A Cochlear Implant Experience: Sarah’s Story (Part 2)

This is the second 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. The first part can be found here. 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.

  1. Many people with CIs do not hear as well as you think we do. My aided thresholds on my best day are between 30 and 45 dB HL. Even with my processor on, I do not have the audibility that a person with typical hearing does. I don’t hear as clearly as a person with a mild/moderate hearing loss who uses hearing aids might.
  2. Although there are CI users who hear well enough not to need additional support, that’s not true for all. Many need to read your lips to understand your speech. In noisy or echoey environments, I might as well not have my processor on because I can’t hear in those spaces.
  3. Although having a CI and benefiting from it is a kind of privilege, CI users aren’t as privileged as you might believe. Some of us struggle to get accommodations we need because of others’ assumptions about how well we hear. A good metaphor for this is the lower middle-class high school student whose parents don’t have enough money to pay for college, but they make too much money for the student to qualify for federal grants. My experience has been in a similar middle space: I hear enough that people tell me I’m a hearing person, but I don’t hear enough to function exactly like a hearing person in the hearing world. I still need accommodations.
  4. Having a CI doesn’t make a person “not deaf.” CI users don’t hear anything through the device when our external processors are turned off. We don’t sleep, shower, or swim with them (with the exception of some who use the water wear). Many of us need to take short breaks in situations with overwhelming noise. The internal implant does nothing without the external processor.
  5. “Having a CI means not needing sign language” is a myth. CI users communicate in a variety of ways. There are many CI users who work with interpreters and need sign language access for classes, work, and events. CIs give a person auditory access, which is not the same as language access or language development.

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.

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