I know that some deaf people are against cochlear implants – but I am not one of them

The miracle of Joanne Milne gives me and thousands of others hope

Share

I have just had a bit of a shock. Apparently, I only have just over 20 per cent hearing with my hearing aids in, and hear next to nothing with them out. (I was aware of the latter – having been the only person to sleep soundly through the evacuation of my entire street by the emergency services recently.) I am glad I didn’t know this, or I might never have had the courage to be a professional opera singer for many years.

Performing at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle years ago, I was quizzed by a small child in the cast. “Miss – what’s them things in yer ears?” I explained that they were hearing aids because I was deaf. “Oh,” she replied confidently. “That’ll be why yer sing so loudly!”

I inherited the deaf gene from my father’s family, and it began to manifest itself when I was 18 and at university. As a small child I had witnessed what deafness could do to people. My grandfather kept his hearing aid in the sideboard “for best”, but really because it was neither use nor ornament. I witnessed the terrible effects of his isolation. He was apart, cut off, excluded – and downcast.

To paraphrase the writer David Lodge, not being able to hear can seem like a “deaf sentence” for many. The concentration required to lip-read is utterly exhausting. We find it easier to stay at home and not socialise. Better that than be flailing around trying to guess what the topic of conversation is – or, worse still, miss the punchline of a joke.

So when yesterday I became one of the million-plus people who have now watched the video clip of Joanne Milne weeping as her cochlear implants were turned on, I wept too. I knew that those tears were for all that she had been missing out on over the 40 years of her life.

For many, hearing is the first sense we have in the womb and the last sense we lose at death. But deafness inhibits communication, the compelling need and longing of every human heart. Helen Keller, the deaf-blind author and campaigner, said that blindness cuts you off from things but that deafness cuts you off from people. There are no visual clues to our struggles, and so people conclude that we are rude or inattentive, or just plain stupid.

Fortunately, today’s technology is simply amazing. I am a trustee of Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the Royal National Institute for the Deaf), and we believe that everyone should have full access to all the options so that they can make an informed choice. I recognise that cochlear implants – which have just transformed Joanne Milne’s life surely for the better – are not the choice of all deaf people. I have total respect for those who choose to use British Sign Language instead – those for whom deafness is a culture with its own unique take on the world, a culture that in their view stands to be dissipated by implants. Deafness is not a disease, runs the argument. It does not need “curing”. There are, however, millions who long to be cured.

I myself spent two years at night school learning to sign. It is a beautiful language. But I have also seen at first hand the extraordinary benefits of early, bilateral and simultaneous implantations in children just a few months old – the earlier the better, to take full advantage of the plasticity of their brains at this age. When this is combined with auditory verbal therapy, the results are startling. When I become patron of AVUK I couldn’t believe that these children didn’t need to lip-read as I did.

In so many cases parents no longer need ask: “Will my child ever be able to hear or speak?” but rather, “Will she be able to play a musical instrument, talk on her smartphone and learn foreign languages?” I believe in raising our expectations, and enabling children to listen, talk and participate fully in mainstream school and reach their true potential in life.

I function very well, all things considered, thanks to top-quality hearing aids. But I already meet the criteria for a cochlear implant, and it is very comforting to think that there is technology out there that will enable me to continue to participate fully in life as my hearing continues to deteriorate. I may have to choose between my beloved singing and communicating. Will I have a cochlear implant when the time comes? You bet I will.

Janine Roebuck is an opera singer and a trustee of Action on Hearing Loss

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Seven per cent of young men have recently stopped using deodorant  

‘Sweaty-gate’ leaves a bad smell for PRs and journalists

Danny Rogers
Alison Parker and Adam Ward: best remembered before tragedy  

The only way is ethics: Graphic portraits of TV killings would upset many, not just our readers in the US

Will Gore
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory