Hearing aids and cochlear implants have improved the lives of the oral deaf, people with hearing loss who speak and may read lips rather than signing. But as technology advances, deaf people may soon have cochlear implants that are invisible to observers, which could challenge the community’s identity.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is developing an entirely internal cochlear implant. Users would charge the device wirelessly; the prototype charger plugs into a cell phone and charges the implant in two minutes. This middle-ear technology created by MIT, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary has already been tested on a few patients, who were able to hear with it. The University of Utah has also previously worked on a microphone that can be implanted in the middle ear.
The currently available cochlear implant is a physical behind-the-ear piece, which looks like a larger hearing aid. It has a microphone, which brings sound through a wire to an external magnet that connects to an internal magnet by the inner ear. The brain then translates the audio it receives from the microphone into understandable messages.
I am a person with a hearing loss. At nine months of age, I was diagnosed as having been born “profoundly deaf.” I received two hearing aids when I was 10-months-old and began learning American Sign Language (ASL) around the same time. My parents then enrolled me in an oral-deaf educational program from preschool to eighth grade, where I learned how to hear and speak. At 11 years old, I got my cochlear implant. Now, I am a member of the everyday hearing world, living in New York, and about to graduate from Pace University.