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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'