such has much experience with cross-cultural deafness studies. He has traveled extensively throughout the world - most especially Asia - for his research.

Mori is also culturally Deaf, and as such has a bias against the use of cochlear implants. And his research supports such a bias. The use of cochlear implants is increasing all over the world as a "cure" for deafness. Mori discussed dangers of the surgery and implications of having such a device. He presented propaganda from cochlear implant advocates and deaf groups opposed to the devices.

When a person gets a cochlear implant, how does it affect their identity? Are they still deaf? Do they become hearing? Do they become part of a new cochlear implant culture? Will deafness and Deaf culture(s) be eradicated?

Mori's position is that deaf people do just fine as they are and do not need the device. Deafness is not a flaw - society's attitudes towards deafness are flawed.

This is a complicated issue but I have the same opinion as Mori. His lecture as an event (as well as his content) confirmed my bias: the whole lecture was done in JSL without an interpreter for deaf and hearing people. There was healthy discourse and jovial conversation. Hearing, or any device to create it, simply was not necessary in this setting.

Click here for more information bout Mori.

Click here for more photos from Mori's lecture.


Rachel M. said...

It's unfortunate that there's such a strong bias against cochlear implants though. The girl I nanny has a next door neighbor who is deaf, and her mother went with the decision of having her get a cochlear implant. When she told a deaf friend of hers her decision, the deaf friend never contacted her again. If the deaf community were more open to families that make this decision, this girl could probably be more involved with the Deaf community. She knows very little sign language now (even though it was her first language), just enough to get her by when she has the sounds off such as when swimming. I think if the Deaf community hadn't alienated them, perhaps she would still be connected to her deaf identity, and become bilingual in both languages, just as CODA do.

There is nothing wrong with either decision. Thanks to the cochlear implant, this girl will be able to hear hazardous sounds (is that such a bad thing?). I myself would not make that decision if my child were deaf, because then she could never get an MRI because of the magnet in her head. I think a person can live happily, cochlear implant or not.

I'm very disappointed that there is such a strong bias, it turns families away from the Deaf community after their decisions. It upsets me greatly. I wish that Deaf people could see it as just part of the diversity of the Deaf community, not something that kills its culture.

Anonymous said...

I also want to add that I also think Deafness is not a flaw and Deaf culture should be embraced, just as you do. It's just that by casting judgment on families who make this choice, it's just causing more divides and prejudices. Am I wrong?

If you reply, send me a quick email with your response to @, because I'm curious about your opinion and I may not notice a reply in the comments section of this post.

visual gonthros said...

Thank you for your comments.

The film Sound and Fury and its sequel explore these issues in the American context.

Deaf people have biases and prejudices the same as anyone else - it seems unreasonable to expect otherwise. I agree that this issue causes more divides, but there are a lot of divides to begin with. Deaf people in any society are hardly a homogeneous group.

I can understand the cause of their bias against cochlear implants. The deaf have been used as guinea pigs throughout history so they are more than justified to be suspicious of scientists, academics and others who create new technology for deaf people without any consent or collaboration with deaf people. And the way cochlear implants are presented in the media as miracle-makers is problematic. The reality of the risks and side effects are rarely mentioned. In Sound and Fury, the parents of a deaf baby are presented with an audio demonstration of their baby's hearing loss and they are devastated. But they are not presented with a demonstration of the sound quality of the cochlear (which could be just as devastating).

Technology and the understanding of language is improving so perhaps there might be a place for the cochlear in the deaf world. Cochlears are not common in Japan but it is encouraging that deaf people are studying up on them. The only person I know well with a cochlear got it when he lost his hearing in his 50s. But rather than enjoying his new sense of hearing he has migrated to the deaf world. There are some countries that require deaf babies to get the implant even if the parents don't want it. This forced implantation is truly scarey.

These are complex issues. But for me, as I concluded in the post, there is no need for these devices among the deaf people I associate with.