A Cochlear Implant Experience: Sarah’s Story (Part 1)

This is the first part of a three-part series adapted from a post I [Sarah] wrote for my personal Facebook page on the 1-year anniversary of my cochlear implant activation. If you use a cochlear implant (CI), your experience might not be the same as mine. Everyone’s story matters. I hope that sharing some of my experience will encourage others to share theirs.

One year ago today, my cochlear implant was activated. The past year has been a mixed bag of experiences. I’ve learned through these experiences that as much as the world needs education about Deaf culture and sign language, it also needs education about CIs. So, on the first birthday of my fake hearing, these are some things I wish other people knew about CIs and CI users. Some of these are directed at hearing people and others are intended for Deaf people who don’t use CIs:

  • Not every activation is like what you see in the viral videos on social media. My activation day was painful and a traumatic experience. I had an air pocket between my skin and the internal device that was causing problems, and I had to be reactivated a few days later.
  • Not every activation video you see is a CI. There are different kinds of implantable devices, and some are not for deaf people. There are cochlear implants, middle ear implants, bone conduction implants, and auditory brainstem implants. The best known viral activation video (the one with the woman who has black hair and tattoos and starts crying with joy immediately) is, in fact, a middle ear implant activation. Middle ear implants are not for deaf people.
  • My experience of hearing with a CI has not been the same as what I remember from years ago when I had typical hearing. It sounds artificial. A year later, it still sounds artificial. Humans sound human, but not like they did years ago.
  • CIs shouldn’t be compared to cures for diseases. A better comparison would be to a prosthetic leg. Prosthetic legs enable people without legs to walk, but they don’t have the same functional ability as real legs. Prosthetics are tools, not cures. Also, most insurances classify CIs as prosthetics. A CI is an auditory prosthetic.


Sarah Sparks is a 3rd year AuD student at Gallaudet University. She hopes to build a career in pediatric vestibular assessment and management. Sarah intends to pursue PhD studies with a goal of researching effects of cochlear implantation on balance in children. She enjoys painting in acrylic and watercolor, making her artwork into skins for her CI processor, and socializing with other CI recipients who love American Sign Language. Sarah lives in Washington, DC with her partner, Lindsey, and their dog and two cats.





2 thoughts on “A Cochlear Implant Experience: Sarah’s Story (Part 1)

  1. So excited to follow along with your posts, Sarah!


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