Our world has changed.
Today 80% of children born deaf in the developed world are implanted with cochlear devices – electronic devices that partially restore hearing in people who have severe hearing loss– giving them access to sound in their early years which helps them to develop speech. Students with hearing disabilities are also being mainstreamed at higher rates – a trend that is on an upswing with the advent of newborn hearing screenings, early intervention services and developing technology. Even Gallaudet University – the first, and only university in the world tailored toward students with hearing disabilities – is seeing more undergrads who rely on spoken language instead of American Sign Language (ASL).
A lot of people have the misconception that a hearing disability is the equivalent of knowing ASL or being a part of the Deaf Community – a tight-knit group of people whose culture centers on ASL. According to multiple studies in 2016, there are anywhere from 250,000 to 2 million people using ASL today in the United States and Canada, including a number of children of deaf adults. ASL speakers, however, make up less than 1% of the often-cited 48 million people in the United States with hearing disabilities. The majority of people with hearing disabilities don't look like the typical person that has come to be portrayed in media as someone that speaks with their hands or through an interpreter. Instead, most people with a hearing disability have an invisible disability. Unlike seeing someone with a cast on a broken leg, there’s usually nothing that visibly identifies someone with hearing loss, or signals that they require accommodations, such as captioning, to receive equal access.
As a person with a hearing disability, it is naive and unrealistic to think that my experiences as a cochlear implant user are exclusively positive, they aren't. I am conscious of the inspirational porn that defines the disabled experience. I also experience first-hand the stigma, discrimination, and social exclusion tied with having a hearing disability in a hearing world that isn't always accommodating. As such, I have adopted the ethos of my hearing equipment manufacturer --Advanced Bionics-- of "a life without limits" and adopted it over the course of my lifetime to become "a life where I am empowered to remove limits." I will have to rely on the metal on my head every day for the rest of my life makes it that crucial that I learn to self-advocate, learn about resources, and improve my quality of life.
The cochlear implant is not a cure for deafness, it is a tool.
We are at a critical time in history. Our work at Project Hearing has centered on educating and building partnerships with allies that are committed to inclusion efforts, engaging with others in the community to learn about tools and resources, and advocating for the full inclusion of people with hearing disabilities in society.
We hope you can join us in this movement!
Project Hearing Founder