The Problems With People 'Hearing for the First Time' Videos
“Deaf Man Hears Daughter's Voice for the First Time After Cochlear Implant: 'It Was Very Sweet'”
“Try not to cry challenge, people hearing sound for the first time”
“My wife hearing for the first time! Amazing!”
“Man Hears for The First Time In 20 Years”
“Hearing My Husband Say I Love You for the First Time”
“Adorable: Baby's Reaction Hearing New Sounds With The Help of Hearing Aid”
As a disability advocate and writer, I often come across videos with titles such those above. These videos are designed to make viewers “ohhh” and “ahhh” and feel good about the wonders of modern medicine. While rejoicing for people who hear for the first time may not be wrong in itself, the videos do not tell the whole story about people’s experience with assistive listening devices and cochlear implants (CIs).
About Cochlear Implants and Hearing Aids
Hearing aids boost hearing by sound amplification for those with mild to moderate loss. It consists of a an amplifier, speaker, and microphone. Many types are available as wearables or may be surgically bone anchored.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a CI consist of a sound processor that fits behind the ear and a receiver surgically implanted under the skin behind the ear. The processor bypasses damaged areas of the ear by capturing sound signals to the auditory nerve and transmitting them to the receiver. The brain then interprets thee signals as sounds.
Why “Hearing for the First Time” Videos are Problematic
CIs and assistive listening devices do not work for everyone
I have met people who tried hearing aids and did not find them helpful. Cochlear implant surgery is also not suitable for all people with severe hearing loss for one reason or another. Some people who are born deaf are not helped by CIs, especially if they receive their devices in their teens or later in life. Teenagers may find the world of sound a bewildering cacophony of auditory stimuli that they are unable to process or understand, and eventually, give up on using the device.
The success of assistive listening devices and CIs are dependent on a number of factors such as when the person lost their hearing and their level of language acquisition. A child who is born with severe hearing loss and receives a CI early in life will require a lot if training and rehab in order to be able to interpret auditory information and learn spoken language. Postlingual deaf people with new implants need training over time to interpret CI signals and most gain a considerable understanding of speech within a year.
The use of the word “hearing” is misleading
The way that this word is used in some videos is misleading. There is a lot more to hearing than just being able to receive audio information. It also involves being able to recognize and distinguish between sounds like a parent’s voice, a honking car horn, and music. Some people who are born with severe hearing loss are surprised to learn the variety of sounds in their environment such as the wind rustling through trees, waves on the ocean, and – well, the sound of passing gas.
Hearing sounds is not enough to benefit people. They need to be able interpret the words and auditory information they are receiving in order to experience true communication.
Sound through CIs are not the same as regular hearing
CI users may hear only parts of sounds and hear auditory stimuli differently than regular speech. CI users hear auditory information differently than hearing people do. I have heard the sounds described as robotic or like trying to understand the cartoon character Donald Duck.
Many people with hearing loss do not want to be considered “inspiring”
The media tends to objectify people with hearing loss and various disabilities as sources of “inspiration.” Viewers and readers are supposed to feel better about themselves because a pitiful “handicapped” person “overcame the odds” or finally had what the world labels a deficit fixed.
The disability and hearing loss communities are speaking out against this practice, which can be condescending. They want to be accepted as whole human beings who are treated with dignity and respect. These communities want to be treated as equals and have opportunities to get a good education, pursue relationships, work, and live a full life. They do not want to be held up as objects of pity in order to make other people feel good about how superior and disability-free they are.
Some deaf people do not want to be fixed
Some people who identify themselves as deaf and identify themselves as members of a deaf community oppose CIs. These people consider their severe hearing loss as a part of who they are and not as a bad thing that requires fixing by medical intervention.
They have adapted to their hearing loss by developing sign language and a unique culture. They do not think of themselves as having a disability that needs to be fixed and may value sign as their form of communication. They may resent the idea that they have to have CIs or assistive listening devices to be a whole human being.
Many others with hearing loss are open to considering the benefits of CIs and other devices. Many parents, including deaf parents, are choosing to have their young children undergo surgery for these devices.. I sometimes attend deaf events and notice that many of the young deaf children attending with their families are wearing hearing aids or had cochlear implants.
CI surgery and rehab has certain risks that videos do not address
Many people have legitimate concerns about CIs such as:
- The surgery and needed rehab and aftercare can cost up to $75,000 US if they are not covered by insurance or medical assistance programs in the country where they reside
- The procedure is a major invasive surgery
- CI surgery can destroy any residual hearing
- There is a risk of surgical complications such as inflammation or device failure
Some people experience pain and/or discomfort
For some, the activation of assistive listening devices can be uncomfortable and even painful. Their first experience of sound would not be considered inspirational. The videos online do not reflect everyone’s response to hearing sound for the first time.
For some members of the deaf community and advocates such as 2015 America's Next Top Model winner Nyle Dimarco, these videos are problematic because they can be misleading and leave out vital information about cochlear implants and assistive listening devices such as hearing aids. They also want people to accept sign language as a valid means of communication.
There is no doubt that assistive listening devices and cochlear can greatly benefit people with hearing loss and we can be happy for them. We should be aware, however, that there is a lot more to their stories than fodder for “feel good” stories. These are real people who are taking a difficult but often rewarding journey to hearing.
Cochlear Implants, Mayo Clinic
‘Baby hears for the first time’ videos aren’t inspirational, they hide the reality of Deaf lives, Metro, Nyle Dimarco and Bobby Siebert
Nyle DiMarco Gives A Good Reason To Reconsider ‘Inspiration Pørn’ Videos, Huffington Post, Jamie Feldman
The space in between: on hearing loss and cochlear implants, Medium, Beth Williams
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.