I am deaf and sign. Will I lose or reject my deaf identity if I get a cochlear implant?

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Dr. Chad Ruffin

ENT Doc and CI Surgeon

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I am deaf and sign. Will I lose or reject my deaf identity if I get a cochlear implant?

First, Dr. Ruffin believes that sign language is a fully featured language. He understands that using sign or oral language are deeply personal choices in how we interact with the world. Cochlear implants are not the right choice for every Deaf person. He does not believe that a cochlear implant is required to be happy and successful. Everyone's journey is different.

Your identity as a Deaf person comes from having a shared visual language and cultural experiences. After getting an implant, you can still choose your preferred language. Sign will always be instantaneously understandable and easier than hearing with a cochlear implant. This is why some Deaf people with cochlear implants may "code switch" or alternate between signed and spoken language. Your changing communication abilities may well mean that you meet more people who are signing impaired. If this happens, your friends group and support network may change. Understanding another culture doesn't mean that you're leaving your Deaf identity behind. It just means that you're moving between different cultural groups.

Many Deaf people do not feel disabled from their hearing loss. Instead, limitations result because the world doesn't accommodate visual language. This is audism. Getting a cochlear implant doesn't mean you're "giving in" to audism. You can still communicate in your preferred language. You can choose when to use your cochlear implant. The cochlear implant simply makes it easier to hear spoken language, interface with the speaking world, and hear environmental sounds and music.

Sometimes Deaf people worry about losing Deaf friends if they decide to get a cochlear implant. Being "different" or losing friends can be a real concern. However, everyone has different journeys through life. This includes how we navigate communication with Deafness. Our strongest support groups understand and help one another achieve our goals. Read more about the story of Dr. Christian Vogler and Ms. Mel Chua. Dr. Vogler is a Deaf scientist at Gallaudet University who studies hearing accessibility technology. Ms. Chua is an engineering educator completing her Ph.D. at Purdue University. Their story highlights their journey of getting an implant while remaining Deaf and proud.

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Dr. Ruffin was the first person in over 10 years to actually take the time to really listen to me. He took the time to figure out what’s actually going on without chalking it up to something simple and sending me on my way.

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I really appreciated Chad's honesty with options, having surgery being a last result and most of all explaining everything in layman's terms. I couldn't be happier with my experience and really appreciate him getting to the bottom of my ear issue and making it feel better than it ever has!

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Dr. Ruffin was incredibly knowledgeable, thorough and compassionate. He took the time to fully understand the issues and was able to provide immediate relief. Nothing short of a miracle here. Furthermore, the entire team was very kind and professional. One of the best medical experiences I have had!

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