Getting a Cochlear Implant does not mean giving up your identity as a Deaf person. Our mission is to make Cochlear Implants accessible to everyone in the world and to serve the Deaf community in ways that connect people.
We follow your lead to help you get through a changing world.
Models of Disability/Differing-ability
There are different models for thinking about disability/differing ability that frame how one looks at the specific case of Deafness and the community’s potential role in healing. The three major models are: the medical model, the social model, and a hybrid medical-social model. Each model can be thought of in terms of how they answer the question: What is the obstacle to living a good life?
The medical model views disabilities, deafness – as problems to be solved through hearing aids, cochlear implants, and possibly (depending on who is making the case) eugenics. The social model says that there is nothing wrong with Deafness; different people are just differently abled. According to the social model, the problem comes from society constructing differing abilities as inconvenient deviations from a norm to be stigmatized, and intolerant ableists are performing the action of disabling.
Within discussions of differing ability, the medical model is the dominant model in industrialized countries and is closely aligned with medical capitalism. The medical model is the understanding that allows and encourages cochlear implant companies to market their products to the parents of Deaf children and to encourage assimilation to a dominant culture normalized for the non-Deaf. But the medical model does not address the ways that disabilities, like Deafness, are social constructs.
The medical gaze separates a person’s identity from a person’s body resulting in feelings of devaluation and schizophrenia. As Harlan Lane (a psychologist who is usually very critical of Cochlear Implants) writes, “Social problems are constructed in particular cultures, at particular times, in response to the efforts of interested parties.” Lane writes about the relationship between for-profit cochlear implant corporations and the Deaf community in particularly scathing terms, “Organizations espousing each construction of deafness compete to ‘own’ the children and define their needs… The structural relation between the service provider and the client often has the effect of disempowering the client and maintaining dependency.” Yeah… that’s a harsh criticism of the field. In the medical model, the thing to be treated is the condition and the person rather than the social pressures or policies.
Within the common binary of the medical – social models of differing ability, a critique of the medical model is usually seen as support of the social model. But, within these perspectives, there is also a more nuanced hybrid medical-social model, which we at Parallax Hearing, along with some other people, like Alison Kafer, are partial to. It combines the strengths of both of these understandings, while also limiting the marginalization that both participate in. Adding a third alternative allows the above critiques of the medical model to be seen as support for either the social model or the hybrid model and not just as a rejection of intervention.
It is possible to be critical of the medical model of disabilities while also not completely rejecting medical, spiritual, or communal intervention. Kafer’s hybrid model advocates for “framing of disability as political/relational”. This hybrid political/relational model has the benefits of not marginalizing disabled people who have decided to pursue what they would call “medical cures.” It also takes into account that almost nobody desires to be more “disabled” than they currently are.
A hybrid medical-social model also takes into account that it is often not helpful to make direct comparisons between post-colonialism and disability. I. King Jordan, a former president of Gallaudet University (an all-Deaf college) was once asked if he would rather be hearing and he responded, “That’s almost like asking a black person if they would rather be white… I don’t think of myself as missing or as incomplete.” While colonialism is the historical legacy that has brought about poverty in the majority world and led to the rigid categorization of impairments, it is more useful to “unpack the power dynamics which link the two experiences, both in practice and in rhetoric.” One useful tool for this unpacking can come from deconstructing modern cyborg identity.
Everyone is a Cyborg
In all of time, but especially in the twenty-first century, we are always connected to our technology. Technology has become an extension of ourselves. This is true for people wearing Cochlear Implants, but it is also true for the person who can look up any fact in the world with their voice while driving their car to work.
I view Donna Haraway’s influential essay, A Cyborg Manifesto, as an extension of Kafer’s hybrid model, pointing out that we already exists in a series of hybrid identities, and arguing against a fetishism for whatever is natural. Haraway wrote about the “ubiquity and invisibility of cyborgs.” And she was writing in 1984, before smartphone, smartwatches and an exponentially increasing Internet of Things.
At Parallax Hearing Company, we agree with her that in a technological world, where we are constantly interacting with technology at all times, we have already become cyborgs. The question is really to what degree this should be accepted, endorsed by an individual, their communities, and the institutions that try to serve them (like us!). Haraway writes, “The relation between organism and machine has been a border war.” In her argument, Haraway is fighting against a purely liberal, individualist view of self, which we agree culminates in increasingly fractured views of self, unable to affect a real challenge to hegemonic straight, white, male, (hearing) identity politics.
Beyond the Cyborg Identity
Even though the cyborg view is presented by Haraway as a myth, it is a popular one, and it works within certain popular worldviews. If all of humanity is really just very complex machines that we each construct into understandings called ‘selves’, then there is no basis for rejecting machinery added to ourselves. We contain parts that may break and one day will be in need of repair. We can expect that one day we will create machines of similar complexity, and fractured liberal capitalism will also be totally individualized.
But only a minority of people think of the world in purely materialist terms. Most people believe that there is more going on in the world than just matter and energy. Around 70 to 80 percent of the U.S. population believes in divine healing. And as globalization continues, developing countries are far less materialistic and naturalistic than the West. There is also very interesting research about how technological hope for the future can damage real relationships right now. At Parallax Hearing Company, we believe that all bodies are infinitely valuable sites of divine revelation as at the same time they are horizons founded on the biases of limited personal perspectives.
Here we arrive at the beauty of Cochlear Implants. While the decision to implant or not is intensely personal, Cochlear Implants give Deaf people the opportunity to connect with multiple communities. Cochlear Implants add to how people interface with the world around them.
We do not insist that everyone get a Cochlear Implant, but we do think that making Cochlear Implants globally accessible and giving everyone a choice about getting them improves everyone’s life.