Deaf and hard of hearing students at CSUN find themselves in the midst of a debate regarding the controversial procedure known as cochlear implantation.
Cochlear implants are defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an electronic hearing device that produces hearing sensations by electrically stimulating nerves inside the inner ear. The success of cochlear implants varies from a person able to hear everything to the implant destroying any remaining hearing in the ear. The risks are high and the benefits vary, but one thing is certain: Whether or not the implant works, the procedure is irreversible.
The majority of deaf or hard of hearing CSUN students remain neutral regarding the subject.
“If someone wants to get a C.I. then go for it,” said Christian Sapacay as he enjoyed his lunch. “They might even benefit from it.”
Two other students said it depends on whom you ask. Both of these students are able to hear and specified that it might be different if they were completely deaf.
If the implant is successful, the FDA reports that the benefits can be immediate for adults. For children, improvements proceed at a slower rate because training is needed to learn how to effectively use the new sounds.
One of the major risks of the implant that the CSUN students mentioned is injury to the facial nerve. The facial nerve and other important nerves run through the middle ear, which is close to where the surgeon needs to place the implant.
Also reported by the FDA are the unknown risks. The cochlear implant directly stimulates the nerve with electrical currents and the long term effect of this is unknown.
Certain medical treatments, like MRI imaging, are dangerous to people with implants. The FDA warns of lifestyle changes associated with the cochlear implant. An implant may set off metal detectors, be affected by cell phones and interact unpredictably with computer systems.
According to studies by Gallaudet University, the nation’s only liberal arts college for the deaf, 96 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents.
Scott Vinegar, a math major at CSUN, got a cochlear implant when he was eight years old.
“My family thought that if I can hear, then I could communicate with them,” Vinegar said. “I can’t communicate with my parents otherwise because they don’t sign.”
When asked if the implants affected his standing in the deaf community, Vinegar said, “My high school was in Texas where there wasn’t a very strong deaf community, but the people who were deaf, I felt, acted differently toward me because I sign and talk.”
Since starting at CSUN, Vinegar said he has had no trouble with the deaf community and continues to sign and talk.
Vinegar said that prior to the implant, he could not hear or talk and that he personally would recommend cochlear implants. “But it depends on the person,” he said.
Students were divided as to whether the implants should be the decision of the individual or the parents. If a child decides to be completely deaf when he or she is an adult, then the outer technology can be removed, but the implant will still be attached.
When told of the topic, Joanna Hinojosa spoke out against the implant before heading off to class.
“I’m against cochlear implants because I feel like it offends us. Why should we have to hear? I’m proud of who I am and I can’t change who I am. I accept who I am,” Hinojosa said. “I respect those who get cochlear implants, but for me, hearing aids are fine.”
Hinojosa then added, “With cochlear implants you hear everything.”
The FDA reports that sound impressions from an implant differ from normal hearing, describing them as “mechanical,” “technical” or “synthetic.”
Hinojosa said that with hearing aids she can more naturally hear what she wants and not be forced to hear everything because of an implant.