Intricate Identities: Cochlear Implant Users Negotiating Lives Between d/Deaf and Hearing Worlds
The cochlear implant (CI), a device that “provides hearing sensations for severely and profoundly deaf individuals” (NZ Audiological Society), initially emerged for public use in the 1980s, but was met with strong opposition from Deaf communities in many countries (Lane et al 1996, Edwards 2005). However, since the beginning of the 21st century, hostility towards implants has lessened and they are increasingly accepted as an option in a range of possibilities for deaf children and adults. Despite increasing numbers of the Deaf community considering implants themselves, however, the continuing task of the Deaf community is to counter the conception of implants as ‘miracle cures’ for deafness (Lane et al 1996, Edwards 2005). Furthermore, the Deaf community needs to communicate to parents of deaf children that those with implants may still be perceived as d/Deaf, by both the community and themselves (Christiansen and Leigh 2002). This thesis explores the identities of a small group of cochlear implant users in New Zealand, and examines their involvement in both d/Deaf and hearing worlds. The narratives of my participants demonstrate some of the everyday difficulties that d/Deaf individuals, and their families, encounter in medical and health‐care settings, along with educational and workplace settings. I draw on participants’ narratives that explain their relationship with both medicalised and cultural models of deafness, and with Deaf culture, decisions about implants, and perceptions of the effects and limits of cochlear implants. I argue that the identities of CI users in modern New Zealand society are influenced by a multiplicity of factors, including medicalised understandings of deafness, familial pressures, the embodied experiences of CI technology, and personal identity trajectories. Given that these individuals are navigating these multiple threads in the formation of their identities, I argue that, at this stage in their lives, the CI users in this study occupy a liminal position in regards to d/Deaf and hearing worlds. Furthermore, I posit that the medical model of deafness needs to be tempered with social and cultural views of both deafness and CIs, and that the voices of CI users themselves should be prominent in such debates.