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


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

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

SThree: Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Do you want to get in...

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband addresses an audience in the Brooks Building of Manchester Metropolitan University on April 21, 2015  

If socialism means building homes and getting the rich to pay their taxes, then bring on Red Ed

Kiran Moodley

Prevention is better than cure if we want to save the NHS

Tanni Grey Thompson
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before