When Hearing Devices Cause Some To Be Considered 'Not Deaf Enough'

Sep 4, 2018

I'm proud to be among those who live with deafness. Yet I often feel rejected by some of these same people.

Many who embrace Deaf culture -- that's deaf with a capital D -- tend to think of deafness as the defining factor of who they are, and consider those who are integrated into the hearing world through technology -- such as hearing aids or cochlear implants -- as “not Deaf enough” to be a part of their community.

Many of them have never heard anything, and have never communicated through speech.

That’s different from me, but in the end, none of us can hear without assistance. I believe that their need to exclude comes from not being able to fully understand others’ deaf experience. Still, it’s destructive.

Many Deaf people -- and hearing people -- think of cochlear implants as a "solution" to deafness. It isn’t; the implants simply offer me a different deaf lifestyle.

My parents decided to get cochlear implants for me when I was one because they felt the devices would give me more opportunities, that I'd have an easier life with them. Whether that’s true or not, I’ll never know. Still, they worried that having implants might close off my access to a "capital D" Deaf identity.

I’m sorry to say their fears were right.

For example, they hired a Deaf American Sign Language teacher to work with me when I was only a few months old, but she stopped coming after she found out that I would be getting cochlear implants.

When I was a toddler, I was unwelcome in a sign language playgroup. I’ve dealt with hearing people not understanding my deafness -- staring at the equipment, congratulating me on "passing" in the hearing world -- and I’ve dealt with Deaf people denying it.

I recently found on a crumpled piece of paper something I wrote when I was 10: “There is a color between yellow and green that no one can agree on: I think of cochlear implants -- hearing but deaf all the same.”

I will always feel separated from the hearing world in important ways. I’ve also had to live with being excluded from a community that might have provided assurance that I wasn’t alone.

We in the deaf world need to see each other for our similarities, accept that we may never agree on this issue, and start working together.

Juliet Corwin, a ninth-grader, lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. A version of this commentary was originally published by The Washington Post.